In one image, an empty shoe lifts up as if it’s about to charge forward in a vigorous sprint. In another, a series of boxes tower up and look as if they’re about to collapse, stacked more haphazardly than the leaning tower of Pisa. In the world of studio Akatre, perfume bottles pirouette, eggshells give birth to handbags, and jackets have a mind of their own. Inanimate objects roam about like the no-nonsense brooms in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Peaking at the studio’s still-life images is like looking into the landscape of a very stylish cartoon made real.
Akatre don’t just produce still lives; their pictures of teetering objects are often the foundation of their editorial design, album artwork, look-books, videos, and window displays. The Paris-based multi-media studio set out to create images that pulsate with a sense of life, energy, and humor; the name “Akatre” itself is a kind of joke, a misspelling of the French word for A4 (the paper size typically used for magazines).
Although their images capture what appear to be moments of spontaneous combustion, a lot of precise production goes into building each set. “Our process is one of meticulous planning,” say Julien Dhivert, Sebastian Riveron, and Valentin Abad, who all met at art school setting up their studio together in 2007.
Their most difficult shoot to pull off to date is a commission for Air France Magazine, where perfume bottles jump through golden hoops like rare tigers in a circus act. As a magician never reveals his or her tricks, the Akatre team only hint at how they achieved the confounding feat. “All the eggs were emptied and we made sure that the bottles didn’t actually break. The whole thing is a combination of careful balance… that and fishing lines,” they say with a wink.
The storyboard initially sent to Air France perfectly match with the explosive results, demonstrating just how carefully planned they are from the get go. “We wanted to create the feeling that movement is happening, but the whole set is completely frozen. It takes a lot of patience and self control to achieve that effect.”
Balance is crucial to a lot of Akatre’s work, as it implies motion—a clever way to inject a static image with a feeling of energy. Balancing acts feature in the studio’s work across the board. For an installation at the Fondation Vasarely in France, wooden table legs were piled up precariously like a game of Jenga, and for a recent campaign for Yves Saint Laurent, lipstick crowns a pyramid of gold locks, swaying like a bird atop a tree on a windy day.
Whether creating an animation or a still image, Akatre approaches all mediums the same way. “We build a picture in exactly the same way that we a design a poster,” Dhivert, Riveron, and Abad say. “We always use the same construction method, elements, and often materials, too. We want everything we do to look like it comes from the same universe.”