Spotlight on Photographer Jean-Marie Babonneau

by Silvia Hurst

Beginning December, amidst the festive Christmas hustle and bustle of Fisketorvet, Media in Denmark met up with French-born photographer, video artist and polyglot Jean Babonneau to learn about his 20-year-long professional career in photography.

As a group of individuals active in various sectors such as photography, videography, PR, music publishing, and marketing, we looked at examples of Jean’s work and listened to anecdotes and his own perspective on this art and occupation in Denmark.

Photography had not initially been on the horizon for Jean, but during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nantes, a teacher sparked Jean’s interest in the creative potential of photography, leading him to specialise in the field at the French National School of Photography in Arles, in the South of France. It was love and his keen interest in other cultures that steered Jean towards Nordic shores, more specifically to Reykjavik, Iceland, where he worked for the music press and shot portraits of artists and musicians.

From his standpoint as a foreigner, Jean was able to provide an innocent, unbiased perspective of some of Iceland’s celebrity artists, including Björk. Another band — Sigur Rós — was the subject of an anecdote that showcases not only Jean’s devotion to deadlines but also his patience: one night as he was working against the clock to edit a photography project for a music magazine, he reluctantly had to decline a much-wanted opportunity to photograph the band — the next chance he would get to do this came a whopping 17 years later, in a completely different country… “Sometimes, it’s about priorities!” he laughed.

In 2002, after 3 years of taking in Iceland’s breath-taking landscapes but also its isolation and dark winters, Jean was inspired by friends to seek new pastures — in Copenhagen. With the help of classes, Jean added Danish to his linguistic repertoire, initially just for the language skills he needed for everyday life, but then also to expand his work opportunities. He took on photography projects for the press and the fashion industry (such as his look book for the Danish brand Key West), portraits, and commercial assignments within the industrial field.

His assignment at Billund’s Lego Factory had us particularly enthralled. Tasked by the famous French newspaper Le Monde, Jean set out to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the manufacturing process of this world-famous toy. “It’s very interesting to show the construction of things.” Another French publication, Le Parisien, sent Jean to Sweden to photograph the Absolut distillery. Unfortunately, due to Sweden’s strict alcohol laws, no samples were given out to thirsty photographers… Le Monde also commissioned Jean to produce a photo reportage (Dans la magie dans l’air du royaume du Danemark ) on children’s activities in cultural places in Denmark, a project for which he was able to use his knowledge of the country to identify suitable locations, such as the playground at Tivoli or the children’s section at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Having an artistic background, Jean of course loves to develop his own art projects when his time and resources allow it. His hope is that a job in the IT industry will give him the opportunity to produce more exhibitions. “It’s my passion, I keep developing projects and I have a lot of projects waiting to be shown at an exhibition, so they are piling up in my drawer,” Jean laughed. In 2010 he participated in the first edition of the Copenhagen Photo Festival, displaying pictures as well as a video installation (Camera Lucida) aimed at creating an immersive experience. Some years later, he collaborated with a friend on a fascinating project that involved taking apart mini-computers, such as the head of a printer, and using parts of it to create a virtual cargo bicycle tour of Paris and Copenhagen (Le petit tour Paris — København), with a pedal-powered video projection.

More recently, Jean decided to broaden his skills set even further. “Realising that photography is a very competitive area, I wanted to supplement my expertise with something new, so I just finished 2.5 years of IT studies,” Jean explained. He admitted that it is not very easy to crack the Danish market, even after many years of living in the country. “A lot of my assignments come from other foreigners. That’s why I think it’s important for us to get into such groups so that we can support each other.”

And that was, in fact, the most salient point of this month’s meet-up, and the key purpose of the Media in Denmark group. The world is a global village, and in a geographical mise en abyme way, the world is also encapsulated in Denmark. Not only does the country provide work opportunities through its excellent local businesses but also within its diverse and talented expat community. Media in Denmark recognises the value of this mutual support and invites you to join us at our next social event for another stimulating exchange of ideas and experiences!

To view Jean Babonneau’s extensive portfolio, visit

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