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Alexis de Vilar


One day, a great man named Alexis de Vilar told me:
“You know, anyway…the most beautiful picture is the one you can not take”.
“Since then, I look at the world as if I had missed a thing….”


French photographer

Alexis de Vilar - Swahili woman on an ngalawa, Mnemba island, Zanzibar 2001

Photographer & Explorer 

A career filled with anecdotes, journeys & eccentric partners that brought him vital enrichment and some transcendental accomplishments.

Alexis de Vilar has spent almost 50 years photographing distant cultures and his work is the subject of solo exhibitions art galleries and museums in Africa, Asia and America. 

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The quirky, bold and insightful prism through which Alexis de Vilar views the world is quite unlike any other photographer. His work is both a revelation and a celebration of the essence of what it means to be human and the spirit of place. 


World famous Australian photographer

He is indeed a great artist - a serene and gentle observer of universal appeal. As with other outstanding photographers, Alexis de Vilar’s photos say even more about the author than his subjects.”


Sotogrande 2017

Alexis de Vilar - Mombasa Jackson, Kenya 2001

This heart - warming, poetic and beautifully photographed documentary follows international photographer Alexis de Vilar on a journey to present an intimate portrayal of what will be a true African success story: The Great Green Wall project. We follow him and his camera as he makes a remarkable journey of discovery along this magnificent natural defence system. 


Producer/director Angry Man Films, UK. Upon shooting in Morocco for the BBC documentary Through a Lens

Following in the footsteps of the painter Paul Gauguin, another exile from his own time and society, and with whom he shares, moreover, an admiration for the female beauty, Alexis de Vilar offers a view of life that reflects other dimensions and other parameters. There’s no doubt that as an author, he is cursed with all the anguish that that entails - not only in a literary context but also in the context of his photographic work, although the latter has become extraordinarily valued by collectors. But like Gauguin, Alexis de Vilar’s work brings us a special light, a glow. His one way voyage implies a painful path, from the initial process towards direct experience, the only way that allows an understanding of civilisations and cultures so removed from our own. I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that, in his madness, Alexis de Vilar means to stop time, and thereby, or what a challenge, to trump eternity.


Art historian at the National Contemporary Museum (MNAC)

His images transport us and touch us, true works of art changed into something eternal, on a canvas that gives rise to emotions which go beyond two dimensions until they acquire an ethical and aesthetic presence of unequaled value. Day to day photographs, touching landscapes, traditional tribes, faces, and amazing and heartwarming values, behind the lens.

A true hero of the XXth and XXst centuries, the “Cousteau of Land”, exactly how he was called by the celebrated Parisian editor Robert Laffont in 1992.

His active and generous fight in favour of the last traditional peoples have forced him to wage battles with unending energy against policies and economic interests from the highest levels of government. Because Alexis de Vilar is one of those activists that does not cease and continues to fight injustice, he denounces them and can claim honesty and a clean conscience.


Behind the lens diaries

Alexis de Vilar - TemboUasoNaro
Alexis de Vilar at work

It was in June 2007 that I first met Alexis de Vilar in Saint Louis, Senegal. I met the man before I knew his work. He struck me as warm, a bon-vivant, a slightly hedonistic epicurean. In Saint-Louis it was quite clear that he was on a grand voyage, and I was impressed by the diversity of his projects. This longing, this search for a lost Paradise is what we find in his photographs. Alexis prefers to work in black and white, using a traditional silvered technique in which he finds a poetry that fits with his desire to show only what is beautiful on Earth. Alexis de Vilar is not documenting. He is proposing his version of Paradise as sole resident, before transporting us there.


Vice President at the JEU DE PAUME, Paris

Alexis de Vilar at work in Northern Senegal, 2017


The author with Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith, probably the best photographers in the world, during their joint exhibition at the Serena Nairobi back in 2019. This major event was curated by Lisa Christoffersen and Alan Donovan.

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Alexis de Vilar with Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith
Alexis de Vilar

Alexis de Vilar passe outre les codes usuels de la photographie, il s’efface comme pour tendre à ses sujets l’appareil qui les fixe car trop de technique enfermerait et polluerait la vérité ; l’humilité de ses prises de vues saisit ces scènes du quotidien et témoigne de joie, d’humour, de liens, de religiosité, d’intériorité. Ses instantanés sont des gravures de l’émotion. Mais ce n’est pas ce qu’il nous montre qui s’arrête un instant... c’est le temps qui en est empreint, pour qu’on s’en imprègne, qu’on se repose et qu’on écoute, qu’on entende, qu’on prenne le temps du regard au lieu de voir ; le furtif est un rideau qu’on tire sur l’immobile.
Lawrence, Thesiger, Blixen, Monod, Pratt, Eberhardt, Saint Exupéry, Loti... Ces auteurs qui se sont confrontés au désert résonnent dans cet ouvrage comme d’inlassables enquêteurs de l’humain, qui trouvent dans ces immensités la complexité, la poésie sophistiquée de l’homme. Alexis nous propose dans ses photos les portes d’entrée d’une humanité sobre, pudique et élégante, où la matière et l’esprit ne sont pas ennemis.
En anthropologue muet, il nous dit que le désert est probablement le mot qui porte dans son sens commun le plus mal sa réalité ; celle d’une culture et de cultes qui racontent l’inculte de son lieu - antagonisme du Livre qui suggère qu’un Jardin d’Éden se cache en chacun(e) de nous.


Conférencier, Histoire de l’Art

Alexis de Vilar reminds me of the French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, although with certain differences. They are joined by the ravishing thirst for life, tirelessly crossing the great Sahara in search of unforgettable characters, trying to decipher the hidden codes of the human condition. They are separated by distance in time, certainly the immense literary talent of St Exupéry and the desire to fly. The latter is something that Alexis had always dreamed of, but that an accident in Los Angeles in 1989, ended forever. Despite this, Alexis has become over time an explorer who captures in his photography distant travels and tribal customs forgotten many decades ago. In this constant search for beauty, his work is comparable to that of a Peter Beard, the mythical New York photographer who recently disappeared; to the couple of photographers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith with whom Alexis shared an impressive exhibition in Kenya in March 2019; that of his good friend the Australian Christopher Rimmer, probably the "up and coming" of photography worldwide, and finally with Mirella Ricciardi, the great lady of African travel par excellence. They are all part of the restricted club of legendary photographers. In this context, it is appropriate to ask what the work of Alexis de Vilar contributes. His photographs and books speak for themselves as they are a lesson in humility; their great love for the land, for that life-sustaining humus, is perceived in them. But Alexis goes further in his perception of reality. He does not capture with his camera what is happening around him, he is not a documentary maker nor does he pretend to be. But the truth is that his brain absorbs everything you need and rewinds it there at will. Only then does the shutter fire. Alexis creates her own reality, which is why she transcends it. And in that process he mythologizes a place and the people that populate it. His images of the desert exude a savage force and at the same time preserve the mystery and majesty of virgin spaces. He is the only photographer in the world capable of doing what seems so simple: capture with just 5 or 10 photographs, the essence of a country, an island, a territory a thousand times explored but never observed with his particular vision. That is why I consider Alexis de Vilar the best photographer in the world in his specialty. Well deserved position until someone with more creative voracity emerges.


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Contemporary art collector & international curator

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