In 2018, the Four Seasons brand launched “Envoy by Four Seasons”—a program reimagining storytelling with innovative and creative approaches. World-class content creators across all mediums and art forms have been hand-picked and immersed in new environments.
The latest iteration of “Envoy by Four Seasons” takes us to Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti in Tanzania, seen through the lens of Montreal-based photographer Nicolas Ruel. Surrounded by an entirely new landscape and culture, Four Seasons facilitated an array of diverse experiences to create content inspired by the events.
Whitewall spoke with Ruel to hear more about his work in the program, what was most special about his time in Africa, and what kinds of travel rituals he lives by.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us a bit about your creative practice as a photographer?
NICOLAS RUEL: My creative process is my passion. I realize this more and more every day. It starts with a passion for a particular subject or idea, and from there I think of the best way to make that idea come to life through my photography and use of different media to print. The technical side of my creative process is an in-camera double-exposure method that I have developed, allowing me to create unique visual signatures. Printing is another creative process, using large-format stainless steel sheets for my “Cityscape” and “Industrial” series, bronze for “Civilization” and gold for my “Paris/Versailles” series.
WW: What’s an average day of work like?
NR: Every day is different, and because I travel so often, the environment changes from day to day. It’s awesome!
WW: Your work is centered around double exposure. Tell us a bit about when this first began and how your work has evolved since.
NR: I developed my in-camera double-exposure technique back in 2007 on a trip to Paris. Since that day, I never turned back. It would be impossible for me to photograph in the conventional way again, and each year I continue to learn so my technique evolves. Double exposure photography has become my way of sharing my creativity and my vision of the world, matter and subject in movement.
WW: Tell us a bit about traveling to Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti for the Envoy program. What did this experience entail?
NR: Imagine luxury in the heart of untouched wilderness. It was nothing short of epic, from arrival to departure! With a busy watering hole at the heart of the property, you would really never have to leave the Lodge to experience the wildlife close-up. The very idea of ‘being in the moment’ is impossible to avoid at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. Add to that, the hospitality of the Maasai and it was truly an experience I will never forget and one that really transformed me.
WW: Tell us a bit about the works you created. What do these pieces communicate?
NR: This project was quite unique for me, as I had this amazing opportunity to make a connection with the natural world, wildlife and the local Maasai tribe, as opposed to the more urban landscape I am used to. My hope is that these pieces reflect a “call to adventure”, the fascination, respect and gratitude I have for the Maasai and awe for the wildlife. I hope that these pieces as part of the Four Seasons Envoy program encourage harmony between people and animals.
As a Four Seasons Envoy [participant], I feel that my passion for travel and craftsmanship were highlighted and really came to life. My works from this trip will actually be displayed at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, which will give other guests a chance to connect with my work and see how I was inspired by the very property they are staying in.
WW: What about the landscape inspired you?
NR: I am more used to traveling to cities and focusing on the urban landscape as my subject, so to shoot in a much more organic and peaceful environment created a very different composition. It was a beautiful challenge, and an opportunity to live a different experience, allowing me to be fully immersed in the moment. To be so far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city, was a creative challenge to shoot, but I love to be challenged and to get outside of my comfort zone. It’s so inspiring!
WW: What was the most unforgettable moment during your trip?
NR: My fascination with the Maasai people goes back several years. I was amazed at how happy and proud they were to share their ancestral culture with me, a foreigner and his camera right from the start, welcoming me with open arms upon my arrival. Their kindness and hospitality far exceeded my expectations. We had an instant connection and shared beautiful moments that I will keep close to my heart always.
WW: You focus on experience. How do you feel Four Seasons excels in creating this facet, as well?
NR: The design of the property is very well integrated into nature and the surrounding area. The overall design is true to the luxury and comfort of any Four Seasons property, yet it maintains a true reflection of the culture, hospitality and the beauty of the Serengeti. Four Seasons is a brand I trust and has proven to be, time and time again, masters in creating unforgettable experiences. My expectations are exceeded every time!
WW: You have traveled to over 100 countries and have been traveling your entire life. What was so special about this trip in particular?
NR: During my first interview with the Four Seasons Envoy team, I was asked, “Where in the world have you not been yet?” I answered, “East Africa and Antarctica.” It seemed a natural choice to choose Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti for my Envoy experience. The Serengeti has taught me the importance of living in flow. I found myself deep in my work and losing track of time completely. This kind of focus is the key to my creativity and productivity in my work, as well as my general well-being.
The concept of being completely in the moment meant being consumed by joy, love, pride, excitement and surprise while in a state of calm. Being in this flow state allowed me to get closer to my source of inspiration – the animals – without thinking about myself, other people around me or the next shot. It was a very special trip in a part of the world unknown to me.
WW: Tell us a bit about your travel rituals. Anything in particular you do or bring each time you travel?
NR: My camera and the rest of my equipment goes with me everywhere; I don’t even check it when I fly. Another thing I always bring on my travels is something specific to home, Montréal. Although I always pack light, I try to bring something that I can give to someone I meet. When you travel as much as I do, there is great opportunity to meet amazing people and make plenty of friends. It’s always nice to leave them with a small memento, something that represents my culture—usually it’s maple syrup. Oh, Canada!