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L’Ascenseur Végétal, Bordeaux. A bookstore and curated photo gallery

One of the spots in Bordeaux where visitors are able to absorb photographical material. Thirty-five by thirty meters of the space are used for the purpose of the exhibitions 

L’Ascenseur Végétal in Bordeaux

Claude Lemaire established the structures of L’Ascenseur Végétal via a website in the month of June of 2013. The move was led by his adoration and privy for photography, photographical books in specific. This effort would then result in the opening of a physical store the following year in the Southwest French city of Bordeaux. On its signage, the store states its name and on the right side, Librarie Photo & Galerie, a photography bookstore and gallery.

Lemaire emotes that L’Ascenseur Végétal’s opening was not one he had expected to happen in an abrupt fashion. «I started selling these books from my apartment at the time. I had envisioned a bookstore that I owned. But this plan came to fruition before its due motivated by circumstances out of my control». Moving to the Bordeaux area from the North of France to join his group of friends, had been an idea of his for some time. What tipped him to move was the lack of space in his apartment and the growing number of books stacked on the shelves.

He explains that Bordeaux’s reputation and allure to being a city involved in the arts eased the move. It happened that his peer in the city was preparing to relocate his photography studio. He had suggested for Lemaire to take the space. The ruminations to L’Ascenseur Végétal’s presence online came to Lemaire when he could not procure photography books in the French typeface. «There were existing photography bookstores across Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their focus was on books in English».

Claude Lemaire’s background

Lemaire’s journey to founding a niche bookstore like L’Ascenseur Végétal goes back to his youth. Having grown up in the North of France, he visited Paris a number of times a year as a child. This was where he had first learnt to collect photography books, growing his library in the genre over time. He shares that he procured his first photographical books from Edward Sheriff Curtis, 291 Gallery New York, Steichen and George Rodger.

While his degree in food engineering, his work in programming and his tenure in medical information systems deviate from what he is doing now, his avidity in the subject of photographic literature remained prior to the foundation of the store. «I do not have training in the arts. My interest in the subject is how I have a store now. While I was working on jobs that were a far-off tangent to what I am doing now, I was buying and selling photography books on online platforms for twelve years».

His ardor for photography had prompted him to take up the craft, using digital cameras and hosting a darkroom to develop his pictures. He has since halted this due to his working schedule. Having won the Visa Lottery to the United States, Lemaire settled in San Francisco for two years. He later moved back to the North of France after the September eleventh tragedy. «I was doing the same business model then in San Francisco. Scouring thrift stores and secondhand stores for books. I then sold a number of books on eBay».

Lemaire’s archive and method of purchasing

Upon returning to his hometown, Lemaire – without a stable job, left with an online bookstore – Lemaire took a leap and established his physical store. At a given time, he stocks estimated around two-thousand books in inventory. A chunk of them, purchased ten years ago, have turned into rarities. Nine-hundred book titles have since been archived from his online and physical store due to it being purchased by his subset of customers. «There is a backlog of items that I have not had the time to list on the site or showcase in the store due to the paucity of shelf space».

His method of purchasing has taken a shift. Once having purchased books from independent publishers, Lemaire now amasses his library through distributors. He shares obstructions to purchasing books this way. He states «it requires an arm and a leg to send the book from the distributor, back to the author to get signed copies. It is time consuming, and books have risen in price». Due to the hike in prices, Lemaire has had to find ways to set himself apart to draw in customers who have yet to buy books from his establishment. The addition of the gallery is how he pulls them in.  

Lampoon, Mark Power, Good Morning, America Volume III, GOST, 2020
Mark Power, Good Morning, America Volume III, GOST, 2020

Lampoon review: the origins of the name L’Ascenseur Végétal

Upon acquiring it, he took a sum of months to set up and refurbish the space. One that he remarks to be capacious. «The previous owner was a friend of mine, a photographer who used the lot to showcase his work. It was a studio as well. The buildingmade from limestonewould’ve been a challenge to work with had it not been for the existing renovations that were done».

Walls were painted in a raft of colors. A shade of grey characterized the wall on the left. Lemaire updated it in a pigment darker to accommodate pictures and books in the store. Borrowing concepts from these stores, Lemaire utilizes English and French as his mode of language and communication on his website and choice of books. This, then, splits over to his store.

The name of the store L’Ascenseur Végétal, as Lemaire elucidates, was a name that holds no significance. He shares that his search for names has been a journey and settling upon one was a challenge. In his process of narrowing down names for the store, he states that striking names were taken. He then took the approach to associate his brand as something abstract. When breaking into separate entities the two words, L’Ascenseur is the mechanical aspect of things, like a camera. While, Végétal translates to flora.

Lemaire, over time, has managed to tie it back to the vein of the brand and its adoration for flora. Lemaire explains the similarities between the growth of a plant and how it captures light in its cells, as it grows upwards – a phenomenon shared in photography. «I had the intent to name the store something else, but stuck with L’Ascenseur Végétal. The vegetal lift is a shared sentiment in the children’s fable, Jack and the Beanstalk». 

Being a bookstore owner and a curator for a photographic library is an occupation Lemaire juggles with ease. Within the store, thirty-five by thirty meters of the space are used for the purpose of the exhibitions. The aim is to showcase fifteen to twenty-five photographs at a time. The owner had partnered with creative designers in the area to spruce the store’s internal identity. The adding of shelves and vintage furniture pieces to complement the books and photographs. «I had come to know them when I was living on the outskirts of the city and would pass by their store each day. I then prompted them to come on board – a partnership of sorts». Due to the clash in their schedules, Lemaire and the individuals involved ceased their partnership in 2018.

In regard to the books that he sells to his chain of customers, Lemaire works with his distributor to champion up-and-coming works. His aim is to gain traction in sales. «There are some cases where returning customers request eye-catching books that I myself would not mind purchasing from America». Lemaire explains that L’Ascenseur Végétal is one of two spots in the city of Bordeaux where visitors are able to absorb photographical material.

He has since included his peer, Pascale Giffard to manage and curate the exhibitions since 2019. Lemaire had come to know of her through his engagement in the photography festival in Arles. One of L’Ascenseur Végétal’s prolific gallery shows was one with photographer Théo Gosselin, having sold out the entire show, selling prints and hosting an approximate two-hundred people in the space. The surrounding locale has been for the arts, Lemaire says, hosting gallery pop-ups, concepts and events to cater to the individuals in the area. «We are sixty meters from the town square from where the events take place» 

Future development at L’Ascenseur Végétal

Due to circumstances, Lemaire will be leaving his space in Bordeaux in the first quarter of the coming year. «The building belonged to a ninety-eight-year-old woman who passed on last year. Her kin had decided on selling the building to developers in the area». The owners who have taken ownership to the building are leaning to renovate the property in its entirety. A move that would take over the span of two years. «This would mean that I wouldn’t have a physical store to operate out of».

Upon relieving himself from his role as a physical bookstore owner, he is enkindled with the opportunity to extend his participation at Rencontres d’Arles. A photography fair Lemaire partakes in each year. He will be at the fair for two months this year. He has planned in course a number of exhibitions to take place towards Christmas time.

Lemaire states that in the years to come, the periphery will continue to expand in culture and significance in the topic of the arts. He shares his intent on hosting a pop-up booth in the bookstore across the street from him. While doing this, he plans on existing once again through his online presence on his website and social media platforms. He is open to the possibility of returning to Bordeaux in the coming years. His aim is to form a collective with individuals involved in the arts, in specific, photography. 

L ’Ascenseur Végétal

20 Rue Bouquière, 33000 Bordeaux, France
L’Ascenseur Végétal is a photobook store & gallery located in Bordeaux, France.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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