Without them, no images of the Grand Ducal couple’s official trip to Portugal: the three official photographers hired to cover the State visit confide in their profession-passion which takes them to the end of the world.
They are well known to Luxembourg journalists, but not to the general public, and for good reason: their job is precisely to make themselves forgotten. Emmanuel Claude, Jean-Christophe Verhaegen and Sophie Margue are the three official photographers for the Grand Ducal couple’s state visit to Portugal, which ended on Friday. The first two on behalf of the SIP – the Government Information and Press Service – and the last, in the service of the Grand Ducal Court.
But as these image professionals never stop, it was not easy to squeeze them in the same place for more than two minutes: it was therefore, pell-mell, at breakfast, in the minibus, and finally on the plane, that they kindly took a few minutes to talk about their profession unlike any other.
Computer wedged in the backpack, a box hanging on each shoulder, Jean-Christophe, 48, is above all an observer, ready to trigger at the slightest gesture of the Grand Duke who appears in the eyepiece: freelancer for the Agency France-Presse for 20 years, experienced in the coverage of official events, the SIP regularly calls on him. His baptism of fire, the princely wedding of Guillaume and Stéphanie in 2012: “I went to buy a suit,” he says, laughing.
“Better to be tough!”
But what makes him vibrate are above all distant destinations: Finland, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Japan or even Morocco, in recent years, they have chained missions, sometimes following the Grand Ducal couple, sometimes the Grand Hereditary Duke. “We have the chance to work in incredible places, with the most important people,” he rejoices, his features a bit drawn by four days at a frantic pace.
Because a state visit is a real marathon, confirms Sophie: “Better to be tough! Normally, I have two to three activities a day to cover, there it can go up to eight”, counts the 32-year-old young woman, now used to these atypical working conditions, since she works for the Court Grand Ducal since 2018.
“Lack of sleep is added to the permanent stress, we delay or even skip meals, not to mention the high temperatures, and our clothes, in accordance with the protocol, but impractical”, she lists, adding that he must also adapt to unfamiliar places and always be responsive. “Everything is going very fast. But it’s great, because we discover people and places that would otherwise be inaccessible to us”, she insists, while all this fell on her a bit by chance.
Often the only woman
“I have always liked taking photos – I received my very first camera for my communion – but I had not thought of making it my job”, recalls the one who therefore started her career in communication, before start as a freelance photographer.
With success: his talent is appreciated today up to the top of the State: “A bond of trust has been created with the grand-ducal family. They recognize me in the crowd of photographers and naturally turn to me”, she confides, specifying that she is often the only woman among all the accredited photographers.
The third of the team is “Manu”, 45 years old. Head of his own photo and video agency in Luxembourg since 2009, he joined the SIP pool in 2017, but still doesn’t know how to tie his tie. Fortunately, Jean-Christophe is never far away.
Isn’t that also teamwork? We do not necessarily suspect it, but during a trip of this magnitude, it is the collective that makes all the difference: “With several people, we observe both the scene and what the colleagues are doing, we try to ‘to be complementary by multiplying the points of view as much as possible, so that the images reflect as faithfully as possible what we have experienced,’ explains this Lorrain, a lifelong photography enthusiast, fascinated as he was by the sound of the shutter of the paternal film camera.
“For four days, it’s non-stop, without a break”
The three photographers also each use different focal lengths to obtain different renderings. All in a timed ballet, framed by the multiple briefings of the SIP organization manager, even if, as Jean-Christophe points out, “photography is not an exact science, we are not immune to a miss. Sometimes, we imagine a photo, we position ourselves, and someone gets in front or enters the field, then we have to quickly find a plan B.
The most complicated thing to manage, for Emmanuel, is the sustained pace imposed by the exercise: “For four days, it’s non-stop, without a break, we edit in the minibus, during transfers, at the restaurant, we send as soon as we can, because the press is waiting for our photos,” he recalls.
On their return to Luxembourg on Friday afternoon, after the final images captured when the Grand Duke got off the plane, they collected their luggage and returned to their homes, exhausted. But the siesta will have to wait, because their mission is not over: “We will still add other photos, which we had not necessarily selected on the spot, and send back all the images, this time in a heavier format. . There are still almost two days of work”, concludes Jean-Christophe with a big smile, already (almost) ready to leave.
Their fondest memories
Sophie: “In 2019, with the Grand Duke in Madrid for COP25. I was able to enter the king’s residence, there was a huge park, it was very impressive. And the most moving moment was without hesitation my humanitarian trip to Lebanon, with the Grand Duchess, in 2018: we visited a refugee camp. It was a posteriori that I realized what I had just seen. One day, I will tell all this to my children.
Emmanuel: “I was able to accompany the Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, during a working visit to South Korea in 2018, and among the highlights, we went to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone which acts as a buffer between the two Koreas. It’s amazing to have been able to see this place.”
Jean-Christophe: “Me, I walked in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo during the State visit to Japan in 2017, it remains a very strong memory. There is also the World Expo in Dubai, where I returned four times for the SIP: seeing the whole evolution of the Luxembourg pavilion, which at the beginning was just a pile of sand, was a great experience. »
The Grand Duke returns, without Madame
While the State visit to Portugal ended Thursday evening, with a reception offered by Luxembourg in a trendy place in Lisbon, the South Lisboa, on the banks of the Tagus, it is alone that the Head of State embarked Friday morning on board the special flight which brought him back to Luxembourg, the Grand Duchess “having other commitments”, specified the Palace.
The sovereign was welcomed on the tarmac at Findel around 1 p.m. by Fernand Etgen, President of the Chamber of Deputies, and Lex Delles, Minister for the Middle Classes and Tourism. In the cozy decor of the airport’s VIP lounge, the Grand Duke then made a point of personally thanking each of the participants in this official trip, from members of the government to journalists.