Mathieu Bitton “Capturing Legends”

During Dave Chappelle’s most recent run at Radio City Music Hall in NYC, we stumbled across the work of photographer Mathieu Bitton. Bitton’s work would leave us drooling as he captured some of the world’s best comedian’s on stage. We would further discover that Bitton was quite familiar with capturing legends on his lens In this spotlight, we learn more about Bitton’s start and goal with each picture.


Photo: @CandyTMan

1. Tell us about yourself, where are you from? and when was the first time you picked up a camera professionally

I was born in Paris, France. Grew up there and moved to Los Angeles when I was 14. I always played around with cameras. I shot school projects. My godfather Gerard Darel gave me a Leica R Leicaflex that I thought didn’t work because the film came back black or ghostly. Turns out it needed a battery. Who knew. I started shooting album covers for labels I worked with like Warner Bros. Records, BMG and started doing lots of indie album covers and posters for artists like Grey DeLisle, Chris Pierce, Trevor Menear, Shane Alexander. I also designed them which is what attracted major labels. They liked the idea of a one-stop shop. I used to shoot at SXSW when I went there to do design and marketing panels. Having worked on over 800 album covers and boxed sets, I still love designing albums. When I started working with Lenny Kravitz a decade ago, I shot one of his shows at the Fillmore in NYC and he saw the photos and kidnapped me on a European tour. At that point I really had to perfect my craft and Lenny put me on the map in a major way with photography. I had just been nominated for a Grammy award for Janes Addiction’s A Cabinet of Curiosities box set which I had art directed, designed and photographed. So it was a magical time and it gave me the confidence to go to the next level.

2. One of the first times we found out about you was from a picture of Dave Chappelle we shared, can you remember the very first time you took Dave’s picture? Where was it?

Well I met Dave at Prince’s House in LA back in 2006. Dave says when he first saw me talking to Prince he thought I was a French gangster. That still makes me laugh. and then again in the elevator of the Gansevoort Hotel in NYC the night Prince performed on the roof in October 2008. Then in 2011 Lenny and I went over to Prince’s house after the Grammy Awards and ended up hanging out with Dave and his band leader Fred Yonnet (aka the best harmonica player in the world) and shooting pool while we waited for Prince to “float in” as he did. That night I took a photo of Lenny and Dave by the pool table in the house. But it wouldn’t be until I believe 2015 when Carla Sims (Dave’s PR extraordinaire and then some) called me to come to shoot Dave at a club in Silver Lake after our mutual friend and former Prince assistant-cum-manager Ruth Arzate gave her my number. I was a such a massive Chappelle fan that I really was quiet and laid back the first couple times I shot Dave. The first big job I did for him was to shoot all the stills for the first Netflix special ‘The Age of Spin’ at the Los Angeles Palladium where we hung out and shot for several days. Then it became a regular thing and I ended up having my photos featured in all of his Netflix specials. Man, he even put ME in the photo montage of ‘Equanimity’ and gave me a cameo in ‘The Bird Revelation’, both of which I exclusively shot stills for. I even recently Art Directed, Designed and Photographed the Double Feature LP that Chappelle won the Grammy for this year.

3. From viewing your work, you are capturing some iconic moments, stuff people will remember years from now, how much work goes into capturing those moments? And how much of it is luck?

I really put everything I’ve got into my work. I often am completely wrecked after shooting because I’m out there challenging myself every single day or night – or both. Luck has a part in it because sometimes it’s about being at the right place at the right time. Sometimes a mistake will end up giving you the perfect shot. I once tripped and got an amazing photo of Lenny on stage that I’d never be able to recreate. I try to give people iconic time capsules. My goal is to make the viewer feel like they were there too. To feel the emotion. To laugh at the joke. To groove to the sounds. To shake their booties to the emotion, all that while staring at a still image. It’s a lot of work. And the beautiful Leica cameras I use help a lot. They simply give my outpost an extra dimension. I strive for perfection. I hope I get there someday. If there is such a thing.

4. You’ve captured a lot of great people. What legendary comedian would you have loved to capture on your lens? and why?

I mean to me the GOD and the GOAT was Richard Pryor. I got to meet him in the 90s at an event for the reissuing of his comedy albums in NYC. Just a “hello”, as he was already in a wheelchair and in bad shape. He would have been a dream to shoot. Probably would have been very hard to shoot but I love a good challenge. I had the honor of shooting Dick Gregory in 2016. Another one of my idols. That was a tough one as I don’t think he got how passionate I was about his work. I think he thought I was trying to con him or something. But I got some great images and he was super kind and appreciative in the end. It reminded me of an all-day shoot I had done with Melvin Van Peebles at his NYC apartment a couple months prior to that shoot. It started out tough and ended up with a great new friend who totally got me. I have to say that I have been collecting African American memorabilia for my whole adult life so far, including movie posters, records, statues, books etc (hence my appearance with my mega rare and mint condition first edition copy of “Pimp” by Iceberg Slim in Chappelle’s The Bird Revelation).

5. What’s the main feeling you want people to feel when they look through your pictures? and why is that important to you?

I want them to know I shot it, without having seen a credit yet. Then I want them to know exactly what the subject was feeling and what they were sharing with the world at that moment.