Melchior Tersen’s confessions of a shopaholic
Meet the Parisian photographer and archivist who has been buying, collecting and archiving all the best bits from contemporary pop culture. Think: Zinedine Zidane, DC Skully, Travis Scott and Stifler’s Mom all sitting around a table…
As young as he can remember, Parisian photographer and archivist Melchior Tersen has had what he can only describe as crushes on objects. Like a teenager possessed by the throws of passion, Tersen is often seduced by the motifs, textures and symbolism found in modern artefacts. It’s led him to own a plethora of contemporary pop culture memorabilia, his home bursting at the seams.
“When I buy something, that’s when I’m lovestruck,” the elusive 33-year-old says. “The issue is that rather than being a collector, I’m an addictive and compulsive shopper. It’s not the same kind of beast.” Still, some might argue he’s cataloguing modern history as it happens before our eyes, building a mini-museum which includes newspaper cutouts of Zinedine Zidane’s 2006 headbutt, Jersey Shore T‑shirts from their original MTV run, Slipknot memorabilia, packaging from a Travis Scott x McDonald’s burger and a comprehensive collection of tees ranging from band merch to the sardonically sloganed.
On top of these material glossaries of the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s, Tiersen also collects “moments” as a photographer, meticulously documenting his travels to the deepest and darkest corners of society through DIY zines. Photography gives him a pretext to be immersed in worlds he wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. It’s a vehicle for him to better understand the society that, so to speak, raised him – be that via latex conventions in Berlin or movie premieres on the Champs Élysées.
It’s this revolutionary approach to life that has led him to shoot for brands such as Vetements and Xuly Bet, who value his vision of modern history just as much as his sneaky abilities as a fly-on-the-wall photographer.
Below, THE FACE finds out more about Tersen’s object “crushes”, what it means to be authentic in fashion today and his perspective on the future of thrifting.
When did you first start collecting?
I’ve always collected and kept things – it’s anchored in my way of life. The Killing Technology book project was the first time I allowed myself to make a bunch of unreasonable purchases related to my work. It was by becoming unreasonable that my life became interesting.
What was the first thing you ever collected?
Playing cards that I’d trade in school. There was a brand of cards called Deus which was about the Gods and beliefs of different cultures in history. Even though I’d only been given two packets of the collectables (which only held five cards each), I managed to trade my way to having the full set. I have no idea how I did it. That was 25 years ago and thanks to that, I know who Quetzalcoatl, Amaterasu, Loki and Bastet are.
What is it about objects that sets your pulse racing?
It feels like having a crush. I’m seduced by objects for different reasons, like the material, what they represent, their motifs… When I buy something, that’s when I’m lovestruck. I basically let my instincts guide my actions. The issue is that rather than being a collector, I’m an addictive and compulsive shopper. It’s not the same kind of beast.
Where do you see second-hand culture heading in the future?
No idea. Upcycling has always been around, but it now being a trend has highlighted so many more aspects of it. Mostly its ecological impact, which to some represents a revolution, but to others is simply another opportunity to capitalise on something. What is certain is that anything “historic” or that has an official license will always have a market and resale value. An official vintage Nirvana T‑shirt is like a Rolex or an apartment, it’s an investment, and that seems logical to me.
How did you start taking pictures?
In high school, I bought a camera just to fuck around with. I’d take it to metal concerts, hip-hop gigs, signing sessions and cinema premieres at the Champs Élysées. It gave me reasons to go out and experience the world, otherwise I would’ve spent all my time in the suburbs. I was working in a supermarket at night and taking pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie [at premieres]. By my own means and my own determination, I came back with photos of American celebrities, which gave me the confidence to start doing things on my own.
What is your take on authenticity in fashion these days?
I think that now with social networks, we’ve experienced a century of trends in a matter of years. Everything is going too fast, and people aren’t incentivised to think about what they are or what they really think since in a year’s time the trend will have changed radically.
Our times are tough but interesting and more than ever, anything is possible.
Lets get objective...
The most original object you have?
An advertisement for a life-size X‑Files cassette with Mulder and Scully.
Object with the most sentimental value?
A T‑shirt my father wore to work when I was a child. It reminds me of happier times. My sword which I’ve had since I was 10, too.
Object most people would love to have?
A vintage sofa by Le Corbusier.
Object with the most interesting story behind it?
Recently I bought a pair of Levi’s 70 jeans with an orange label in a second-hand store with signatures on it, including that of Robert Wyatt, a member of Soft Machine.