I haven’t read my horoscope recently, but I suspect that it said “lots of interviews” ! The Photopreneur blog dedicated a long article/interview to me. Free Photo Resources also asked me a lot of questions, here’s what we talked about:
Can you please tell me a bit about yourself, your photography and your website?
To me photography is a great pretext for exploring reality and having my beliefs constantly challenged. I share some of my experiences on my blog and get some inspiring feedback and contacts. This is a tough moment for us photographers because the information industry is undergoing a profound transformation, forcing us to be quite alert and flexible. I found out that keeping a blog supports my capacity to innovate.
I notice from your site that you have spent a lot of time travelling, where is the most interesting/inspiring location you have visited?
It’s really hard to answer your question with the name of a location. To me the interesting and inspiring thing is the travelling itself, it’s going from one place to another and being exposed to all the contradictions. What is taken for granted in one place is absolutely unimaginable somewhere else. What is considered “good” in one country is seen as “really bad” in another. Everything is relative. In Algeria I saw women swimming completely covered with black veils, in Miami or in Rio you can see women almost naked and plenty of plastic surgery. Wherever I am, I observe reality with curiosity trying to avoid preconceptions as much as possible.
I notice among your portraits there are shots of Willem Dafoe and Donatella Versace, how did you arrange these shoots?
I have photographed a few celebrities because I was asked to do so. I love shooting portraits and I look at a celebrity through the lens of my camera with the same interest with which I look at a farmer, a scientist or a prostitute. Every time I photograph someone, I also end up feeling I know myself a bit better.
What are your 3 favourite shots?
The portrait of Jenny and Ian kissing is one of my favorite images. I called it “Le Baiser”. At first they didn’t want me to take their picture, but I was too taken with the loving complicity I saw in them and eventually convinced them. Every time I look at it I can feel the love uniting this couple.
Another image that is important to me is the one that I shot in a Bangkok temple. When I arrived the place was empty, but when I was about to leave a group of monks arrived and sat neatly on the floor. That was a moment of spiritual practice and it felt awkward having a camera there. Nevertheless the monks were very concentrated and didn’t seem to mind. I stayed outside of the front door and pointed my camera, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly the young monk turned his head and looked at me.
Marina is one of the portraits form the Bald Is Beautiful series. The woman is a New York police clerk affected with alopecia. I photographed her just after she had joined a group of women who are trying to redefine the concept of beauty and assert their right to be bald. But she arrived with a scarf on her head and seemed rather insecure. My challenge was to make her feel comfortable and bring out her beauty.
What can readers of your new book How To Shoot a Reportage expect from its contents?
Brutally practical tips on how to conceive, organize, produce and deliver reportage, facts about the publishing market, and some technical advice. Shooting reportage can be quite complex because there are very many aspects to take into consideration. Summarizing, I could say that for me it all starts with a good idea that I am curious to explore and that has some potential to be published in a magazine.
Then I document myself on the matter and try to find some good contacts. The pre-production phase is very important because it helps me get the best out of my trip and prepare for inevitable unforeseen events. Once I arrive at my destination and start shooting, I make sure I organize the pictures I take day by day keeping a constant eye on the harmony that needs to be created among them.
Of course I also need to manage local contacts and optimize my schedule, which could include solving problems such as adverse weather conditions, fixing a broken camera or dealing with strikes, assaults, floods… Not to mention the endless surprises that a local contact might astonish me with!
Then it’s postproduction time, which could be quite lengthy if I want to deliver my reportage at the standard that I know my clients appreciate. All in all, it’s a very hard job. But it’s also extremely inspiring. As I am not a war reporter, the manual doesn’t lists tips on bulletproof vests and such. Anyway, on my blog there is a complete table of contents and a preview.
How long did the book take to write?
The writing itself didn’t take me too long because I only had to put down what I do all the time. What has been really time consuming is the final editing.
Are there plans for a second book?
I have many plans, but I am not going to tell you everything now…
What’s the feedback about the book been like?
I am amazed by all the positive feedback that I am getting and, above all, by who is sending it to me. Most customers are pro photographers! The funny thing is that I wrote the manual because of all of the emails that I get from photography students asking me for tips. Anyway, most people said they particularly appreciated my practical approach and the fact that I share what I learned from my mistakes without pulling my punches. Someone stated on his blog that “the book is simple and straight to the point”, another one wrote “well worth a read and an eye opener no matter what your photographic interest”, or “it is an important volume for me… wish I had it some years ago”.
All in all it seems I can be happy about it. So far I have received one complaint from someone that didn’t like the layout and another one from someone who considered some information too basic. Strangely enough, just a couple of days before, a photography website stated in its review: “The book doesn’t talk about the basics of photography…”
Oh, I also had a complaint from someone who was expecting to find in-depth instructions on how to market reportage. Although the book offers several tips that can certainly help a lot, the topic would deserve a book on its own titled How To Market Reportage.
Do you have a particular style of photography you prefer? If so please explain why this is.
Portraiture is definitely my thing. Some of my stories are, in fact, a collection of portraits. Every time I photograph someone, I also end up feeling I know myself better because I look at the subject as if I was looking at myself expressed in a different form. We are different, but not so different.
Is there anywhere in the world that you would particularly like to visit to photograph and why?
Wherever I can find an encouraging and uplifting story to report or an inspiring portrait to shoot.
Which photographers inspire you and why?
I am asked this question all the time, the truth is that I am very bad with names and I forget immediately who was shooting what. It happens that I get inspired, for instance, by a cheesy picture printed on a cookies box because I see something interesting in it. And it also happens that I find one image of a certain photographer totally sublime, but the rest look rather boring to me.
What’s the most important piece of equipment in your camera bag?
If/when you have inspiration blocks, how do you overcome these?
It has never happened so far.
Which lenses do you use the most and why?
For portraiture I mostly use an EF 50mm f/1.4. In the past I enjoyed experimenting with an EF 100mm f/2.8 macro, but recently I have been using that lens only for close-ups on details. For reportage an EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS and an EF 16-35 f/2.8 L II are my friends. On rare occasions I rent other lenses.
Can you describe your photography in 3 words?
No, that’s too difficult (and too personal).
Do you typically use film or digital, can you tell me a bit about this decision?
I have been doing exclusively digital photography for many years now. I have gotten used to seeing the result immediately and I would not go back. Not to mention that nowadays it’s also a budget issue. Having said that, I do miss using my favorite black and white film which is… Ouch, I already forgot the name!
What websites do you visit on a regular basis regarding photography and do you follow any photographers/photography sites on Twitter/Facebook? If so, please give a bit of detail as to why this is.
I am pretty new to the social networking thing and am enjoying all the stuff that I am learning. I have a Facebook page and I do tweet about what I consider relevant. On Twitter I follow mainly information providers such as HuffingtonPost, NyTimesPhotos or PhotoNewsPro. I visit often photography sites inspired by the tweets that I receive. When I have a burning question, I find good support in the Linkedin photography groups that I joined and in the Photoshelter community. I recently joined Quora and the concept is great.
What post processing do you carry out (without giving too much away!! ;0))
When I was shooting in film, I would retouch an image only if the result was desperately unpublishable. Now it’s different and I have no problem in erasing a pimple on a face, lightening a shadow or making other minor corrections. Of course I do it only if that detail is disturbing to the general impact or if there are other very good reasons to do so. For example, I have shot in prohibitive lighting conditions thinking already about how I would fix things with Photoshop. And I have delivered a report with a couple of pictures heavily photoshopped and the others almost natural. No one realized the difference, but I didn’t feel too comfortable about that. Even if postproduction has become part of the creative process, I prefer limiting retouching to a minimum.
How often do you venture out on shoots, how long will you typically spend on a shoot and how many shots would you expect to get from the session?
There was a time when my problem was finding a way to do all the pieces that I had been commissioned to do by the magazines and I was travelling like crazy. Things have changed. Magazines are in deep trouble and often prefer to buy images by some micro-stock agency and create articles by cutting and pasting press releases or quotes found on the net. Now I travel less and my work is diversifying. When on a shooting trip, as I explain in my book, the important thing is staying within a very tight budget. How much and how long varies depending on the assignment. Yes, this is the end of an era and it’s very destabilizing—but also exciting.