Who are you ? Where do you come from ?
I am not a professional photographer, my job is diamond dealer, but street photography is my bubble of oxygen, what helps me fulfill my life.
Tell us what is your photography background ?
When I began to be interested seriously in photography a few years ago, I immediately and naturally went outside to the street. I was only attracted and fascinated by what happens in the street, but I had no idea of what I was going to do with it.
Little by little, I discovered the work of famous street photographers such as Robert Franck, Helen Levitt, Joel Sternfeld, Elliott Erwitt, Saül Leiter or Bruce Davidson. Very fast, I understood that without knowing it I joined a photographic tradition, that I was a member of a "family", that of the urban reporters, “street photographers ". That was for me a revelation.
From that moment the virus did not leave me. Being self-taught I began to read everything about those whom I consider as my masters, I went and saw exhibitions, bought photography books, and after a few months, never spent a day without walking in the streets of Paris.
The same year I began to show my pictures on specialized websites and very fast I was struck by the success that my work met with perfect strangers in every corner of the world. It was very exciting to notice that my photos were appreciated in South Africa, in Australia, in the United States, in Japan …
A few months later a Chinese journalist having noticed my work done in the Parisian subway, gave me an interview and four double pages in the magazine Vision, along with the famous New York street photographer Markus Hartel.
Little by little, always as an amateur, I continued my own gentle path. Blog administrators of blogs from around the world asked me for the authorization to use such or such of my photos, and a young American painter, Will Prinn, wished to realize a painting from one of my photos. I read, learnt, I perfected.
Last January three of my photos were chosen by the Science Museum of United Kingdom, to illustrate a book published for the 100th anniversary of the museum.
Why Paris ?
Simply because I live there. It is MY city ;-)) I know her, I love her, I feel her, I miss her when I am away.
What message do you try to pass on in your photos ?
My purpose is not to deliver a particular message through my photos. I feel very different from the photographers who speak about their "work", about the "meaning of their approach" or who want to arouse a reflection on such or such subject by means of their photos.
I always have in mind these sentences of two great New York street photographers that are Helen Levitt and Saül Leiter. Helen Levitt said: " people often ask me what is the meaning of this or that ? And I have no good answer to be given to them, what you see what is what you see, there is nothing to understand beyond what is shown ".
As for Saül Leiter he is even more concise: " I go out to take a walk, I see something, I take a picture".
For me, that is Street photography. Of course it is necessary to be aware of what surrounds you, to have an open mind and not to take pictures of just everything.
When I take a photo of a shoe shop window lit by the sunset, what kind of message can I be passing, apart "look how as a simple shoe store can be beautiful, learn to look around you, beauty is everywhere, the aesthetics are in reality " ?
Can you describe your style ?
For a long time I was not conscious to have a style but, people who followed my work kept telling me that my photos were recognizable within a thousand, so I finally had to believe them.
If I had to summarize my style in a single word I would say simply of my photos that they are the "true".
From a purely technical point of view, my style is rather direct and frontal; I come very close to my subjects, while trying to remain almost invisible. To photograph in a big city, anonymity is essential. I want that my photos to be authentic, spontaneous and sincere.
I do not try to disguise reality by embellishing it, by playing with the effects, the technology or the lighting. I will always prefer a missed failed but strong photo to a technically perfect image that conveys no emotion.
Generally I do not make wide shots; I do not photograph the urban architecture, the big spaces or the crowds. My subject it is the human being, the man in the city and I like qualifying myself as a photographer at "pavement level ".
Humor also holds an important place in my photos; I am very attentive to the eccentricities of everyday life. I often play with posters, advertising punch lines, store names. They are an inexhaustible source of funny or absurd photos.
My photos are raw and soft, dark and playful. Sometimes I surprise myself with my capacity to set my emotions aside in front of a very hard scene, while at the same time I can be touched by a tender and sweet situation.
Who are your masters, your inspirations in photography ?
Of all aspects of photography, street photography is the one I admire and respect most, because it is the most difficult. The street photographer is entitled only to a single blow and is constantly exposed to failure.
I love all the Street photographers, I see myself in each of them, I understand them, I know what they feel, they are my "brothers-in-arms".
But my masters are especially American photographers: Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Saül Leiter, Bruce Davidson, Alex Webb, William Eggelston, Vivian Maier among others.
Women and simple and modest men who all their life walked the streets of their city to capture the soul, without ever looking for glory or fame.
Vivian Maier, died in 2009 was a simple nursemaid in Chicago. During more than sixty years she took thousands of photos in the street for her own pleasure, that she never processed and therefore never saw … Her work was accidentally discovered after her death by John Maloof, a man who bought boxes full of films for a few dollars during an auction. Today, she is considered as one of the biggest photographers of the 20th century.
The first book gathering part of her work was released in 2011.
Photography, Paris and you … a fusional relation ?
Absolutely. I force myself from time to time to leave home without my camera, that makes me a break … When I tell my daughter that we are going to go out, and I will not take my camera along, she seems happy.
Are you a pure Parisian or do you have an outside eye on the capital ?
I am almost a pure Parisian. I was born in 50 kms from Paris but have lived there since I am 18 years old. I have no outside look on Paris, on the contrary, it is my city, my village, my soil.
What do you find in Paris that you could not find elsewhere ?
Today the lifestyle in European cities is the same whether it is in London, Berlin, Rome or Barcelona, and the human being is the same everywhere. I think that after a few days in one of those cities I could manage to take it the same kind of photos as in Paris. What makes the difference in my opinion it is the knowledge that the photographer has of his city, its inhabitants, their habits, their customs, social or clothing codes, places where things happen.
What I like in Paris among others it is the magic there is to be almost able to change world, by passing from a district to the next. The division of districts is such that within a few hundred meters you can pass from a popular district to a high class neighborhood, or from an African district to an Indian district … for a photographer it is a gold mine.
Who fascinates you, what catches your eye ?
Vast subject! I often feel as a war reporter during peacetime. In the street I am obsessed by what surrounds me, what takes place, the movement of people, their body movements, their clothes, their relations with each other. Even noises draw my attention.
My subject it is the street, the street where any pretext will do to take a picture. I photograph the men, the women, the things, the unknown persons in their everyday life, I try to record in a fraction of a second the complexity as the commonness of urban life and the human condition.
My approach is not firstly aesthetic, I do not specially try to make an "attractive photo " but capture a beautiful or strong moment of urban life. I try to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I try hard to see the “theater” of the street without caring of what is beautiful or ugly, comfortable or disturbing. My only requirement is spontaneity. I look at the humanity such as it shows itself for us, every day, without make-up and I leave the spectator free of his imagination
As says funnily the Czech photographer Martin Kollar: "I am attracted by ordinary people when they make nothing special ".
My photos are not art, they are just photos of life.
Sometimes I can stay several days without being interested in people, my eye being only attracted by the forms, the lines, improbable graphics, shadows. A shadow on a wall interests me as much as the person or the thing which is the source. When the sun shines, lively colors catch my eye and get my attention. In the street my mind is never at rest.
Compulsive photographer, on the spot, or is preparation the key ?
Compulsive ? Certainly not. Everything in preparation either. Street photography is the exact opposite of a prepared photo. It is necessary to act in an instant, follow your instinct without thinking too much. In Street photography, the time to think can be fatal, your subject disappeared in the crowd or the scene does not exist any more.
I love the Street photographers of street who do not ask themselves questions, as Joël Sternfeld or Garry Winogrand, I always have the impression that they told to themselves: " take your photo you will see later ".
What cameras do you use ?
Nikon D600 and I always shoot with three same lenses: 50 mm f1.4, 35 mm f2 and 28 mm f2.8. Fix lenses which require that I be always in the right position and at the correct distance of the subject. I never use a zoom.
Best to capture Paris: black and white or color ?
I do not think this needs to be yet another debate. The question existed before digital photography, when you needed to load one or the other in your camera, today the technology allows us to choose in post-treatment and to have a change our mind at any time.
There is neither absolute rule nor value judgment to be emitted, it is a personal choice of the photographer according to his sensibility, to its photographic tastes, to what he wishes to show.
Given that until the middle of the sixties the Street photos were exclusively in black and white, the color films were then very expensive and only used for fashion or advertising, our eye on Street photography was educated in black and white, our references in this domain are in black and white. For a lot of people and even novice photographers, a good Street photo has to be in black and white. I did not escape to this rule.
With black and white we often have the feeling that the contents is more important than the rest, but big color photographers like William Eggelston, Fred Herzog, Ernst Haas or the great Saül Leiter, tought me to like color and that we could also bring out the content from a color photo.
For my part it is once at my home, in front of my screen, that I make tests and that I decide if I am going to leave the color photo or turn into in black and white. Sometimes I hesitate and keep both.
Personally I am a little saturated of always the same “cliché” images of Paris in black and white that we see everywhere : the lovers, the streetlights and the gleaming pavements even those of the biggest French photographers, and I appreciate more and more working color.
Argentic or digital ?
I never had the question, I came late to photography and the choice of the digital technology was immediately imperative. As self-taught I would have had no patience, besides, to learn to master the argentic. I did not have time. The digital technology corresponds completely to my impatient character because I can display immediately what I shoot. And the fact of knowing that icons of argentic photography as Sebastiao Salgado switched to digital technology definitively removed my inhibitions on the subject.
Your current events, your projects ?
In more or less short-term, find a serious agent capable of promoting me abroad, in particular in Asia and in the United States where my work meets certain success with interested buyers. Have an exhibition in a gallery in Paris. Find a publisher for a book. In the medium term, be able to live even modestly on my photos in order to make it my only occupation
Paris always and again ?
Yes, I shall make photos of my city till my last breath, even in a wheelchair as long as I shall have eyes to see. A street photographer never lowers the curtain.