Yanick, many have heard of you but for those who haven't please tell us a little about you:
I am a Swiss citizen currently living in Argentina. I start shooting street photography about six years ago while working in Paris as an expat. Getting close to 40 years old, my wife and I decided to leave everything behind and embark on a 80 weeks trip around the world to shoot street. I documented this trip through a blog and started to write articles dedicated to street photography. It led to increase exposure of my work and slowly started to sell some street photographs to agencies. Currently, I am in transition period but have several projects in mind in the short and long term. Street photography has become a life long passion and luckily, subject matter is infinite, that is what makes it so interesting.
On moving to Argentina, do you feel a change of environment has been good for your creative juices?
Our move to Argentina coincided with the birth of our first child which I must admit took me off the streets (beware single street photographers… ) significantly more than I initially expected. This being said, Argentina is definitely an amazing place for street photography. The frenzy of the cities, the mix of modern and decadent, as well as the bright colors all are great elements to work with. Argentines are also quite friendly as I have never gotten into trouble while taking pictures here.
This being said, the large cities of Argentina are quite dangerous which restrains your radius of shooting to basically the downtown areas and a few touristic spots. Having your camera snatched away is one thing, but being pulled a gun upon is another one which I do not plan to experiment.
Still, we have embarked in a new adventure and if things turn out as planned business wise, I’ll be able to free up several months a year to dedicate purely to shooting, be it in Argentina or around the world. Unluckily, there are very few street photographers (if none) that can live 100% out of purely their street work yet. I am not one of them, but I am organizing my life to give a large place to this passion.
Your photos are being exhibited at CDG Airport's Terminal 1 in Paris (above) for the next 2 years. That's fantastic and your work will be seen by hundreds of thousands. How is it going so far?
Oddly, I used to think that showing one’s picture through the internet would result in a much wider audience than physical exhibitions. Yet, the exhibition being located in the most concurred terminal of CDG and it will be seen by hundreds of thousands, if not millions. I did attend the inauguration and seeing these large prints does indeed generate a whole different impact on viewers. I would love to know the thoughts of travelers coming from all over the world as they discover the exhibition. Indeed, most of my pictures are either surreal, humourous, or lyric, which will be perceived differently depending on the country and culture of the traveller. Also, I used to think that you needed to be called Cartier-Bresson, Parr or Brassai to get these large scale kind of exhibitions, but luckily the internet makes your work discoverable by anybody. Then, it just takes someone willing to take a risk on a less known photographer. This being said, it is still up to the photographer to construct an original and consistent body of work, and to know how to package and present his work well. Social networks and marketing are a very important tool in that regard, but so was it in the time of HCB and Capa. Networks just took a different form nowadays.
Finally, let’s mention that there is no recognizable subjects in the 17 pictures on display. Unluckily, right of image laws in France are quite strict so that left aside a lot my favorite and, in my opinion, best images aside. Asking for model releases when shooting goes against the flow of a street photographer, so unluckily, this is one aspect that is unavoidable in some countries. This is my only regret about his exhibition.
Many of your shots are humourous and also you frequently use "colour matching". For example "The Mustard Coat", I love that shot with the yellow of the bus, ladies coat and road markings all matching. Tell us more about that shot, is this in Argentina?
After years of hunting the streets (of Rosario, Argentina’s third largest city, in this instance), you realize that there are lots of opportunities for a potentially good picture. Sometimes I can walk for hours and see absolutely nothing that inspires me. That’s ok, it is part of the game. Yet when you do see a great scene, your camera and mind need to be ready and process the information very fast. In the case of this shot, I did spot the scene from about 20 meters away and came near quietly while weighting my options in terms of framing. This scene was static so there could have been many different ways to shoot it but I went for what I like to do, which is high vantage point of view, selective focus, up close, and fleeing lines (I always intent to include the farthest plane in my pictures). The colour match was obvious, I just had to wait for eye contact which happened very quickly. All in all, this picture creates above all a strong visual impact due to the colours and techniques described above. The documentary aspect is always secondary to me, I never intend to describe a moment in detail (nobody knows what is really happening in the mind of this woman), but just give my artistic interpretation of it.
Another is "Hey Taxi" with the red car and lady in a red coat. It was shot with a Nokia 1020 wasn't it? So I guess you need no convincing on using phones for street photography?
I can’t remember who initially said it, but the best camera is the one you have with you. Sometimes, I just can’t take my rangefinder or compact along so having a good phone camera in case a good scene comes up. The Nokia 1020 gets very close to the quality of mid-range cameras and this is important to me. While camera phones shots are great to share on the internet, the quality is in general not there for larger prints or selling to agencies. The CDG exhibit would have been impossible had I used an iPhone, or at least in large prints. While the 1020 is not perfect I feel that its files (available in raw format too) can be used for other applications than the internet. I still wish it had a faster start-up time, less shutter lag and a quicker shot to shot time.
All in all, while the quality of camera phones will converge more and more towards DSLR’s, nothing replaces physical dials and focus rings. To me, a phone is the second best option, rangefinders or DSLR still rule for street photography. At least for the way I shoot which requires a lot of reactiveness and being able to change the settings of a camera without looking at its screen. The best illustration of it is the red car passing in front of the lady in red. Had I used my rangefinder, I would have been able to separate it a bit further from the lady. It is extremely difficult to time pictures well with camera phones currently.
I particularly enjoy the sections on your blog on "Masters of Photography" and the "If I could ask them one question" part. Is there anyone that springs to mind immediately you'd like to ask a question to? What would it be?
Yes, there are a few famous street photographers to who I would love to ask « Did you stage it ? » With experience, you learn that shooting a great street photograph is extremely difficult. It requires a lot of patience, intuition, skill and… luck. Yet, sometimes I get the feeling that the pictures that I am looking at are « could you do that again » or « stand here please » kind of pictures. I believe that the street photographer should in no way interact with his subject before taking the picture. Staging is too easy and ethically wrong, unless you state it. The essence of street photography is its candidness so if one does like to stage, which in absolute is ok, be sincere about it or call it something else than street photography.
It's a question I'm sure you're asked over and over again but what would be the single most important piece of photographic advice you wish you were given when you started?
Probably not to focus too much on equipment. For the last four years I have been shooting with the same system (M9) with basically two focal lengths (35mm - 50/). Though the temptation to upgrade (GAS) is sometimes there, at some point you realize that lack of skill, vision or even time are the major reasons of one’s shortcomings, not owning the latest camera. Spending the money on travel or shooting time is the best way to progress quickly. Still, the equipment discovery phase is probably a step that a beginner has to go through to find what best fits its shooting style and vision.
Thanks a lot for this interview Yanick!