Interview with Elizabeth Char | Paris, France
Hello Elizabeth Char! We are honored to be able to interview you for our Featured Photographer format on www.streetviewphotography.net!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself to begin with.
First of all let me thank you for this interview, I’m honored. I am 56 years old, born and living in Paris (Chinatown area). I currently work in an “On Air” TV Department for French TV channels. One of the benefits of my job is to watch a lot of movies, especially old movies in black and white. I like traveling a lot, especially to South East Asia where I go frequently since 1979.
Have you been involved in the arts in some form other than photography?
Yes, when I was very young I tried the guitar, later the double bass and I like to write and paint.
Seeing your remarkable work, I am curious where your creativity comes from?
I don’t know. There are no artists in my family. People tell me that I have a gift. But it’s not my place to judge. I can say that I have a natural curiosity which ever asks me to explore.
Could you share with us how you first became interested in street photography?
I came to street photography without really knowing about it. I always had strong periods of taking pictures and also not touching the camera at all. About 25 years ago I learned how to develop in a dark room. 2 years ago I needed to undertake a heavy medical treatment what was killing most of my energy. To stay awake I decided to take one picture per day. That is when Street photography came in my life. The treatment stopped, street photography remained. I used to say: I didn’t choose street photography, street photography has chosen me.
How did you learn about Street View Photography?
I had the opportunity to launch SVP-France. The project has interested me immediately. We are six administrators from France and I’m “the boss” as some of them put it. I love that new photographers make themselves known and show their work on our page. Particularly in France where street photography is within the scope of too many laws. The French are obsessed with image rights, sadly.
Within the Street View Photography network I have met so many new people who are passionate about street photography and since I love to travel I’m always happy that there is a street photographer with whom I can meet and enjoy shooting together.
What equipment are you using now and with what did you get started?
I had a several cameras which were partly also stolen long time ago. I remember I had a Pentax Optio, a Leica D Lux 4, A Fujifilm X-Pro1 and my latest acquisition is a Ricoh GR which I think is ideal for street photography. My favorite lens are wide-angle 24mm or 28 mm. I also like to have a powerful DLSR for night shots.
Can you tell us about your work flow from the point you first step onto the street until you showcase the developed picture?
Usually when I take photos I have an idea of what I want to do in post production. Just as I know if the image will be in B & W or color. I use Lightroom 4 and I love clean high-contrast images, grain seems to make them imperfect. I can’t say how much I admire “clean” photographs, but it is not what I want to do for the moment. The only thing I do know is, that I really enjoy working on my pictures.
Do you like to shoot in a group or would you rather shoot alone?
I had the chance to shoot with a group of SPers from different countries I met through Facebook.
I like to share these moments with those who have the same passion. I’m always excited to meet new people but despite everything, I think that street photography is a lonely passion.
What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other street photographers?
Maybe I have a more plainness feminine point of view.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
Fortunately, yes! I am more direct, sometimes “aggressive”. I dare to take the picture where I wouldn’t back then.
Do you often interact with your subjects?
No, I have very little interaction with my subjects. It goes too fast. But if they ask me to send the photography I do it gracefully. People are curious about street photography.
Do you see your personality reflected in your work?
Of course, my sensitivity is reflected. I also hope to convey some of my emotions through my images.
Among your works, which is your favorite and why?
I call this image: THE DECISIVE PICTURE. Back then I posted this image on FB but was not really convinced by it. A FB contact, then spoke to me and mentioned Daido Moriyama. When I started to research I instantly discovered a world that seemed familiar. I realized that I could get on the “wild side” and push my creativity much further.
And at that time I also started to shoot with a friend of mine whom I know from real life. With this encounter I broke my shyness and got strong support – it’s a real gift.
Did you ever take photograph which compromised your emotional balance in a deep and profound way?
Yes I did. In 2012 during the presidential campaign where you really could feel that the French people wanted a change. This man lives close to my house where I see him once sometimes at the bus stop. To me, his expression reflects the difficulty of old people to survive in our cities. It affects me although the picture is not perfect, but I hope the message is.
Tell us your funniest or most awkward street photography story.
I have a funny anecdote yes: I had an appointment with a street photographer friend of mine. We met but he complained a lot about a lumbago that he had. Shortly later on our way I took this picture of him and it seems he completely had forgotten about it. Funny isn’t it?
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from shooting on the streets?
Humility and stay in the moment.
Do you see a particular influence, be it a photographer or school on your work? Any subject that attracts you?
I have watched a lot great American films noirs. I love Italian painters such as Guardi. (street painters?). In street photography, I love Marc Riboud for his simplicity and spontaneity.
This summer I discovered Sergio Larrain and a recent exhibition of Manuel Álvarez Bravo impressed me a lot. I discovered that HCB was not the first, since Alvarez Bravo officiated in South America during the same period that HCB did. HCB admired his work, evidenced by letters from him.
Last but not least I have a big fascination for Daido Moriyama. I often look at his pictures that teach me to go out of socials standards. His work pushes me to creative freedom – to break the rules.
“A good picture is born of a state of grace. This happens when one is freed from conventions, free as a child discovering reality for the first time. The name of the game is then to organize the rectangle.” Sergio Larrain 1931-2012
What would you tell a newcomer who asks for your advice on how to start?
In my experience I would say: Put on good shoes and leave home. Try to change your spot. View images of other SPers. Show photos on social networks. Accept Feedback expressed with kindness. Meet other SPers. Read books of our “masters”. Go to exhibitions. Have fun!
Thank you very much Elizabeth for this interview!
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