The Faces of the World in the Photography of Eric Lafforgue.
You can spend hours browsing through the online photo gallery of the French photographer Eric Lafforgue. Especially, when you can’t boast of rich travelling experience. The first thing that came to my mind while I was looking at Lafforgue’s photos was: «Jeeze, can’t believe we are all from the same world!». But after a couple of mins I thought — hey, this man from North Korea ressembles our neighbour and the Omani boy smiles exactly like my nephew, I recognize this open, a bit naughty smile. And suddenly I catch myself thinking: «Jeeze, how similar we all are!».
The works of Eric Lafforgue appeared on the pages on numerous printed and web publications, such as The National Geographic, Geo, The CNN Traveller, BBC, The Blue Planet, just to name a few. You may understand our feelings when Eric agreed to do an interview for our journal too. I hope you will be just as excited as we are to read the story of the travelling photographer and see some of his impressive portraits of the people from all over the world, so different and at the same time, so alike.
Eric, you got started in the photography about 5 years ago, am I right? Lots of various places, cultures and faces have been before your eyes and your camera since then. How did it all affect your life philosophy?
Yes, you are right. Travelling the world makes you see with your own eyes what you see thru the TV screen in your home. The main thing is that in every country, no matter what kind of political regime is running, people live there! And meeting them makes you see differently the country.
The best example is North Korea. Once in the place, you understand that people are not only the robots you might think. They have emotions, dreams.. Even if they just have to keep the line! So when you come back from travelling, you are sometimes feed up with the cliches you read or watch about a place!
The other thing is that the more I travel, the less I believe in a quiet and good world for everybody. Mondialization tends to make people think that everybody will access progress. They will access consumer products, but not perhaps happiness. In Vanuatu island for example, tribes are still living in the traditional way: they grow vegetables, fruits, have pigs, and keep strongly their traditions. Quite recently mobile phone has arrived. They need to pay the subscription. Most of their economy is based on exchange. Everything may be changed..
Was there anything in your experience as a travel photographer that turned over your views on our world?
I’m not really a social photographer, so when I go into a country, I do not have a special idea of what I want to show to the audience. But once I have discovered some interesting things, I try to show them.
As I had the chance to travel and live abroad with my parents since I’m a child, I’m not surprised by most of the things I meet: poverty, illness, etc. I was in Yemen in 1973, surrounded by people with Kalachnikov when I was 9!
The more I travel, the more pessimistic my views on the world’s cultures and traditions get. I’m also part of this destruction, as when I show wonderful cultures, many people want to see them too!
Now a tough question: could you show us a picture that left a really special mark in your soul (for any reason)? What’s the story behind it?
I will choose a very recent picture, one of those I took in Angola. In Soba village, the Muhacaona tribe girl. She had a doll, with white skin. I do not know where she had got it, as the place is remote in south Angola, far from the richness of Luanda. The nice thing was that she had done the doll’s hair the same as hers: with dreadlocks! I asked her if she had put some cow shit on the doll hair too (as they use cow shit for their own hair), she laughed!
I like the fact that this «foreign» doll, perhaps, made in china, became an Angolan tribal one!
I bet it’s not an easy task to shoot reportage in remote areas of Africa or Oceania. How do you make contacts with aborigines?
The main problem is to meet people quickly as it costs a lot of money in those areas. So the local guides, ethnologists, or chiefs are essentials! I speak a lot thanks to the web with people who have already been on the ground. Even if most of the photographers do not like to share information!
The tribal people I meet generally like to meet foreigners. I like to come with Polaroids to try to share something. Thanks to the GPS, there are no more places on earth that have not been visited. So the big problem is to meet people who are really keeping their traditions. Not only people who make a show for tourists!
Where were people most hospitable to you and which tribes were the most difficult to work with?
The best are Kenyan ones, as once you make deal with the chief, you can stay for the whole day or more in the village, and people like to share their culture, dance, songs etc.
In Angola I met some fantastic tribes who do not see any tourists, as the country had a civil war for years and years…
The most difficult ones are from Omo Ethiopia: you must pay for every picture, and deal before. Nothing natural, nothing spontaneous, just money, money… I have a very bad souvenir from a Konso village where kids where shouting constantly, just to be paid…I had dreamt of visiting this tribe, it became a nightmare.
Another problem I meet is that sometimes photographers or TV crew come to a village and give big amounts of money; so the prices are growing so high… In Ethiopia, a German photographer paid 20 euros to the people for each picture. It means something in the country where a worker earns 25 euros a month to work in a field.
Any travel is a potential adventure, not to mention journeys to non-touristic destinations. Could you remember the most exciting/shocking/dangerous/funny accident which happened to you during your traveling? Just anything that you will never forget.
The worst experience was in Eritrea, a country I like very much, but where there are tensions because of the war with Ethiopia. I was making pictures in a hill, when suddenly 2 soldiers with guns came up and asked me for the camera, the memory cards, etc. I was in a military area, and I did not know it. In my passport I had an Ethiopian visa… Fortunately, thanks to digitals, I showed them that only making pics of tribal people was the goal of my entry.
Another bad moment was in JFK airport, just after 9/11. I came there and the police at the airport discovered in my passport visas from Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria… It took some long minutes to convince the police that I travelled in Sudan just for a photogrpahic interest!
Your website bio says your gear kit includes Hasselblad H3D-39, Canon 1Ds MIII and Leica M6. Do you always take all the three with you, or does the choice of camera depend on the destination? What if you were to choose only one of them forever, which would it be?
Hasselblad would be the best if it had not so many technical problems. A shame compared to the price they sell it…The colors are fantastic, the digital looks like films. But it works so bad…
I have forgiven the Leica and the films as I’m fed up to wait for hours in the airports for the police to watch my films!
A large part of your life is devoted to traveling. And what if you could have a journey of a completely different kind, let us say, a time machine? Where would you go for a shoot?
I think to the same places, but 100 years ago! One of the places would be Harar in Ethiopia, for example. And Papua New Guinea, before the first white men discovered the highlands!
Tell us about your professional plans for the nearest future.
I will have 2 assignments for BBC: Khazakstan and Falklands in September and October. Then I would like to go to Somaliland.
What is your inspiration in art, music, cinema?
In music, I listen to everything. From the Buzzcocks to Genesis! In art, in photography, I like very much Peter Beard and Timothy Allen, in painting — Haring, Basquiat, and in cinema, Ilike Scorcese and Frears.
I never leave home without my ipad full of 7000 songs, and hundreds of podcasts!
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever got?
Nobody really gave me any advice…I decided myself to send my pics to editors, magazines etc… make my pictures the way I want, not following examples.
People from my French agency, Rapho, were very helpful at the beginning as they were the first to tell me my pictures had a kind of interest!
What would you advise to budding photographers?
My advice is double: do what you like, as photography, if you want to become a pro, requires a lot of work: legend, tags, keywords, stories etc… It’s a full time job: so do what you like to enjoy.
And also: do not think just art if you wan to earn your life, but try to find something new in the way of shooting, places unknown… think also marketing, as there is no choice in a world competition!
We’d like to thank Eric for taking time and doing this great interview for our journal. May your destinations be always peaceful and subjects friendly!
Don’t miss a chance to get to know more about the art of Eric Lafforgue:
Website: Eric Lafforgue Photography
Flickr: Eric Lafforgue’s photostream
All photos copyright © Eric Lafforgue. Reproduced on this page with permission.
Photos can’t be reproduced or used without prior agreement from the photographer.