This is the first installment of the monthly ‘Interview with a photographer’. I first met Alain on a beach at Lamma Island. He was on a camping trip with his family and friends, and I was doing some light painting for my latest photo project. He is a self-taught Hong Kong based photographer from Switzerland. His work, mainly consisting of black & white street photography entitled ‘the mood of the street’, is thought-provoking, humorous and in my opinion captures the soul of Hong Kong. He has just launched an exhibition, ‘Streetometry’, showcasing some of his more geometric creations. Not only is he a great photographer but he’s also an all round nice guy; always willing to share his knowledge and experiences or just have a quick chat!
How long have you lived in Hong Kong and what brought you here?
I came with my wife and two kids 4 years ago. We wanted to experiment a new place, a different culture a new lifestyle and learn English.
Where is Home?
All photographers I’ve spoken to, have that first memorable image that they ever took that got them hooked. Tell me a little about yours. Can you show us this photo?
I started using a DSLR (film camera) when I have traveled around Latin America in 2004/05 and this is where I fell in love with photography. There are actually two photos I like very much from this trip.
What’s the funniest or scariest moment you have had while shooting?
Three weeks ago I crouched to get an unusual shooting angle on Pedder Street, and my pant tore right at the bottom level. Then I was walking around Central with the buttocks in the air…
You do lots of different kinds of photography, landscape, street, portraiture, which one is your favourite?
Street definitely, it is the most challenging one; easy to do but difficult to master.
How did you learn how to take pictures?
Just by doing it!
Who influences and inspires your photography?
I cannot mention all of them… but when I feel a bit down and upset to not get any good shoot from the street I like to watch Robert Doisneau images with accordion background music. After that, I just want to go shooting again!
What camera gear do you use?
Nowadays I have always in my pocket a compact size Sony RX 100 for the street. I feel light, not intrusive and able to capture an image at any moment. I have taken before many street photos with my canon 5d mark II and Nikon D7000/D80.
How important is the ‘gear’ in your photography?
Not important. I am not really into gear and the technical aspect never interested me very much. However, a fast auto-focus and good high ISO capabilities camera is primordial to shoot in the street.
What kind of tools do you use for post processing? Explain your work flow.
Photoshop CS, with classic editing to get a more contrasted and punchy look.
Regarding your street photography – why the preference for black and white?
If there is nothing colourful in my subject I prefer to turn it into B&W.
You have just announced your exhibition ‘Streetometry’ in Hong Kong, how did you choose the photos for this exhibition?
It is about the interaction of a person and geometric elements on the street using a minimalist approach.
Which is your favourite photo at the exhibition?
A man crossing the road in Central.
Please explain the story behind this image.
This crossroad in Central is like a clearing in the middle of a buildings forest. I hold the camera in the air and waited a few minutes ignoring the dozens of people walking around me… until that man ran on the zebra crossing in a hurry.
Tell me about your recent professional work.
A family portrait… I feel my photography skills are useful when I do that because it makes a family happy and it is an invaluable treasure for them.
Do you have any other interests?
I love football and I like to keep an eye on all the sports events results. I like to draw, play guitar, learn languages and travel.
Last question, there are so many people with cameras in Hong Kong taking pictures of almost everything under the grey sky! How does someone create their own style and become a recognized photographer?
I have no idea! By insisting on ONE style may be… I am not sure I found mine though and I am not the one who can define if yes or no. If one day somebody told me ‘Alain, when I saw an image I could immediately notice it is yours’, it would be the best compliment ever and a huge satisfaction as an artist. But there is still a long way to go…
Sorry, this is the very last question. What do you do in HK when you are not holding a camera?
I teach French to young children, I do mostly home tutoring. And as a family guy I try to spend a bit of time with my wife and kids also, but the camera is never far away…