Afritorial.com is a big fan of Eric Lafforgue’s imagery and creativity in capturing Africa on the lens, and we couldn’t help but share a chat that the genius and award winning photographer did with Photo Interview magazine. Enjoy getting into a peek into the mind of this great visionary.

You can spend hours browsing through the online photo gallery of the French photographer Eric Lafforgue. Especially, when you can’t boast of a rich travelling experience. The first thing that comes to my mind when looking at Lafforgue’s photography is “I can’t believe we’re all from the same world!” (And what a fantastic, beautiful, wild world away from the concrete jungles many of us inhabit.)

The work of Eric Lafforgue has appeared on the pages on numerous printed and web publications, such as The National Geographic, National Geographic,  The CNN Traveller, BBC, The Blue Planet, etc. This is our interview with this travelling photographer and storyteller, as we get a glimpse into his genius mind and understand what lies behind his impressive portraits of the people from all over the world, so different and at the same time, so alike.

Eric, you’ve seen many  places, cultures and faces in the last couple of years. How has it all impacted on your life philosophy?

Travelling the world makes you see with your own eyes what you see through 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 the country differently.

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, hopes, dreams. Even if they just have to keep the line! So when you come back from travelling, you are sometimes fed up with the (media) 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. Modernisation 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 strongly keep to their traditions. It’s only quite recently that mobile phones have arrived. They need to pay the subscription. Most of their economy is based on exchange. Everything now may change.

The beginning of the end? Surma woman with mobile phone – Ethiopia

Was there anything  in your experiences as a travel photographer that changed 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 Kalachnikovs 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 capture a wonderful cultures, many people want to see them too!

Complicated game!

Surma warrior with AK-47 near Turgit – Ethiopia

Is there any photograph that left a really touched you i.e. special mark on your soul (for any reason)? What’s the story behind it?

I’ll choose a  picture I took in Angola. In Soba village, there was a Muhacaona tribe girl. She had a doll, with white skin. I do not know where she had got it, as the place is extremely remote in south Angola, far from the richness and modernity of the capital city, 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 dung on the doll hair too (as they use cow dung on their own hair), she laughed!

I like the fact that this ‘foreign’ doll, perhaps, made in china, became an Angolan tribal one!

The Muhacaona doll – Angola

It’s not an easy task to shoot reportage in remote areas of Africa or Oceania. How do you make contact with the locals?

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 essential! I highly treasure the web and its ability to give me access to people on the ground.

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 just people who make it all about a show for the tourists!

Turgit village old Surma woman – Ethiopia

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 have had limited if not zero contact with any tourists, as the country had a civil war for many years.

The most difficult ones were from the Omo Valley, Ethiopia: where you must pay for every picture, and close every deal before you begin shooting. Nothing natural, nothing spontaneous, just money, money.  I have a very bad memory from a Konso village where kids where shouting constantly, just to be paid. I had dreamt of visiting this tribe, yet it became a nightmare in reality.

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 skyrocketing. 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.

Turkana girls – Kenya

Menit tribe man – Omo Ethiopia

Intore dancer in Iby’Iwacu – Rwanda

Old Himba woman – Angola

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? An incident 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 shooting pictures on 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 digital, I showed them that only making pics of tribal people was the goal of my entry.

Another bad moment was in JFK airport (New York), 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 photographic 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? If you were to choose just one of them to work with, which would it be?

The Hasselblad would be the best if it had not so many technical problems. A shame compared to the price they sell it at. The colors are fantastic, the digital looks like film. But it works very badly from a technical perspective.

I’ve given up the Leica 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. What if you could experience a journey of a completely different kind, let’s say, time travel? Where would you go?

I’d go 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!

Muhacaona tribe girl – Angola

What is your inspiration in art, music, cinema?

When it comes to music, I listen to everything. From the Buzzcocks to Genesis! With art and photography, I like really like Peter Beard and Timothy Allen, with painting — Haring, Basquiat, and in cinema, I’m a Scorcese and Frears fan.

I never leave home without my iPad full of 7000 songs and hundreds of podcasts!

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

Nobody really gave me any advice. I decided by myself to send my images to editors, magazines etc, and create  my own photography style the way I wanted, not following any examples.

People from my French agency, Rapho, were very helpful at the beginning as they were the first to tell me my pictures had any kind of interest!

What would you advise to budding photographers?

My advice is double: do what you like, as photographer. If you want to become a pro, this requires a lot of work in evolving the legend, the stories around what you’re filming and shooting. It’s a full time job: so do what you enjoy.

And also: do not think of just art if you want to earn a living from photography, but try to find something new in the way you take your images or find unknown, unposiled locations. And also think about your marketing as there is no choice in a world filled with competition!

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