Japan Surprise for Roving French Fotog

01/31/2011
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The Photographer at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo

TOKYO (majirox news) - Photo of the Week contributing photographer Dominique Milherou, 33, is a talented French artist with a multi-awarded site.

He has visited and photographed places throughout the world, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Canada, Croatia, Egypt, United States, Honduras, India, Ireland, Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, Niger and England

His photos are crisp and compelling capturing contrasts and colors through his delicate treatment of light.

He says Japan gave him a unique sense of welcome and another time. “This was an amazing and intoxicating cocktail of rigor and tradition mixed with moments of pure madness … sweet.”

He has been published in numerous magazines such as Madame Figaro, Elle, Le Monde, Luxury Travel and many more.

He lives in Paris, France, with his wife, two-year-old daughter and four-month-old son.

Majirox New’s Catherine Makino recently interviewed him.

CM: Tell me about your experience shooting photos in Japan. Were there any anecdotes that you particularly remember?

I had heard only myths and clichés about Japan that had been circulated by the Western media. In particular, I had heard the Japanese people were not open. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome I received from so many strangers.

On my first day in Japan, I met a businessman who was sitting alone in a restaurant who invited me to join him for dinner and try some Japanese specialties.

At Asakusa Temple a man started talking to me when I tried the Japanese ritual of Omikuj, which are fortunetelling paper slips found at many shrines and temples, and we have been writing to each other for three years, exchanging our points of view about the differences between our countries.

During the Nagoya Summer Festival a couple invited me for a drink. I translated the text in French written on the man’s t-shirt, which said “wine and cheese that’s life!” Until I told him, he had no idea what it meant.

CM: That’s interesting because I’ve heard some photographers complain that it was difficult in Japan, because many Japanese wouldn’t allow themselves to be photographed.

I have traveled to more than 40 countries and I had never felt such a sense of hospitality and service as in Japan. We have to take lessons in France

CM: When and why did you come to Japan?

I came to Japan in August 2007 at the request of a luxury travel agency hoping to attract customers to Japan, which was already becoming a trendy destination for French tourists. I was given the freedom to shoot the photos as I wished.

I went to Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Nagoya, Kyoto, Takayama, Nara, Kyoto, Miyajima, Koyasan and Osaka. Many Japanese said, ‘You’ve done in 20 days what we have not done in a lifetime.’ I had the chance to stay in hotels, including the exceptional Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the Lost in Translation movie hotel, the Park Hyatt Tokyo and many small family inns.

CM: How were taking photos in Japan different from other countries?

Honestly, Japan is in my opinion the easiest country in the world for photography. There is in Japan such a sense of aestheticism and design everywhere: fine details, flashy colors in a beautiful temple, or the packaging of a little cupcake.

Japanese are also very open to being photographed. Even sumo wrestlers in Tokyo allowed me to enter their club during training. The quality of Japanese transportation also allowed me to see many sites in very little time.

CM: When did you first become interested in photography?

When I was younger I used to travel, often for weeks or even months abroad, always with a sketchbook to freeze scenes, landscapes and people. Now, I don’t have as much time for drawing, so I started to take pictures with the same objective and spirit, telling of a scene, showing an emotion, or a meeting. I try to bring back through the picture all I could feel at that moment.

CM: I can see that in your photos that you know when a photograph is right. How would you explain why your photos are “right” and not just pictures?

It’s difficult to judge one’s own work. I am very attached to the color settings. I always try to “blow up” the shades.

I also like to surprise my subjects by being very discreet, to have a picture as natural as possible. Sometimes I do the opposite: I love to discuss, exchange, take time and only after shooting a picture of a person with whom something special happened.

CM: I believe you said that you don’t pose people and you spontaneously capture them. However, if you could pose them, how would you do it?

Usually I try to make contact when I have a professional camera and people often ask me technical questions.

I was met with a great natural curiosity in Japan about why I was visiting the country, where I came from and my first impressions … then I proposed to take their pictures and showed them the results right away. I often send pictures by e-mail to my “models of the day.”

CM: What role does manipulation play in your photos such as Photoshop?

I only allow myself to do the editing of brightness and contrast to restore the luster of the scene that I saw. I like so very much brilliant colors, but I do not retouch a face when I make travel pictures … we all have our little imperfections.

CM: When did you become aware of light and its critical role in photography?

Digital photography will never accurately record what you’re shooting, there’s always a little gray veil that can be eliminated by Photoshop. I visited many countries with people wearing colored clothing, like in India, or in Africa, so I felt obliged to return these brilliant colors, especially because in Western Europe we are almost all dressed in black and gray !!!.

I do not think there are still photographers who do not retouch their photos. It is an extinct species!

CM: What is your favorite camera for day-to-day work? How do you do light? I notice there seems to be a propensity for dark backgrounds and light foregrounds?

There is an eternal battle between the Canon and Nikon fans, but I tested both out and out of habit I use a Nikon D700. My trip to Japan was my first broadcast in digital (Nikon D200), so I was a little apprehensive, I always worked with films before … but with digital camera I had the chance to attempt more “risky” pictures. There is also a real impact in terms of economy and security; you can instantly see your pictures and can quickly transfer them.

About the light, I never use a flash, I don’t know why, and I’m allergic to the result! In Japan I always woke up very early to have the best natural light. I also had the chance to get 20 days of sunny weather in August, but the heat and humidity were so harsh.

CM: Is it difficult being a photographer because of technology and services like Fotolia, Livedoorpics and Wikicommons that offer photos for such low prices? In fact, many reporters are now taking their own photos for their articles.

Few photographers are able to live only on their art, unless they are very specialized. I chose not to restrict myself only in shooting photos.

Internet tools can be “dangerous” for some photographers’ business, but they are also a great way to circulate work around the world! Through my site, I was able to win contracts in Canada, Morocco, Honduras, Cambodia and Egypt.

CM: When did you start your career? What was your artistic background before you got into photography?

I was a journalist, and sometimes took my own photos. Then I tried to expand my skills into Web design and graphics, which allows me to work for many companies by creating websites, writing text and also taking the photos.

You have to be versatile. I work for large companies in the tourism industry, the Eiffel Tower, The Lido Cabaret in Paris, River Boats on the Seine, the Roland Garros tennis tournament, travel agencies, tourism guides and travel magazines.

CM: What advice would you give photographers who are starting out?

I received many emails from young photographers (well I’m only 33 !), I advised them to broaden their range of expertise, create an attractive website to show their work, writes texts with their pictures, and participates in a maximum of contests or events.

I started by offering my services for free to artists, associations, or small companies to create my portfolio and demonstrate my work. Word of mouth can travel very fast.

CM: Was there someone you looked up to or who influenced you in your life?

I got an early taste of travel from my father, who worked all over the world. Because of his work, I collected his passports with all these stamps, which made me dream…

I was also fascinated by the work of my German cousin, a widely recognized photographer in Germany. Ironically, she found the job too demanding and left it to create original mustards, which are a great success in her country!

CM: How would you describe yourself?

Hard to say, but like much of Japanese society, I think I have two faces: one is very strict and serious about work, and the other is very whimsical and creative! Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to Japan. My two babies have Japanese names, and I really would like one day to stay in Japan for one or two years to follow the seasons and the life of this country.

CM: Did you photograph anything in Japan that you found shocking? For example, have you seen any homeless people?

Each time I travel I try to leave the tourist spots, walking down small streets, neighborhoods away, taking a bus at random. It has already provided me with some chills and hostile encounters in some countries. To better understand a place and meet different people, I do not necessarily take photos out of respect.

But sometimes in some very poor neighborhoods my presence is much appreciated because I value families that have never been photographed or where there are not even mirrors!

In Japan, I have indeed met many homeless, often along the Sumida River in Tokyo. I understood that in Japan more than elsewhere that to be in this situation is seen as a disgrace and that some people prefer going to jail than staying outside, so I didn’t take any pictures of these people. But I was not shocked only sad; there are so many homeless in France, and more and more every year.

The only very shocking scene that I saw was the behavior of some foreign tourists against the geishas of Kyoto. At about 5 p.m. each day you feel a mounting excitement and a pack of tourists going on photo-safaris when the geishas take their taxis, running after them!

I chose an isolated place where I could be alone, and met a few geishas then asked if they would allow me to take photos, they just made a sign with their heads. I took their pictures and thanked them — the light was perfect, a mix of sun and shadows, a magical moment.

CM: Lastly, is there any message you would like to give our readers?

I am often critical of my country – which I love deeply – but our system has given us something fundamental in my eyes: seven weeks of paid vacations (16 weeks per year for teachers) to explore the beauty of the world, take time to talk, and try to better understand different societies.

Japanese employees: Ask your boss for more paid holidays!

You can see Dominique Milherou’s photos at http://www.petit-carnet.com


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