Note: Every week, I feature street photographers with great skill and soul. For this week, I decided to feature street photographer Laurent Roch from France. When I first stumbled upon Laurent’s work on Flickr, I was thoroughly impressed by his gritty black and white portrayals of the city. In his images, you see a great deal of symmetry and balance, which cradle solid compositions. Not only that, but the man knows how to really work The Decisive Moment. Want to hear where he finds inspiration and how he shoots on the street? Read his exclusive interview below and be blown away.
1. How did you get started in street photography?
It was as a child, watching my father taking photographs, that I realized the importance of the composition of a picture: He always took such care in making his photographs that bit more special by really appreciating the value of the people in the photographs. At the time, I thought this was just a waste of time but little by little over the years, I learnt that it is only by capturing people in their natural environment, that the photograph takes meaning. I started taking photographs of my family, like everybody does, and then I started looking at other people and lives in the street, a place where life is constantly changing.
2. How do you shoot in the streets?
Before going out into the street, I look at what the weather is doing and depending on this, I take a zoom lense or fixed focus (taking pictures in the rain demands very particular organization). I like to work with a 35mm, because it means I am forced to come in closer to the people and the action in the photograph. I live in a part of the world which has a lot of natural light and the conditions can change very quickly depending on the time of the day. I avoid hard light and prefer the period of the day either early in the morning or the few hours before sun set. The thing that interests me above all is to capture the atmosphere of the moment. You have to put your trust in luck and be ready to react to each moment as it happens. You could say that photography is my way of feeding my natural curiosity. There is nothing truly innovative about my approach to photography, just a constant desire to express, as strongly as possible, the spontaneity of the moment. I try to blend in, unnoticed, to observe, to wait, to play with the natural light, to find the perfect angle and finally, to capture the ultimate “decisive moment” (l’instant décisif) so dear to Cartier-Bresson. I am constantly looking for new places to explore, new ways of seeing the world, always with a view to satisfying my natural curiosity – a subject of never-ending inspiration.
3. Where do you find inspiration?
I have always been drawn to black and white photography because of its ability to dramatise and accentuate the emotions in a picture: I love the simplicity and the direct message carried across in the photographs of Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis. Through their work, these great photographers have made an incredible homage to daily life, the banality of everyday life being their real beauty. The aesthetic qualities and the geometry of Henri Cartier Bresson are, for me, a true source of inspiration. The photographs of New York by Saul Leiter and of Depardon have a beauty that simply takes the breath away and are images that stay in my subconscious. With new technology, the skills of photography and graphism very much used in unison, I find classic photography has lost nothing of its beauty and that they still have a soul and an atmosphere to their work yet to be rivaled.
4. What do you love most about street photography?
The thing I love most about street photography is the people you meet and the real life situations you experience. To wander through the streets with absolutely no goal, no precise agenda, can take you to incredible situations and special moments. We live in a very isolated world where human contact is becoming more and more rare, so when you manage to make that contact with someone people have a genuine need to share with you. Some people are not sure about street photography, but once you see the beauty in it you can go so far. My way of working is in complete juxtaposition to the philosophy of Bruce Gilden; I respect his work but I don’t share this aggressive style of taking photographs: I have a more humanist approach with my main goal always being to respect the people I am photographing. At a time when technical perfection has become so important, I prefer the simplicity in street photography , that slight distortion of reality. What I look for first and foremost is that unique, fleeting moment. That special moment that, in an instant disappears and is lost forever. In this “open air theatre” of everyday life, I try to capture life in its purest form. Nothing staged, no role playing. I go simply with the flow of what is unfolding around me. When luck offers me just what I am looking for, when everything is just perfectly and naturally in place, in harmony, all I need to do is act on my intuition.
5. What is the #1 tip you have for aspiring street photographers?
If I had to give one piece of advice it would be to always follow your instinct and to act when and only when you feel the time is right. A good street photographer should always be able to blend into the background. And above all let yourself be carried along by chance!
Check out more of Laurent’s amazing street photography in this video slideshow he put together below!