Interview with Photographer Raphael Olivier

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Pleased to present my interview with photographer Raphael Olivier.I discovered Raphael Olivier's work via Behance while searching for great photo journalism series. His Shanghai Daily and Urban Documentary series caught my attention and stood out for me among the rest. Both series are pure photo journalism capturing the essence of life in Asia that most do not pay attention to. Check out our insightful interview on traveling, photojournalism,Asia and more. Enjoy!

Can you please tell readers a bit about yourself?

I’m 28 years old, originally from Paris, and currently living in Shanghai like many fellow foreigners who seem to find here something they couldn’t find in their home country. On my side I left France 6 years ago as my work took me to spain, then moved to Vietnam for a few years, and only recently relocated to China about 8 months ago. I work as a freelance editorial photographer though my background is in graphic production.

When did your interest in photography start?

I travelled a lot with my parents as a child so I developed the feel for taking pictures of places I’d go very early, but nothing serious. Then after I graduated from high school I had to move downtown Paris to continue my studies. My room-mate was a gay guy called Anthony and was a full-time photographer. He taught me all the basics and I got my first SLR with him. But it’s only a few years later when the digital technology arrived that photography really became a central part of my life.

Your photo journal series on Asia are great, you capture the essence of real life that people seem not to pay attention to. How do you pick your photo journalism locations and subjects.

The work of any photographer comes from a personal connection to a particular subject. For my case, I grew up in a gray industrial suburb of Paris and feel a strong fascination for life in heavy urban environment. As to how I choose particular locations and subjects, I don’t have a proper answer for that, it’s always a result of mixed circumstances, must be something unconscious.

What do you think is unique and special about Asia.

Asia is amazing for an urban photographer like me as it offers some of the most impressive cities in the world while being very safe and friendly for the most part. I’ve travelled to many countries in Asia and almost never felt danger, even in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Philippines people were extremely friendly.

Favorite Asian country by far and why.

China is my favorite Asian country by far because it’s the largest, most diverse and most complete in many ways. It has everything you could imagine and much more, China is huge.
Incredible landscapes, overwhelming mega-cities, 1.4 billion people, millenary cultural heritage… But it’s also the “weirdest”, the culture here is just radically different from the rest of the world, it amazes me everyday. And as a foreigner it’s also the most comfortable and easy to live in, or at least in Shanghai which is almost a country of its own.

In your opinion where is the heart of Asia and where is your favorite spot?

Well, again, China surely feels like the center of everything, the real heart of the far-east. For thousands of years the whole of Asia has always been revolving around China. As for me, I don’t have one favorite spot, there are too many places I love for different reasons. Though Shanghai is in very high ranking, that’s why I decided to come and live here.

What do you believe is the power of photography?

When I was young I saw a picture of Shanghai in a magazine, it was a picture of a girl walking on a bridge with people around her passing on bicycles, the light was crazy, the scene was amazing. I remember thinking that one day I wanted to go there. This picture influenced my life, it made me dream. The power of photography is to inspire people, to stimulate their imagination, especially children. Kids are extremely sensitive to images, I think photographs should be shown to young generations as much as possible. 

How has the experience and exposure to different cultures and people helped you as a photographer and an individual.  

Travelling around the world and living in different countries has taught me there isn’t one reality but an infinite number of realities. One cannot understand all. So I learned to be less rational and more emotional.

What do you think is an important factor in photo journalism.

Sensitivity. Today many photographers shoot stories they think would look good on their portfolios with great technique but without feeling any intimate connection with their subject. Producing quality images is one thing and it is important, but in terms of story telling the initial emotion that leeds you to click at one precise moment is fundamental. A picture without emotion will not be remembered, no matter how fancy.

Current favorite camera to shoot with?

Right now I work with a Nikon D700 body and a fix 35mm f/1.4 lens as my battle horse. The D700 is very compact and solidly built, with great iso speed that makes it perfect for all situations, very terrain oriented. The 35mm is a very fast and intuitive lens that enables you to do almost everything, and teaches you how to move and to place yourself. I also use a 50mm f/1.4 from time to time especially for portraits.

Aside from photography what else are you passionate about?

I’m a born traveller, I like to take pictures while travelling, but definitely travelling is a category of its own. Being on the road. I’m always thinking about new trips, new missions, new challenges. It’s a big part of my life. And I like turn-tables music too.

In your opinion how will you define creativity.

Creativity for me is the ability to channel something extra-sensorial into something sensorial. I do believe humans perceive a lot of information outside of their known sensory system, and have the capability to express it through music, dance, poetry, painting, photography and other forms of art. It’s the famous “I don’t know why but it makes me feel something”.

What do you like most about what you do?

Doing it.

Find Raphael Olivier here :