February 2024: Greg Mo

Born in Paris in 1981, Greg Mo is a self-taught photographer specializing in street and conceptual photographic practices.
Based in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, his work focuses mainly on Asia. Over the past ten years, Mo has roamed and captured the streets of India, Indonesia, Burma, Japan and China, among others.

1. Tell us about your initial days of photography. How long have you been doing it ?When and how did you start your journey as a photographer. What pulled you towards photography ?

I started photographing with disposable cameras as a teenager, I wanted to keep a memory of my friends at this time and the people I met. I moved into the digital world in 2008 when I bought a camera before a 6-month trip to Asia. In 2011, I photographed people sleeping in a funny way in Cambodia. This series became a book which was the start of a more serious professional work.

2. What keeps you still excited about the art of creating even after so many years?

It’s a mix of curiosity and the challenge of having an image that works. I would say that street photography is the capture of observations during walks, it is a daily training of the eye. The excitement is more present in my longer-term projects because there is a whole reflection which supports the image and stimulates curiosity about a theme or a place. The greatest excitement is to see a set of photos that work together, to see them morph into relationships with each other.

3. How do you describe your style of photography? And what made you chose this particular style ? Did you try different styles and genres before figuring out that your passion lies in street photography ?

I am attracted by certain colors, by lights and shapes, by some places. But unconsciously, I also photograph funny things.

My style is therefore a mixture of all these approaches when shooting, however what defines my style lays in the final selection of pictures. My choices often focus on very balanced compositions, where everything responds to each other. This is why I try to bring more contrast to my work by adding lighter photos that I like despite certain aesthetic defects, images that evoke more the senses and emotions.

4. Whom do you draw inspirations from ? Who are your favourite photographers. And also name a contemporary photographer of any that you admire ? And what exactly you like about these photographers ?

My inspirations come from design, painting and architecture.

I like the shapes of Arne Vodder’s furniture, the paintings of surrealists like Dali or Magritte as well as the architecture of Le Corbusier.

However, my deepest influence is photography itself. I love the complexity of Alex Webb’s images, the colors of Harry Gruyaert, the mystery shadows of Constantine Manos and the humor of Richard Kalvar.

5. Your pictures have a never ending play of light and shadows. tell us about how light is a guiding force in your photography.

I am drawn by light and contrasts. It’s physical. Until 2021, I had photographed without paying too much attention to it. This interest started with one photo which truly impacted my overall approach, it was a red fabric with very brightly colored flowers and a face coming out of the shadows lit by the sun.

6.     Going through the pictures you have posted on your Instagram account, you have mostly colour photographs. What is it that attracts you to colour?

Generally speaking, I prefer color photography, it gives me more sensations. However, every project requires an aesthetic and I am not against using black and white depending on the desired result. Black and White is closer to a surrealism world because we are seeing in color, however I feel it’s also a more austere and sadder atmosphere which corresponds less to my personality.

7.     What kind of impression do you hope to leave upon a person seeing your photographs?

What I seek to do is to bring the viewer into a dreamlike world with images that intrigue and question. My goal is to take people on a journey by bringing a feeling of curiosity, whether through the places photographed or the atmospheres captured. On my long-term projects, the desired effect is to be able to tell a story differently by playing with the imagination.

8.     How important are software-driven filters to your photographs?

I never use software driver filters on my photographs because I want them to look natural without any retouching effects. I rarely crop my photos and I’m part of that old school that wants everything to look good from the original capture. In my opinion, the lighter the editing, the better.

9.     You travel a lot for photography and workshops. What inspires you so much about it?. What are the things that compel you to raise the camera and grab a shot. What sort of things are you looking out for?

Photography is a good excuse to travel and meet others.

I don’t really know what I’m looking for, being outside with the camera in hand and following my instinct leads me to photograph naturally. There are cultural aspects and some kind of atmospheres to which I will react spontaneously.

10. You travel extensively and mostly in Asia. Which is your favourite location to shoot? And why ? And tell us about India as a playground for photographers. What do you like most about India and which location in India is your favourite haunt ?

I particularly like photographing in Indonesia. I like the island side of this country, its colors, as well as the attitude of the people. It is a place with a lot of mystery.

India is also very intriguing but I find it more difficult to photograph there. I like to make a comparison with a candy store where everything tempts you, you want to put everything in the package. It is exciting and appealing to the eye, but difficult to select significant moments that represent the essence and culture of India without falling into easy clichés.

There are so many photos in India that you have to stand out. The works of Raghu Rai, Ragubhir Singh and Mitch Eipstein strongly inspired me during my travels in India.

I had a lot of interest in photographing places like Kolkata, Chennai, Bikaner or around Chandni Chowk in Delhi.

11. You have complexity in your photographs. They are not simple. The frame is filled with shapes , colours , light, shadows and layers. What is your approach to the composition of your photographs? How do you manage to bring all these elements in a single frame ?What advice would you give other people so they can use better composition in their photography? (With this question I am trying to get an insight into your         approach to composition and give people a takeaway that they can use themselves)

I think there is a big difference between technique and what makes a good photo.

Many photographers think that having several well-placed, non-overlapping people works, for me it’s not enough.

Th complexity of framing will work best in a well-chosen setting, with intriguing people or objects.

Close-up shots and other more distant ones will give dimension and life to the image.

What I’m trying to do is to shoot from a place where luck could happen. I optimize my luck I would say.

12.     How did the journey as a photographer help you as a person?

Photography allows me to realize how lucky I am to live in a comfortable condition because it often takes me to ghettos where people have nothing. Photography makes me more curious about others and the problems inherent in societies.

13. You are well known for your street photographs. But have you delved into other genres ? Like photojournalism etc ?

I started my photography practice taking photos on the streets and am now working on several long-term series. Some keep a street aesthetic but others move away from it completely. I tend to shoot my art projects vertically and street photos horizontally. The first chapter of my work on the Mekong “Tonle Soap” was part of the program of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2023 festival. I am currently working on the second chapter in Vietnam.

14. Your work during the COVID lockdown became quite popular. Tell us more about the pictures and the project 365.

During Covid, I felt guilty for not photographing this exceptional period. During a two- week confinement in Phnom Penh I was able to walk around and have fun photographing the busiest streets, completely empty. After these two weeks of daily photography I decided to continue for a year. I tested a lot of things during this period which allowed me to find my style and have a more coherent, more responsive approach overall.

15. You have also published a book. Tell us more about it and also let us know a bit about all the distinguished exhibitions you have been a part of. Also are these exhibitions important for the growth of a photographer and how  ?

I have published several books in Cambodia and Laos which are souvenir books of these countries. The projects I am currently working on should result in books with a more artistic expression. A book of my Cambodian street photographs is currently in preparation.

The confrontation of the works with the spectators is an interesting moment when the work no longer belongs to us, it is an enriching experience to hear the interpretation of the works by the public.

16. Also , do tell us , how satisfying it is to publish a book. Is it important to get a book made ?

Books are the culmination of a project; they immortalize the work carried out. It’s printed, it’s physical. It is a great pleasure to discover our own work highlighted in the form of a book where everything has been thought out and balanced.

17. What apps do you use to edit your photos? Is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?

I use Photoshop, adjust the brightness and contrast and very rarely crop because I think everything has to happen in the shot. It is part of the photographic game.

18. Do you have any incredible encounters or a story that really is part of your Photographic journey that you would like to tell us?

While photographing in Cilingcing, Jakarta, I saw many people running and throwing objects in the air. I didn’t immediately understand what was happening and after some hesitation, I decided to turn back. I later learned that it was an intense fight between rival villages.

19. Considering you shoot in the streets and they are candid , how do you approach a subject ? Do you notice a subject or do you envisage a frame at first and then build on it ? What are some of your overall principles for capturing photos that you try to live by?

I try to be as invisible as possible, when I feel that someone is noticing me too much I don’t insist and I wait for a moment when the attention calms down or I continue walking if everything doesn’t seem right to me. not good enough. My approach is an intuitive and different response depending on the moment. I often notice an intriguing person, object or detail and try to find an angle that works by incorporating people or colors with interesting lines and shapes to compose around it.

If someone looks annoyed that I’m photographing in their direction, I stop and don’t force things because I’ve noticed that rarely works.

20. I’m sure your photographic style has evolved over the years, but if you have to show us with the help of two images to depict your evolution, which two photographs would you share with us? ( this will help the readers to understand your growth and benefit them )

My style has evolved but certainly more in the selection than in the shooting. The choices are more fluid, faster, but only time allows us to see clearly and completely detach ourselves from the memory of the photographed moment. This is why I quickly look at my photos following a session and come back to them several months or years after taking them.

21. You’ve delved into commercial photography as well. How liberating is it to shoot for oneself and not shoot for others?

My commercial projects are not comparable to candid photos taken on the street. These are two completely different approaches. However, sometimes clients contact me because they appreciate my street work and ask me for a similar result. This happened last year with an architectural studio who saw one of their projects captured in one of my street photographs published on Facebook. We have collaborated together several times since.

22. What would be your top tips or words of wisdom to help people take better street photos? How should they approach locations? And what should they be aiming to capture in the photos they take.

There is no secret, you have to spend time on the street and photograph regularly to increase the chances of having something that works. Train your eye by looking at the work of the masters of photography.

In Japanese martial arts, there is a concept called “Shu Ha Ri” which corresponds to accepting, purifying and leaving.

First, we copy the master, then we see that there are other interesting approaches which leads to a diversification of the approach. The final phase involves breaking away from learned techniques and developing your personal style.

23. You are an hands-on mentor. Tell us about your workshops and how you end up choosing the locations ? What exactly you think the participants are expecting from your workshops ?

The aim of the workshops is to allow photographers to improve their techniques and visions in order to find their own style. The methodology is based on a theoretical and philosophical approach to photography. I choose places where it is easy to walk with good light and enough dynamism to be able to multiply photographic attempts. I encourage people to shoot alone to be more discreet and less intimidating to the subjects. We then look at what the participants captured and discuss it. This analysis work allows students to have a basis for work and reflection for several months after the workshop. I give my opinion on their existing work to improve their portfolios. The experience during the workshop provides motivation to try new things and get out of oneself comfort zone.

24. What camera gear you use and how a camera gear can elevate your photographic skills. Or does it?

I use a Leica M10 with a 35mm summicron. Close to the use of a film camera, I particularly appreciate the Leica rangefinder which avoids having an electronic screen and capturing the real world seen through the glass of the viewfinder. However, I think that equipment is not important and a good photo can be taken with any camera.

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