Like many dance photographers, Mohamed Taher has a knack for beautifully capturing the body in motion. His interest in movement is evident in his Ballerinas of Cairo series, and the captivating collection of photos also serves a more poignant purpose: it helps women fight sexual harassment and reclaim the city’s streets. After learning about the Ballerina Project, an ongoing series that documents dancers in urban settings across the globe, Taher was inspired to carry out a similar undertaking in the Egyptian capital.
Don’t call Pierre Beteille an artist or photographer. Why? Because he doesn’t believe he’s either one of those things. As an art director for the last eight years, Beteille (aka Monkeyman) sees his self-portraits as a way to creatively express himself, a way to make the ideas in his head come to life.
He simply calls it – “just making images.”
Beteille uses Photoshop, Lightroom and sometimes Illustrator to create these fantastic works of art. As his own model, he shoots himself with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, and believes that his most important accessory is his remote control.
We got in touch with this talented image-maker to ask him more about his creative process. Where do his ideas come from, how long do these photos take and where does he find his inspiration? Read below to find out.
How long have you been an art director and how does that influence your self-portraits?
I’ve been an art director for the past eight years. I don’t believe that it has really influenced my self-portraits. Of course, the fact that I’ve been working on images for years has probably influenced the way I see things, but most of my work as an art director is primarily to make compromises with clients and to manage teams. That is exactly what I do not have to do anymore when I’m working on my own images.
What do you enjoy most about creating these self-portraits?
I’m not interested in shooting landscapes, animals, people in the streets or distant tribes, thousands of people do that, and hundreds do it better than I will ever. In fact, I like portraits not self-portraits. Creating self-portraits is not really a choice! I don’t make self-portraits for narcissistic reasons but because I was the only model available when I started making pictures.
I would prefer to work with models, (especially with beautiful girls! Ha ha!), but I’m not self-confident enough and I’m also too shy to ask people to pose for me. Maybe someday, if I’m more famous and recognized (and if I can pay them) I will work with models.
What’s your creative process like? How do you come up with such amazing ideas?
I conceive photography like painting. The camera is just one of the tools. Photoshop allows me to create my images. So the first and main part of the process is not taking a picture but finding an idea… the idea always comes first and then I seek the best way to achieve it, and I know exactly what I want to get before shooting. My inspiration is the human being. Its absurdity, its irrationality, its pettiness in everyday life. Inspiration can come therefore from politics or religion, life and death, as well as food, television and all our daily behaviors.
I generally try to make images that offer several levels of reading. We first see something and a detail gives another interpretation …and multiple interpretations are possible according to the beholder… And I also try to make people smile!
How long do these typically take you?
I do everything by myself so it takes a lot of time as I have to be in front and behind the camera. It also takes a lot of time because I’m not very talented and I’m not good on a technical level. I have to compensate with a lot of work.
For a single image, I sometimes shoot 30 or 60 photos before getting the expression I am looking for with good light.
I select the best picture and I start making some corrections on exposure, contrast and colors in Lightroom. After that I always use Photoshop and this can last from 4 hours and up to 20 or 30 hours.
Your photos have a surreal quality to them. Who are the other artists who influence your work?
It probably sounds pretentious but I don’t think that I am influenced by others photographers. I don’t consider myself as a photographer. I just make images, not photographs.
Some of my favorite photographers are Annie Leibovitz, Albert Watson, or Philip Lorca di Corcia, just to name a few, so you can see that my pictures have nothing to do with their work.
Another reason why I think that I am not consciously influenced is that I don’t believe that I have an overall style or aesthetic in my photography, and I don’t want to have any. I can’t stand doing the same thing for a long time and I like experimenting and learning. Nothing would be worse for me than to know now the kind of photos i will make next year. The only common thing in most of my photos is that I try to make images that others don’t.
What are some tips you could give to people who want to make creative self-portraits like you?
I don’t think that I am authorized nor qualified to give any professional advice to anybody. I’m not a young man, but I am myself a beginner.
The only thing I could say is: Don’t try to imitate anyone. Find out first what you want to do, then figure out how to do it, and then work a lot!
Thank you for the interview, Pierre. Wonderful work!