Photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre has covered life in Africa perhaps more than any other photographer, and has won many major awards.
The French-born photojournalist has been working steadily since 1979, when he began his career with Jeune Afrique magazine. That work took him across a continent that he would come to know intimately over the course of three decades.
Pascal's diverse projects have documented many different aspects of Africa: its way of life, politics, conflicts, traditions and environment. In his career, he has also travelled to more than 40 countries, working in places such as Afghanistan and South America. His images have been published in publications including Le Figaro Magazine, GEO, Life, National Geographic, Paris Match, L'Express, Stern and The New York Times Magazine.
Pascal's passion for photography was cemented during his compulsory year of military service in the French Army. By a twist of luck, the chief photographer for the French Minister of Defence was married to a woman from Pascal's village. Upon meeting him, this photographer helped arrange for Pascal's year of service to be spent in the photo lab at the Ministry of Defence, where he was able to connect with photographers from all sorts of backgrounds. After his military service, Pascal remained in Paris and used these connections to get his big break at the French weekly magazine, Jeune Afrique, which counted notable photographers such as Abbas among its staff.
It was as a staff photographer on Jeune Afrique that Pascal undertook his first assignments in Africa, a continent he had wanted to visit since childhood.
In 2010, Pascal's photographs of Somalia helped National Geographic win the National Magazine Award for Photojournalism in the USA, and in 2015 he was awarded the Figaro Magazine Lifetime Achievement Visa d’or Award at Visa pour l'Image: International Festival of Photojournalism in France. Pascal has exhibited his work many times at Visa pour l'Image, twice at MEP (Maison Européenne de la Photographie) in Paris, and had a large retrospective of his work at the Arche de la Défense In Paris. In 1989, he co-founded the agency Odyssey Images and is now represented by Panos. His books include My Africa (2000); Amazing Africa (2012), a collection of his favourite images from his 30 years working in the continent; The Magic Tree (2017), about the baobab trees of Madagascar; and When Light Will Touch Africa (2017), about the continent's electricity crisis, all published by Lammerhuber.
Growing up in France, how did you develop your love for Africa?
"My grandfather's neighbour was in the French military and served in the Sahara. In his home he had numerous objects from Africa, along with pictures he took when he was there. I would spend time talking with him about his life in Africa, and it was then that I first dreamed about going there."
What's the best way for young photographers to break into the industry?
"Always be curious, have lots of energy… and believe in yourself. You should also find a strong story that nobody else has done – something you can make your own. When you have an idea you believe in, you'll never give up."
What do you look for in a potential photo story that motivates you to invest your time in it?
"I am interested in journalistic stories that have strong visual potential and haven't been done before. The stories that interest me most are those that represent something important and are not covered in mainstream current events. In other words, a story that is slightly off everyone's radar but will become important in the near future."
How do you approach your subjects?
"When I have an idea for a story I'll do a lot of research on the idea and then reach out to local people and talk to them about it. If the story still seems viable, I will look for someone local who can help me, like a fixer – someone who can help me make contacts and help with the groundwork for getting clearance to shoot, sort out visas and other logistics."
How do you edit down your body of images for a book?
"When I've worked on a story long enough and have a good idea that it can become a book, I will survey all of my images and see if I can get them down to a select group of 300. I'll then make small prints and start arranging them into chapters and sequences. I might then make further cuts and consult an art editor for advice."
"The first thing to do is make sure you know everything there is to know about your story, whether it's people, wildlife or something else entirely. Then start to think about the situations where you'll be able to shoot pictures that will help drive the narrative of that story. Then your pictures must be original. There's no set length to photo stories, but I'd say you need four or five really unique images that illustrate the most important point of your story. Doing good pictures is easy; doing incredible pictures is very, very hard, and this is the difference."Facebook: Pascal Maitre