The MISSBISH Photography Workshop | Jean-Paul McAllan
Photographer: Jean-Paul McAllan
Location: Currently, I live Melbourne, Australia but home base could be anywhere in the world. Being of mixed heritage (Rodrigues Island & Australia), born in the USA and raised in Japan and Hong Kong, I grew up experiencing a melting pot of cultures. While never fully feeling I was specifically a part of one, at the same time I feel I'm a part of all of them. I always carry that feeling with me in the way that I feel like I can be based anywhere in the world, and will eventually feel a connection and feel at home there. All it takes is to be inspired by the place and focus on the things you love about it.
Style: I like to think of my photography as not being locked into one specific genre. I shoot everything that I find interesting, anything that moves me emotionally (be it good or bad, light or dark) and anything I’m curious about. Most people consider it to be 'Street Photography’ as most of my photos can relate to that style, but I prefer to see it as me presenting my personal observations of life. Historically, every culture created art to communicate insights of life through their unique world view. The indigenous Australians communicated with rock art and the ancient Egyptians through their hieroglyphics. I’m just continuing the tradition in my era but using photography to communicate my reality.
Equipment: I only shoot film and use two 35mm rangefinder cameras (Zeiss Ikon ZI & Konica Hexar RF) which I use with a Zeiss ZM 35mm f2 lens. I also carry with me almost everywhere, a Fujifilm Klasse W compact 35mm camera which has a 28mm f2.8 lens. I use a range of different films but mainly shoot on color film. I use Lightroom to catalogue my scans of my film and do minor adjustments, but I don’t use Photoshop or any other photo manipulation software.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience.
Being a kid in Japan in the 90’s, it was a normal thing for everyone to bring disposable cameras to school trips, birthdays and any event at all actually. I used them a lot as a kid, and I think that definitely developed my interest in photography and film. But my passion really started when I learned how to use manual film cameras and a darkroom in high school. The whole process of loading film into a camera, using manual focusing and exposure, and not being able to see what I was shooting was exciting. It was a challenge but I really enjoyed it. I saw it almost like a game, sometimes I would lose and my roll of film would turn out all blank and sometimes I would win, and my photos would turn out better than I ever imagined. Followed by the act of printing my photos in a darkroom and using all these strange chemicals, which made me feel like some kind of crazy alchemist creating magic. Although I don’t print my photos in a darkroom these days, photography is still feels like magic to me every time I take a photo.
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot.
I remember my high school photography teacher, Ms. de Pettri was a really eccentric lady and had very strong opinions about what made a good image and what the rules of photography were. But of course, I never liked following the rules. One of her golden rules was to never shoot straight into the sun or strong light because it causes lens flare and looks ugly. I always argued that and would always try and create a photo with lens flare that she could appreciate. Unfortunately, she's not alive to see it now (RIP), but I did take a photo last year of what I consider to be a perfect example of a beautiful lens flare. The image is of an aeroplane in the sky and the sun reflecting a flare right in line with the path of the plane, almost ‘godly’ in a way. It’s probably my favourite photo I’ve taken and I got it after countless attempts of breaking the rules and experimenting.
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
It might sound cheesy but the most constant source of inspiration for me as a photographer is life. Photography is my way of exploring and trying to understand this life, this world and all the mysteries that come with it. Countless times I’ve been feeling a certain way emotionally and have gone out shooting, only to realize later that some of the photos I took that day reflected that emotional feeling I had with subtle symbolism and imagery. It might just be me looking too deep into things, but sometimes, I feel that when I shoot it’s like I'm really communicating with the universe and the universe is communicating back to me. I believe authentic photography and art create a dialogue between the external physical world and the inner non-physical world of the mind and soul. When we want to take a look into ourselves, our lives and who we are as human beings, art helps us to explore that and express it uniquely. That is why life is the most constant source of inspiration for me, because it’s the root of everything we are.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
I don’t set up scenes and almost never plan what I am going to take photos of. My mentality is to ‘go with the flow’ and see what presents itself before me daily. Serendipitous encounters, beautiful moments and discoveries happen every day, you just have to be aware of them and let yourself be in the moment. It’s a bit of mindfulness, almost like a kind of meditation. I think that's the secret.
Who has been a great influence or mentor to you and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
I definitely learned a lot from studying other photographers' work and the ways in which they make their photos. Photographer Daido Moriyama was a big influence because he’s just such a bad ass and I love that. He shoots grainy, shaky, out of focus photos and breaks all the rules of photography but still manages to create amazing images and get away with it. He’s like a ronin photographer who roams the streets of the world shooting life everyday. Photographer ‘Boogie’ for the same reasons too. Much respect to those two. Also, studying Alex Webb’s work taught me a lot about colour and light and how to play with it. And Trent Parke’s ‘Minutes to Midnight’ book is still a game changer for me when it comes to the way I think about photo books and how to tell a story. I think studying other photographers' work and their techniques is essential to becoming a better photographer. Once you can understand someone else’s work, it can help you to analyse your own work and inspire you.
“Don’t set out to please the public by following trends or imitating established styles, especially to attract commercial interest. That’s whack and we can do better."
Tell us three photography tips.
1. Don’t follow trends. Don’t set out to please the public by following trends or imitating established styles, especially to attract commercial interest. That’s whack and we can do better. Create authentic, unique and honest art and let your personality speak through your imagery. Do you think Jean-Michel Basquiat or Jackson Pollock gave a damn about what was trendy and what the public thought? Nope. And now they are legends in the game.
2. Always be aware. When was the last time you walked down your street and were really aware of everything around you? The sights, the sounds, the smells. The creepy house that looks haunted that you never noticed. The way your sneakers feel hitting the concrete. The birds chirping and the conversations of people passing by. The smell of Indian food mixed with freshly brewed coffee. This is an example of my neighbourhood but it can apply anywhere you are in the world.
I see street photography as a form of meditation and I think it’s key to let yourself be in the moment when shooting on the streets. But really be in the moment. No headphones, no iPhones, no distractions. Give yourself completely to your surroundings and really observe and feel all that it is sharing back with you. Pinpoint the things that interest you and move you and appreciate them. The more you do this, even without taking photos, the more amazing things you begin to notice everywhere you go. Too many people walk around in a fog, head buried in their phones or looking straight ahead like they are on a mission. Just try chilling out…looking…listening…feeling. Everyday scenes are really beautiful if you’re aware of the details.
3. Always carry a camera with you. It might sound obvious but it's the most important tip! The amount of photos I have missed by not having a camera with me haunts me, man! I always carry at least a small compact in my bag or jacket because photo opportunities are endless and can happen at any time. Don’t leave home without a camera!
Finish the sentence...
If I weren’t afraid I would... take photos of everyone on the streets without hesitation.
I wouldn't be where I am today if... I didn’t stay persistent and dedicated everyday.
I've been listening to... KOHH, YG and 70’s African Funk artists like K.Frimpong & William Onyeabor.
Kids these days... are the future.
I look and feel my best when... I’m chilling on a beach somewhere tropical.
When no one is looking I... am always looking.
Travelling... is essential to understanding our world and our people.
I respect..all religions and beliefs.