Maud Walas is a French photographer and sometime traveler, taking pictures everywhere in film. She is currently in New York, a paradise for street photography. She might be pointing her lens at you!
An Interview with Maud
Why did you make this website?
I wanted to share fragments of people’s lives in different places that I fell in love with. Each place has its own soul, energy, and atmosphere.
Why do you like photography?
Because it’s like writing a story with pictures. The good thing is that you’re not writing a story — merely suggesting it. It’s up to the person looking at the picture to create the story, depending on their own perception of the picture.
It’s also a personal story: photography has changed me, helped me grow up. I used to be a shy person (and I might still look that way). But doing street photography forces me to go up to people and sometimes speak with them, either before or after I take their pictures, so I have to be a little bold. Capturing people on camera requires taking a little risk because you never know how the subject is going to react. After years of doing street photography, I have become more outgoing and daring; I don’t think about myself when I am pursuing a subject.
Clearly, people are an important part of your pictures.
Yes, they are the most important part, but the place and the light are also key. All together, they make a story. It’s a little cinematic in the way the three parts work off each other.
What kind of camera do you use?
I only use film cameras — a medium format Hasselblad; a Leica; a panoramic Hasselblad. The lenses I always use are short: 28 mm or 50 mm, which lets me get close to my subjects. People often ask me why I use film cameras, and it is because I like having only one shot. You have to think about your picture. I also like film because you don’t know if your picture is good or not — you have to wait and develop it to see if it’s good or not; the time for this process lets you keep memories of the places you’ve been and the people you’ve met, and that makes the whole experience more human.
Do you develop your pictures yourself?
No, I use a lab. For black and white, I could do it myself; however, the chemicals for color film make the process too risky. After I get the film back from the lab, I scan it and make some adjustments for light and color.
How do you decide whether a city is best represented by color, or black and white?
Each city has its own palette of colors.
I remember Beijing being yellowish and gray — yellow because of its pollution, and gray because of the old buildings. This is probably why I used black and white film — to make it look old fashioned and timeless.
I also use black and white for Paris because it’s actually the color that I see. I discovered street photography through black and white pictures from classic photographers like Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and others. So, I feel at home in Paris in black and white.
New York, on the other hand, is bright and colorful, partly because of the light reflected off the buildings. The buildings are so tall, and the streets are so straight — that the sunlight is either shining down completely, so some scenes are very brightly lit; or you get streets where the light is blocked by other buildings and it’s just shadow. Rarely, is there a place in New York a mixture of light and shadow, or a romantic smoky mix of the two. It’s one or the other — and it gives it an edge.
Shanghai is mainly faded colors, at least where I took pictures. I prefer the old and residential parts of the city, whereas google images would have you think that Shanghai is built of super-modern towers. My Shanghai is like color-tinted movies, color with gray tones. Color film gives Shanghai more life, and more hope — hope because the old neighborhoods are fast disappearing and I hope that its people will be able to hold on to the smiles and joie de vivre that are in their faces.
Hong Kong is like New York, really colorful with another dimension — the smells of cooking from the streets, the markets with rows of vegetable stalls, fish, meats, and spices. For Hong Kong, I used both black & white and color — and I’m not sure why. I realize that the city has a dual nature — being both ultra-modern and still old fashioned; and yet, there wasn’t only one way to portray the city.
Having said that, I realize that there has also been an unconscious evolution in my work: when I started out, I used only black and white film; now, I realize I have a tendency to use only color. So, clearly, I am still developing both as a photographer and a viewer of life — particularly urban life — everywhere.