Photojournalist Christophe Petit-Tesson

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / May 26, 2021

“My work is clearly oriented primarily towards information”

(Courtesy of Rena Effend)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I come from the world of the laboratory because for me photography was a teenager hobby but I did not imagine myself to make a profession of it. It came step by step after several years in the lab during which I did my technical apprenticeship and then I joined the “Centre Iris pour la Photographie” in Paris which had a more artistic vision of the profession. And after that it is the luck and the meetings that it provoked who make me who I'm .

Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I was a Nikon lover till my young years, I started with the FM and the F801 but after joining the EPA team in Paris I switched to Canon with I’m happy but I never forgot the efficiency and the robustness of the Yellow brand. If I have to live with a unique lens it will be definitely a 28 mm.

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I like Facebook to have fun with friends but professionally I prefer Twitter I have also a Instagram account but too much pictures and too much “Like” for me...It is sometimes overwhelming and destabilizing

Instagram -
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Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Still the same unattainable goal! The most gear in the smallest bag possible. Usually two bodies with 2 or 3 fixed lenses, a small telephoto lens in case of, a laptop and 3 km of cables! Very few clothes, all to keep in the cabin with me, my nightmare is to not find my luggage back at the airport.

Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: My work is clearly oriented primarily towards information even if in my studies I also learned to seek an aesthetic approach in my work. I often asked myself the question of knowing if I had a “style” and finally I think not and I got used with that because it is not what I look for in my work. I would like people say by looking at my photos, he took the time to understand the situation he is trying to show us, it is what I try to do.

Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Difficult to say, In Paris in my daily job of news photographer it is not rare to come back with 1000 photos in a card but in reporting abroad for example it is much less.

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I spent 15 days in Armenia and Karabakh for a report on the consequences of the conflict of last fall war. It is a region that I know well and to which I am personally very attached.

Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: The last 6 months I worked on the preparation of the Napoleon death bicentennial with reenactors, supporters or opponents of the Napoleon legacy with also a portraits gallery of descendants and people connected with.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: My favourite photography or story I worked for are the ones I did without assignments for myself. Specially in the Middle East and Anatolia where I like to take time to travel freely without results pressure and letting the chance to make me met interesting people and places. This is what I did in 2015 by traveling in eastern Turkey for months and where I met a lots of lovely people for a great emotional experience.

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: More than a message I would rather speak of testimonials, I do not want to deliver a message just to tell and show. To be very honest we have always our own opinion when we cover a story and if we can share it with our readers it is good but while remaining honest with the facts.

(Courtesy of Christophe Petit-Tesson)

Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be great in your eyes?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Sometimes the memory of the moment when we took a photo counts as much as the graphic quality of the photo, often the photographer and the one who looks at the photo will not necessarily have the same opinion on an image. An alchemy must occur between the almost mathematical graphic composition and the emotion that can be aroused by a light, a gesture or a look in addition to the event that the photo describes.

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Today, even the images that are described as “iconic” are quickly forgotten because the flows are limitless. The moment takes precedence over quality, even a bad screenshot can make history when an exceptional photo may go unnoticed.

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Like everyone else sometimes I have doubts about my practice but unfortunately I don't know how to do anything else! And the luck that we have in the agencies and in the world of the News is that there is always something going on.

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I worked on many different conflict zones but the most dangerous memory I have is the fall of the Libyan capital Tripoli in August 2012. Without take the time to prepare anything we decided with Remi Ochlik and Mehdi Chebil, two close friends, to leave Paris for Tunis in 30 minutes. We've spend a crazy week together in the middle of a ravaged city without any security measures or even bullet proof jackets or helmets. By chance nothing bad happened to us but it was really not a professional way to cover a war.

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: For me, a press assignment is always a pain, I don't like the pressure of the trust that people have placed in me, it's unhealthy. With time I manage it better but it is never a pleasure until I come home and the mission accomplished.

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: The qualities of a photographer and a journalist are often opposed, let me explain, the photographer is solitary, silent, intrusive and sometimes even borderline incorrect to obtain something from the privacy of people that is not always natural whereas the journalist him/her is in empathy, communication, exchange to build trust so that people indulge in him/her. I would say that the journalist receives and the photographer takes, it's a formula but I think there is some truth in it and as photojournalist we have to manage with that and find the good cursor depending of the situation.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Don't put your finger in the jam's pot!

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photographer?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: Respect your subjects and be honest, those are the main goals. But it always can be more. And help if there is no one around you to help.

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I think there will always be an interest in photography as an art because technical progress cannot deliver excellence in the practice of the profession in a package. It takes a total investment and many years of experience or often we are satisfied with very little to be able to afford equipment. Maybe we will go back to what existed at the beginning of our profession in the middle of the 20th century. An activity reserved for people who will not need money to make their activity profitable but who will experience this profession as a passion, an art of living reserved for the richest.

Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

Christophe Petit-Tesson: I think that those who have the qualities to succeed in this profession do not need my advice. For my part I am happy to be welcoming and friendly when I meet young colleagues by engaging in conversation because that's what made me happy when I met older photographers when I started out. But otherwise I could tell them “if you're not afraid to run for a few years, go for it!”

Christophe Petit-Tesson

Christophe Petit-Tesson was born in Paris in the 70's. He rediscovered a youthful passion in 1995 while working in a Paris photography laboratory. The rise of digital encourages him to join Iris center for photography, then he decided to be a photo reporter. His work has been shared between the French political news and issues in the Middle East and follows the social and political evolution of the region with particular interest to Middle East minorities. He covered between 2011 and 2015 the Arab springs from Libya to Syria. He regularly travels to Iraq, Armenia, Turkey or Northern Syria. He is working now for European Pressphoto Agency since 2015.