Photojournalist Nadege Mazars
"I see my images as a tool as well as a messenger"
(Credit: Stephanie Nolen)
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / October 6, 2021
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
Nadege Mazars: The will to be close to certain events, to understand them, and to be able to reveal them, and in some cases to be able to point out injustices.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Nadege Mazars: I work with a Nikon SLR and a Leica M digital most often with a 35mm, and 85mm on the Nikon, and something with a 24-70mm depending the kind of situations I have to cover. I really like the way I shoot with the Leica, I like its discretion and its soulful pictures. But I use the cameras and lenses according to the situations that need to be documented. Sometimes I use a small camera, the Fuji X100T, extremely discreet and with a very interesting rendering. I usually work in digital and colour, but I have a passionate and occasional love for black and white, as it happened for the series I did in El Salvador about ex-gang members.
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Nadege Mazars: It depends of course on the places where I'm going and the time spent there. The idea just before the trip is to imagine all the material situations (climate, transportation, accommodation, night and day shooting, etc.) that will allow to compose the bag correctly, while trying to stay light, to be easily mobile.
I usually try to take two cameras, the Nikon D850 with the 85mm and the 24-70 zoom, and the Leica with a 35mm. If I need to send pictures quickly, I take a laptop. But generally no, because I avoid carrying too much equipment that would not be useful, especially when I go to remote areas, where transportation and accommodation are precarious. Sunscreen, mosquito repellent and contact lens solution are mandatory. A small box of medicine. In my photo bag, I always carry a tourniquet (to stop bleeding) that I have learned to use thanks to the training provided by RISC, IWMF and the Académie France Media Monde. A few gris-gris, like little jewels, a keffiyeh and a cloth poncho that I use to protect myself from the sun, to clean my cameras and even to protect them from light rain.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Nadege Mazars: Through my photos, I try to explain a situation that presents itself to me, to make people feel the feelings that invade me and also to let people know, in the construction of the image, in the emotions conveyed, what the image does not allow to be seen materially. And it is often this step that is the most difficult... overall I would describe myself today more as a documentary photographer.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Nadege Mazars: It depends on how many days I spend documenting but I have a bad habit of taking a lot of pictures. On a long day, I easily trigger 600 times (many doubles too). On an assignment, I usually provide the editor with about 60 photos per day. On a long term project, the approach of the field and the time management are completely different. My project on El Salvador, has about 800 good photos to study for the final version.
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Nadege Mazars: An assignment for the Washington Post to the La Guajira desert in Colombia.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Nadege Mazars: I want to finish shooting this year for my long term project The Other Colombia, about peace in Colombia (a large program for a country in internal war since around 60 years). I want to do a book next year, and the next reportage will be to document the situation of population displaced because of renewed fighting between different armed actors.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Nadege Mazars: The photo of Daniela, a guerrilla, that I took at a particular moment in the peace process. The result of the plebiscite on the peace agreement had just concluded with a No vote, albeit barely a majority, but enough to call into question several years of the search for peace in Colombia. I took the portrait as Daniela was just coming out of an end-of-day military drill. And as I look at this photo, of a woman revealing herself after coming out of hiding, I wonder what I would have done if I had been born in her place, if I had been carrying that gun, if I had believed in a peace agreement for several months, to the point of abandoning the clandestine movement and in some ways putting my life in danger, how I would have felt at that precise moment of the rejection of the peace agreement. Because after having followed every impulse of the process for two years, the photographer that I am is still shocked by this rejection. So I can't imagine how they felt, personally in their innermost being.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
Nadege Mazars: I hope that my images can help to better understand a situation, an environment, a person. I see them as a tool as well as a messenger
(All images © Courtesy of Nadege Mazars)
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
Nadege Mazars: A great image must certainly be a mixture of emotions and context. An emotion born of its composition and subject matter, from the empathy we have with the person in the picture, the empathy that helps you connect to a situation. A context that allows you to understand the importance of this image.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
Nadege Mazars: And a real good image gives a feeling of magic. It speaks to us all at once of this famous moment that explains everything, this moment built around the forms, colours, tones, geometries, movements... This moment that we feel in the present through the picture.
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Nadege Mazars: A feeling, very personal, that I have of living in the moment when I photograph. To be completely immersed in a place, in a moment in a situation, in a particular interaction with people, it's almost therapeutic. And more globally, the desire and the need to express myself of course, according to how I see certain things.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Nadege Mazars: By starting photography! To start at 40 years old when nobody knows you in the profession, when everybody implies that it is very risky, when you have almost no resources and you have to produce a story alone and moreover you have to start with a story that marks, like the peace process and the guerrilla. And a woman in this male-dominated environment? The outcome was that I will never regret taking that risk. Photography has also transformed me.
On the field? The riskiest moments I've encountered are every time I take a transport in a rural area in Colombia (car, bus, motorcycle, mule, boat...)... The other risks I take are evaluated, between the pros and cons, and in general if the risk is considered too high, I give up. Transportation is always very random.
I think it's important to get rid of the image of the photojournalist as half adventurer/half Rambo.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Nadege Mazars: Mmmmhhh… I would dream of being the first photojournalist in the space station...
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Nadege Mazars: Patience, empathy, curiosity and determination.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Nadege Mazars: In photojournalism, crude digital manipulation (leaving elements, overemphasizing the effects of tones, colours and light, etc...) is obviously totally excluded, because it can lead to mislead the viewer between what was really seen and what is shown. That said, every image is an interpretation of reality. And every digital image undergoes processing, because RAW images are not intended to be used as such, except to be loaded with as much digital information as possible to be processed. When you work in photojournalism, the question seems to me to remain honest and respectful in the relationship you had with the field, and to know how to process what you saw and photographed at a precise moment, how you felt it.
In a more personal and creative process, the key is the freedom of intervention in the process of photographic writing. So digital manipulation can be an option among others. For my part, I don't consider it.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Nadege Mazars: Respecting your sources, especially when dealing with historically subaltern populations. Being aware of the consequences of certain images and asking the question of what their distribution implies. Obviously, not to lie through our images, not to make our images say things that do not represent the reality that we say we have seen.
And finally, to be aware of the experiences that question our profession, to be able to question ourselves and to adapt, because ethics is also in movement, in particular with this upheaval that the digital era has brought about.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Nadege Mazars: It's not that photojournalism is losing its importance, but the structures that support it are weakened. Loss of economic and moral autonomy. And unfortunately I believe that this weakening is in some way desired because photojournalism is a “nuisance” for some, it carries in itself the defense of freedom and equality. The press is subjected to economic tensions that reduce its independence. In photography, it's simple, the photo service in the editorial offices are subject to reduced budgets, which imposes editorial choices that should not take place. And in general, few press structures today can defend and support their collaborators in the field for an in-depth journalism. So we photojournalists are looking for alternative ways to finance our stories that require more than two or three days of fieldwork. The image has never been more important in our society. The problem is in the use that is made of them and the control exercised over these images. What makes me say that photojournalism still has a lot of future ahead of it, is simply to see for example in Colombia how much it inspires many young people seeking to become professional. You only have to see how social media are used in the upheavals that some countries are experiencing. In Colombia, for example, between May and June 2021, the information circulating on social networks was essential, while the major national media were quite silent on a movement that affected all of Colombia. After all, the question of information through social media remains problematic in terms of verification of information, but I believe that social media fill the gap in an existing need for information.
Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?
Nadege Mazars: I was lucky enough to start my career at a time when, more than just realizing that this is a male-dominated field, some people in the industry have put in place concrete affirmative action, supporting women photojournalists. And I owe a lot of that to Women Photograph and the IWMF, and various photo editors of course. That said. Today I'm afraid that this is just a moment, not a structural way of thinking, inscribed in the way of functioning. This is like all feminist struggles around the world, the fight never seems to be won. Obviously, there are still a lot of inequalities, especially in what some people consider to be a subject, a domain rather for male photographers. While many women show that the field is not really the problem but rather how we are perceived and the type of assignment we are given. I've heard several women colleagues lament the fact that they don't have those flagship assignments that stabilize a career. And I'm afraid that this awareness of support for women photojournalists is limited to one-time, somewhat superficial help, and not really giving us the right assets in our hands. But then again, I feel pretty lucky, personally.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Nadege Mazars: Concretely, find a good story, involved in current events or a social contemporary issue, that also has a strong visual potential (and that interests you of course). Go out into the world of photojournalism, and photography, and share with your colleagues. Open yourself to a variety of experiences in photography, because to be creative, you have to allow yourself some freedom. It's a professional world of freelancers, ultra individualized, so to break this dynamic a little, don't consider your colleagues as competitors, value mutual help and respect, because it's the only way to assert our rights. And don't constantly judge who is good and who is bad. In my opinion, too much ego is really detestable, remember that you are a photojournalist to tell, not so much to tell yourself. Stay humble by learning from the people you meet and photograph, develop your empathy.
Nadege Mazars is a French photographer based in Colombia. Her approach strives to give an intimate insight on her subjects about the effects of global issues linked to topics such migration, healthcare system or natural resource extraction. Mazars’s work also tries to explore both the origins of war and the conditions to reach peace in societies such El Salvador or Colombia. She has a Ph.D in Sociology (2013, Paris). She is two times a Magnum Foundation Grantee, in 2016 to continue her project The Other Colombia, and in 2019 for a project in El Salvador about migration, religion and violence. Her works were exhibited at BnF (2020, Paris), at the gallery Casa Hoffman (2019, Bogotá), at the gallery Framer Framed (2019, Amsterdam), at Pil'Ours Festival (2018, France), and at ZOOM Festival (2016, Canada). Her clients include organizations such as The Washington Post, Libération, Le Monde, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Save the Children.