An Interview with Jean Michel Missri

Jean Michel Missri – Freelance Photographer

Jean Michel Missri is a french photographer, based in Paris France. He’s had a long career in photography covering many genres, including: sport, event, commercial, travel and archtiecture. His main focus today is on travel and architecture. Jean Michel Missri is also the editor of two beautiful online magazines, Shades of Grey and Shades of Color. He also offers 1 & 2 day tours of the beautiful city of Paris. Check out the links at the bottom of the blog to see more of work by Jean Michel Missri. 

What got you started in photography? Tell us about your journey as a photographer.

I started at the age of 13, quite a long time ago now. Using a few Instamatic cameras before that, but for my birthday, my father bought me a real SLR with a 50mm lens and a few black and white films. I got hooked immediately and started making images of everything, including street photography and photographing people and street scenes. A few months later as I was tired of waiting for the films to come back from the lab, I got an enlarger and learned how to develop the films and print my images.

When I was eighteen, I started windsurfing and it became my first passion. One day I made some windsurfing images during a world cup competition and sent it to a friend that was working for a windsurfing magazine. They published 16 pages with double spreads. I never stopped and started working for a few other magazines and a sport newspaper. That led me to start traveling a lot. A few years later I was hired to become the press manager for the Windsurfing world tour. I was traveling 10 months a year and got published in over 200 magazines around the world.

As a travel photographer, how important do you think it is to engage with your subjects & what tips would you give to other photographers?

When traveling I always carry a camera with me, but I try to make contact with the people before I make any image. One day in Cabo Verde, I went into a bar, asked for a drink and put my camera on the bar. It didn’t take long for some people to come and engage in conversation that led to a fantastic photo session. I hate people to become aggressive when you force the image, I prefer smiling people. Sometimes, in big cities mostly, I use the Jat Maisel technique. Find a good location and wait for people to come into the frame. The best tip for street and travel photographers is, smile, be kind and if some people are getting angry at you, just drop your camera and leave them alone.

Your fine art architecture photography is striking, have you found any challenges in transitioning to fine artwork & how did you overcome them?

Thank you. I discovered architecture photography a few years ago when I was working for a multimedia agency located in Paris la Defense. One day during a lunch break, I started to make some images. I am amazed by the incredible lines of these skyscrapers. Fine Art is a strange expression for me.

Travel Street Imagery

It is only photography and your images must express your vision.  When looking at some images from Joel Tjintjellar, I realized that playing with the light and not only with the lines was essential. So I started doing a lot of dodging and burning to really lead the viewer’s eyes to specific zones of the image. Then I started to do that for different genres of photography, even street photography.

Architecture photography can be a challenging genre, with very busy scenes. What tips and tricks would you recommend to simplify the scene and see through all the mayhem?

The main thing is to plan your shooting very early or later in the afternoon. But when you travel, it is not always easy and you find incredibly busy locations. In this case, I try to change the framing and looking up or try to incorporate the crowd to make it part of the scene. If you really want nobody in the frame, then shoot a lot of images without moving and play with Photoshop stack modes and healing tools.

Beautiful Venice

Many people go through ups & downs in their photography, lacking inspiration at times. Have you experienced this through your career, and if you did, how did you overcome the down times?

Thanks for this question. After making images every day for 30 years, I woke up one day, took my camera and I saw nothing interesting through the viewfinder. I tried the next day and the next day and it was the same thing, so I put the camera in my bag. It lasted 3 years. Three years without making any image. And one day, I went for a trip somewhere and I don’t really know why I took my camera. And it came back, I made one image after another and I enjoyed it. So if that happens to you, just let go for a while as it can be very discouraging to come back with nothing enjoyable.

 

Have you had any photographers that have influenced or inspired you, and how have they done that?

My all-time favourite photographers are Sebastiao Salgado and a French photographer named Jean-Loup Sieff. I love Salgado because of his unique vision. His book « Genesis » is a true masterpiece. Jean-Loup Sieff is another kind of artist. Jean-Loup started as a  fashion and portrait photographer, and slowly moved to travel and landscape photography. He was using a 20mm lens for his landscapes and was using very unique and distorted angles. And of course, he was a black and white magician.

One of the challenges we face as photographers is staying fresh & unique. Often by looking at a lot of work produced by other this can sub-consciously influence our work. As an editor of two online photography magazines and seeing a lot of work, do you find it influences your own photography, and if so is it in a positive or negative way?

Almost three years ago now, I started working as a Master/Mentor for The Arcanum, an online photography learning community. We take photographers on a learning curve and we do live critiques with them.. Doing that developed my eye as a photo editor. About the same time, I created the Shades of Grey Fine Art Photography magazine. I was feeling frustrated by most of the photography magazines as they were publishing only 3 or 4 images from, most of the time, well-known photographers. For my magazines, I started searching for new talents to giving them a larger exposure. It made me feel very humble as a photographer. The quality of the artists I published is so amazing, it really motivates me to evolve my photography.

Great architecture by Jean Michel Missri
Street photography

With the cost of living pressures, it can be a challenge to earn a living as a photographer while also continuing to grow & enjoy your own photography. How do you strike a balance between earning a living and growing as an artist?

I made quite a lot of money when I was working for different magazines. Working 4 years as a multimedia project manager with a very comfortable income. So even if I earn a lot less doing what I do now, I am perfectly happy because I love what I do. Money is important but a lot less than feeling happy when you wake up and you know you will do something you love. But my savings are getting low.

What has been the highlight of your photography career so far and why?

I cannot say I have any highlights. I felt happy being contacted by quite a lot of magazines for the work I was producing. What brings me the most joy today is getting messages from the photographers I publish in my magazines, thanking me for presenting their work in a classy way.

Low Key Art

What tips would you give to a photographer today considering making a career in photography?

Make your images without thinking of becoming a pro. Enjoy what you’re doing, work hard to build your vision. One day, your work will be noticed and work will come. But at the same time, opportunities are not coming alone. Starting my career by contacting newspapers and magazine editors. I can tell you one anecdote. I went to a new sport newspaper called « Le Sport » in Paris. Meeting an editor who asked if I had already worked as a journalist, I said no. He looked surprised and told me that would be a huge problem. So I offered to write three test articles. I told him, you read it and if you like it, you hire me, and if you don’t, then I would have tried with no regrets. He gave me 3 topics to write about and told me to come back three days later.

I went to a cafe next door and started to write. Two hours later, the three articles were written. I went back to the newspaper and called him. He came very surprised and asked me if I had any question about the writing. I said no and gave him the papers. He didn’t even read it and put it in a trash can. He said you’re hired. I need motivated and fast working people. So provoke the opportunities if you can.

Post processing is one of the tools we have at our disposal to bring out the story in an image. Do you find post processing an important tool in your imagery, and how do you find luminosity masks help you tell your story?

With RAW images, you can’t live without post-processing. Using luminosity masks helps building up the light on your image and defining the focus zones. It became an essential tool for most efficient dodging and burning. So thank you, Aaron, for creating this amazing ADP Pro luminosity masks panel. As a mostly black and white photographer, the MonoFx section in your panel is now the tool I use the most.

Check out more work by Jean Michel Missri, join him on a day tour of Paris, and take a look at his beautiful Shade of Grey Magazine below.