French Joanik Bellalou’s street photography dodges cliches to go deeper, capturing portraits and moments. “If some foreigner came to France and just shot baguettes and the Eiffel Tower, I’d be bored…” he tells us.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
It takes a lot of time, though. “What’s my essential photographer’s kit?” Joanik Bellalou asks us, “a camera, a flash…and some shoes,” he smiles. You might see him wandering District 5 or District 8, “or more recently Go Vap.” Mostly, he doesn’t even shoot. “I simply walk around. Often, I’ll go for days without shooting anything which I guess can feel frustrating sometimes. But at least I get to chill, enjoy a roadside tra da, and develop my observational skills watching life go on around me…”
When Joanik does take photographs, the scenes he shoots “highlight certain situations” – cheerleaders in a park, kids sitting down for school lunch, municipal workers in Cho Lon. “There’s no secrets,” he muses, “I suppose it’s just a numbers game – the more you’re out there, there more chance there is you’ll capture something interesting…”
“My work, like this photograph shot at a Cosplay convention in District 5, typically highlights some contrasting elements; a man in a smart suit, and two exhausted-looking convention attendees,” Joanik says.
My genre is definitely street photography, but I definitely need an interesting character or situation to feel like I want to take a photo.
He first became fascinated with photography for its accessibility, “I think it was seeing some photographs taken on disposable camera, posted on Facebook,” he remembers. Inspired, he went out and bought a few disposable film cameras too before upgrading to “a very simple to use” Canon-AE1. “Photography and pictures are very easy to understand, there’s no text, no talking…” he explains.
While he’s still exploring his style, Joanik doesn’t check out the work of many other photographers. “But I do like the flash photography work of Minh, which you published in The Dot Magazine,” he admits. “Overall, there’s lots of interesting work coming through, and with Instagram you can explore the people’s work from all around the world. “Besides Minh, there’s another photographer called Haio, whose work is great.”
How has your work changed since you first started shooting?
The main evolution was going digital around two years ago. I’m not too picky or precise when it comes to technique, and I used to ruin a whole roll making stupid mistakes. Of course, with digital, you can shoot endlessly. That makes it feel ten times more fun. However, I have to tell you that I just bought more than 100 rolls of black and white film and I have a darkroom and enlarger in the works.
If you could describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work, what would you say?
If I had to choose a genre, I’d definitely say it’s street photography. But beyond that, in my work you’ll find I’m searching for an interesting character or situation.
Can you choose three of your favorite photos you’ve taken for us?
This first photo, ‘Cheerleader’, was taken in Thanh Da Park. I often go there on Sundays, either alone or with friends. On this particular day, a group of cheerleaders were practicing. It created this really interesting scene and so I played around with different angles and compositions and settled on this one. I like the way the flash creates this surreal situation.
A sad footnote to this is they’ve since concreted lots of the park. It used to be this sanctuary, butterflies everywhere, and now it’s become a pretty normal park. So, no more cheerleaders too.
Next, is my photograph of ‘Cho Lon Workers’. It’s just a common, everyday scene – a group of workers taking a break at the end of a tiring day. It’s the composition and use of flash that elevates it into something beautiful, and the way the woman is looking at me. I like it when people’s faces show this kind of defiant look, as if confronting the camera. The workers told me it wasn’t a beautiful scene to shoot. And, in Vietnamese, I told them, “Nếu không đẹp, thì không chụp đúng không?” – which has kind of become my catchphrase: “If it’s not beautiful, why would I take a photo of it?”
Finally, here’s another everyday scene – kids sitting down for school lunch with a teacher standing behind them. I used to teach in a school, and I loved going around during break time. I’d be given lots of free food and I just loved their energy. Even for a Vietnamese, I think this picture is interesting. We all forget what Primary School was like.
Besides the photograph capturing this moment of childhood innocence, it’s also a moment before the summer break…and before the impending COVID pandemic closed the school until February, 2022…
Follow Joanik Bellalou on Instagram. Photographs of Joanik Bellalou by Nghia Ngo.