Fashioning a Cuban beat
Sarah Caron is a French photojournalist based in Paris. After completing her education, she travelled to Cuba and in 1994 took the iconic images that started her career as a professional photographer. Since then she has worked on numerous assignments in Africa, South America, Asia and the Middle East as a freelancer with various magazines including Time and Paris Match, winning a host of awards and grants for her widely exhibited work along the way. We caught up with her in Cuba, where she took time out of a busy fashion shoot to give the EOS M5 a test run and tell us a little about her career and her approach to capturing great images.
We began by asking Sarah what first attracted her to life as a professional photographer, rather than her teenage dream of becoming a classical ballerina..
“I was always attracted to images from a very early age. My parents used to take me to museums to see the works of master painters, who I think in many ways were the photojournalists of their time. But I also loved ballet and when I was in my teens, thought I might become a classical ballet dancer. That was when I made my first visit to Cuba – as a student at the Alicia Alonso School of Ballet in Havana. Ultimately though it was my fascination with history that really inspired my photographic journey. While I was doing a masters degree in Literature and Civilisation of Spain and South America, I discovered the works of Christina Garcia Rodero, an amazing Spanish photographer, through her book Occult Spain (Espana Oculta). After that, I was clear that photography was what I wanted to do - and I never had any questions or thoughts about choosing another profession.”
Revisiting places is a trademark of Sarah’s photography...
“It was the photos I took when I returned to Cuba in 1994 – over 20 years ago now – that started my career as a professional photographer. And whenever I have the chance, I like to revisit places I’ve worked before. It saves a lot of time when you already know the intimate details of a place and its people. And going back not only gives me an opportunity to photograph the changes that time has brought to an area, but it also enables me to explore the finer details of that society and its people – so my images reflect a deeper understanding of the culture. Knowing a place well also helps out in many useful ways – like, where to stay and simply getting around. Thanks to my frequent visits to Cuba, my Spanish has also improved, so much that many Cubans do not believe that I am French!”
You can see the influence of Christina Garcia Rodero’s B&W photography in Sarah’s first professionally successful Cuban project, which was also in black and white. We asked her about the creative process behind shooting in monochrome or colour and the art of capturing emotion...
“It was a practical reason rather than necessarily a creative one that influenced by decision to shoot my first photo documentary project – the Cuban rafters images - in B&W. Back then there was no digital and I was working in film, so I had to develop the negatives and prints myself and B&W was just an easier medium to work in. Now, when it's a personal project, I choose B&W or colour depending on what I want to convey in my images. But I can’t tie it down – it just seems to be an intuitive reaction to the subject matter. For example, I have continued my work about immigration – a subject that I have been working on for many years – in B&W. And of course, if I’m on assignment for a magazine, I ask them what they want and I shoot accordingly.”
“As for how I go about capturing emotion – frankly I do not know. I just spend time with the people in their environment, which I guess helps me develop the connection you need. Of course light plays an extremely important role in that, which obliges you to be very patient – as waiting for the right moment can take a long time.”
“But sometimes – especially during assignments – if you do not have good light, for example if it is raining all the time, you have to transform the inconvenience into something interesting and that's the real challenge. Plus, when you are working as a photojournalist, you have to adapt quickly to often-volatile situations and there can be lots of variants to consider apart from the light.”
Sarah’s most recent commission has been a fashion shoot in Cuba – which appears to be a far cry from the kind of photo-documentary images she has captured in places like Palestine and Afghanistan, but for Sarah, the differences are less than you would imagine.
“So far I have shot fashion in Pakistan and Cuba, where it’s a way to express their dreams of change. The designers in both places use their creativity to convey an underlying political message – so from that point of view, I don’t think it’s so different from shooting reportage in areas of conflict. In both these situations, a good photo should transmit information, as well as touch the viewer emotionally at a certain level. That’s what I try to achieve in my photojournalism and my fashion shoots.”
Out on the streets
As well as capturing some beautifully revealing shots of what happens behind the scenes at a fashion shoot using the EOS M5, Sarah also took it out onto the streets of Havana. We asked her what makes a good street photographer and about the kind of camera they should be using.
“For this project, I wanted to put myself under the skin of a traveller in search of beautiful and surprising images. I think for this kind of street photography, you need keen observation to spot those interesting and unique street scenes, and you have to be quick with an ability to rapidly compose and capture your shot. Because generally you do only get one shot! It’s also about not bothering people going about their daily business. So, the tool you need has to be small, discreet and rapid – just like the EOS M5. It also has the added bonus of being able to shoot high quality RAW files that you can use for professional purposes.”
“It was a pleasure to work with the EOS M5. I’ve been waiting a long time for Canon to make a camera like this – something light, small, fast and at the same time powerful. The great versatility of the EOS M5 was also a big bonus. I used it in various situations, like fashion shoots, reportage, street photography, architecture and landscape, to great effect under different lighting conditions. I even managed to use it to create images in the style of Impressionist painters for the night shoot of the sea. So, all in all, the EOS M5 and I have built up a great relationship!”