This is an interview I recently did with Mads magazine about my photography story. I thought I’d share it here as I often get asked the same questions 🙂
Please tell us about yourself. Where you are from and other tidbits?
My name is Etienne Bossot. I’m a French photographer and photography teacher based in Hoi An, Vietnam. I created and continue to run two companies: Hoi An Photo Tour & Workshop and Pics of Asia, which are the current leaders in photography tour and workshop companies in Asia.
I moved to Vietnam 13 years ago after finishing my degree. I didn’t have a plan to stay so long, I just wanted to get away from the West for a while. But something clicked – I’m still here and going nowhere soon.
Your first camera? (or your first introduction to your discipline?
After about 6 months in Vietnam, I used my first paycheque to buy a camera. This was in the day before smartphones, and I wanted a way to capture my life in Vietnam, to show my friends and family back home. It was a Canon EOS 400D. I fell in love and a few months later I realised I was enjoying taking photos more than going to work. About a year later, I quit my job to spend more time taking photos.
What made you choose this medium?
Well, what really made me really fall in love with photography wasn’t actually the photography part. I found that driving my motorbike around Central Vietnam in search of a good image was making me explore parts of the country I never would’ve gone to otherwise. Having a camera in my bag made me go the extra mile, it gave me an excuse to meet and interact with complete strangers. Because of my camera, I had countless unexpected adventures. Taking up photography turned me into a better traveller.
For me, travel and photography go together… and they make the perfect team!
Yourself in 5 hashtags
Where travel and street photography meet.
What made you choose this project?
My interest in street photography started about a year ago, so it is still very new. I wanted to push myself to new horizons. Because after almost a decade of teaching travel photography to people, I found that I had fallen into a trap of using the same templates for my compositions. I was fed up with the fact that my images had started to all look the same, and I needed to try something new. Enter street photography.
Another reason I started shooting more street stuff is that my environment changed. As my hometown of Hoi An has gotten more popular with tourists it has become almost impossible to walk in the Old Town during the afternoon for traditional “travel shots”. At first, it was a little disheartening but I told myself that as a photographer, I should be able to take interesting pictures anywhere of anyone. That is when I started looking into street photography – and now wandering the Old Town in the afternoon, hunting tourists as they do bizarre things, is one of my favourite things.
That said, travel photography is my first true love, and it’s just something I can’t give up. What I am trying to do with this project is to define the borders between travel and street photography. I know that there is no need to define such borders as the genres often merge, and everyone likes to call such-and-such type of photography ‘street’ or ‘travel’. But I do this for myself, to come up with a new breath of creativity, so I can then share it and teach it to my students.
What do you want to tell with your project?
I want to show the people around me, and particularly my students, that anything can make a potentially good picture. By experimenting with different genres of photography, and learning to be able to capture an idea, one will avoid falling into the clichés of what travel photography has slowly become: the same postcards of the same places we see all the time. The pictures are pretty but completely lack originality or emotion. There is no signature from the photographer, and it makes them boringly common.
What inspired you?
Because of the issues that travel photography is facing, with people repeating the same clichés due to their popularity, I think there is a great lesson to learn from street photography. Most travel photographers I see on social media shoot similar things, and I am rarely in awe when looking at someone’s work for the first time. But it is different when I look at the work of street photographers.
Street photography, to me, is the most difficult field of photography. A lot of people try it but few really excel at it. Hitting the streets and putting in the hours to capture one unique moment requires real dedication. And the ability to see and capture something that happened only once and will never happen again requires real vision. The beauty of this concept is very powerful to me and worth much more than a pretty postcard image.
Plus, as a photography instructor, creativity matters a lot to me!
What was the main obstacle you faced?
This project, as you can see, is very personal. So the biggest challenges I faced were ones that involved battling against my own habits. I found that I kept falling into the same templates of composition that I have used over the years, which was very frustrating. Trying to break any ingrained behaviour is hard and I found that particularly true in this case.
I noticed that when trying to be creative, I had to push myself to the edge of my comfort zone – exactly as I encourage my students to do. It’s at this boundary of the unfamiliar that real change happens and creativity sparks.
When and where did you capture these images?
These images were taken in 2018 and 2019 in and around Asia. I run several workshops a week in Hoi An – which gives me the ideal excuse to go out taking my own photos – and more workshops in Asia for the rest of the year.
What made you fall in love with photography?
I may have already explained that in an answer above. But basically speaking, having a camera is the perfect excuse to go exploring.
Who inspires you?
At the moment I am mostly inspired by a lot of street photographers. I often find photographers on social media that inspire me, purely because the photos are just different. I am fed up seeing all the same images online, and I want to inspire others to create their own original work by listening to their own voices.
I also love watching the work of some Iranian social documentary photographers like Jalal Shamsazaran, Bahareh Mohamadian or Vahid Tahami. They have no fear of breaking the regular rules of composition and their photos often hold so much emotion.
Where do you see yourself going within the next few years?
My plan at the moment is to continue refining my photography, of course, but I am also starting work on a new project. Once again, this is personal, but I want to use the power of photography to mobilize people about environmental issues. Everywhere I travel in Asia, I witness heavily polluted areas and people who have to change their ways of life because of how the weather is changing. I also want to involve my own children in this and use photography to educate them about what it will take to live and adapt in this fast-changing world of ours.
What is your advice to other artists?
Being a photography instructor I see a lot of young photographers trying to make photography a career. Unfortunately, what I all-too-often see is people trying to take shortcuts to get there. That includes paying companies to create auto-likes on Instagram to try and get more followers, which I don’t really care about. But the most disturbing for me is to see people taking photos of certain things because they think their viewers will like it. If you follow the trends, try to photograph what people like, you will never be able to express your unique voice and create an original body of work. Shoot what you like, not what you think others will.
Getting good at anything takes time; photography is no different. I believe an emerging photographer should hone their skills. Don’t sit at home buying ‘likes’ and trying to be the next Instagram star as soon as possible. Instead, go and photograph weddings or events to survive financially.
Shortcuts don’t work, and if they do, it is a very short-term way of looking at things. People are fickle and quickly get fed up of looking at the same thing.
What was your hardest assignment and why?
From running photography tours in Asia with diverse groups of people to photographing 12 hour-long weddings in Vietnam, I have done a lot of different assignments in Asia for the last 12 years. I must say though, there is nothing more difficult than taking photos of a boring-looking shoe shop in Hoi An under fluorescent lighting! But this particular type of shoot is maybe the one where I learned the most. When things are difficult, when we are put out of our comfort zone, is the time we actually learn something new.