Pierre Belhassen defines himself as an author-photographer. The street, but more broadly the outside world, is an open playground where he finds a means of expression. His photography does not document reality, but simply seeks to observe others, relying on his own instincts in immediate proximity with the world surrounding him. Pierre likes to watch and to explore, to lose track of time.
How did you become a photographer?
One day someone placed a camera in my hands, and there was a kind of evidence… I immediately realized the potential of this instrument. With photography, it was no longer a question of representing the world around me, but of inventing my own. Even today I continue to explore its possibilities.
You define yourself as an author-photographer. What does that mean?
I define myself as an author because for me it’s the word that most precisely defines my approach. My work is established around a particular vision that gives privilege to emotions in narration. When I photograph I try to interpret the real and the banal to transform it into raw emotion, then I assemble the images together to articulate these emotions around a larger idea. In this sense my approach is quite similar to that of a writer or a musician: one seeks the harmony of words, the other that of sounds; for my part it is images.
Do you also see yourself as a street photographer?
No, I prefer the term author-photographer, because I don’t wish to limit the possibilities that photography offers me. On the other hand, it’s true that a large part of my images are made in contexts specific to street photography, where the subject, the scene and the setting are not controlled. I like to work in this way because this freedom brings a lot of spontaneity to my images. It is like having a dream – the visual elements flow and you have to deal with it, find the story and the image!
What catches your eye?
Light and colour, which, by the way, are one and the same. After that it’s a place in the broadest sense of the word, it might be a country, a city, a neighbourhood or a simple hotel room. Finally, it’s the bodies, which are revealed through their movements, the inner reflection of emotions. I try to bring all these elements together in an image…
How do you find the decisive moment? Any tips?
I think it isn’t me that finds it, it finds me: I just have to be ready. As Pasteur used to say, “chance favours only the prepared mind”. I think you have to sincerely believe in what you are doing, walk a lot too, and always be ready to welcome the moment.
How do you use colour as a mode of expression? What is more important to you: composition or colour?
Before approaching colour photography, I photographed mainly in black and white…composition was for me the essential and founding element at that time.
When I experimented with colour, I understood that it also strongly influenced the image and thus modified its overall balance. So I learned to play with these two notions at the same time. The role of colour is extremely important in my images. Each colour carries its own sensitivity, and the palette offered is like an infinite number of possibilities to create emotion.
Which cameras do you use and why?
I worked for a long time with a Leica M7, and now I work mainly with an M240, always equipped with the same 35mm Summicron f/2 lens. I hope to have the opportunity to work with a Leica M10, that I’ll be able to test soon. The M is the ideal tool for me. I see it as an instrument more than a tool. I have established a relationship with it, as a musician would do with his instrument.
Any future projects or plans you would like to mention?
I’m currently working on my first monograph, and I hope to have the opportunity to present it to you soon!
Pierre Belhassen is based in Marseille (France). His aim is to work on long-term projects and tell his stories through photo-books, exhibitions and others mediums. He considers that it is extraordinary to have the possibility to overcome the limits imposed by a long apprenticeship to express one’s creativity. Pierre’s work has been published in the M magazine for Leica photography, the photo-journalistic review Epic Stories, LFI magazine, Better photography, and Courrier International, among others. His work has been shown at Voies Off Arles 2016, and the 2015 FotoIstanbul Festival. Pierre was a finalist for the 2016 LensCulture Street Photography Awards, and came second at the 2019 Miami Street Photography Festival. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.