Art is all around us. It is in everything we see, everything we hear, everything we touch and everything we feel. Art is whatever we want it to be – extract from “The Artist” by Paul Choy
I am very grateful and honoured to feature Paul Choy in the very first interview of “Between Land & Sea”.
Paul portrays compelling stories with his camera, creating photos which are not only sublime but so much thought provoking. This is what fascinates me about his work – there is another story behind the story that makes you delve deeper in that captured moment.
Paul is based in Mauritius and describes himself as a travel & documentary photographer.
Who were your early influencers and whose work has influenced you the most?
I am inspired by so many great photographers and artists, it is hard to know where to start. The photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson in capturing the “decisive moment” has probably had the most influence on the spirit of my work. I have always aspired to capture the natural moments of every day life, through my photographs. In that Cartier-Bresson has been tremendously influential.
I am also very drawn to the work of Pep Bonet. His photo essays from the Kissy Mental Home in Sierra Leone and the Hospice in Haiti are raw and challenging, forcing the viewer to confront their own perceptions.
But I am also constantly inspired by the photographs shared online by people all over the world. Recently I have been slightly obsessing over the Instagram feed of Abbey O’Connor. Shot entirely on a camera phone, she manages to perfectly capture the spirit of her home city of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Most of all though, I have always been inspired by the people I meet along the way. If I have learned anything, from my travels around the world, it is that people really are amazing, and I will never tire of capturing their stories.
Do you have an all-time favourite camera/lens combination? What makes it your ideal combination?
I am a huge fan of the Fuji mirrorless camera. I have used them exclusively for many years now. In particular, the Fuji X100F is my absolute desert island camera, the one I would choose every time if I could only take one camera with me on a trip around the world.
It has a small, compact form factor and comes with a fixed, 35mm equivalent lens. I find 35mm to be such a versatile focal length for my style of photography. Wide enough to shoot dramatic landscapes, but narrow enough to capture beautiful portraits, 35mm is a just right.
Of course, I also use other cameras and lenses. I will usually carry at least one other Fujifilm camera for my assignments, either the Fujifilm X-T2 or X-Pro2, with a small selection of lenses. I always travel light though, so usually I limit my equipment to 2 bodies, and three lenses.
What are some tips/advice that you would give to yourself if you started photography all over again?
Keep it simple. Grab one body and one lens, and use them to shoot lots and lots of photographs.
When I first started out I was under the mistaken impression that equipment equals quality, the more equipment you have the better your photography will be. But over time, I came to realise that simply isn’t true. It isn’t the camera which creates a photograph, it is the photographer, and there is no substitute for experience. You don’t need lots of camera, you do need to shoot lots of photographs.
What new things would you try in photography?
I have been meaning to experiment with some mixed media projects, using a photograph as a base and adding other materials on top. One day I will find the time!
Among your works, which one is your favourite? Why?
Asking which of my photographs is my favourite would be like asking a parent which of their children they like the most. I’m not sure it is a question I can answer specifically. Each photograph is different, telling its own story.
What websites/books/magazines/blogs do you read/look for ideas/guidance?
Of course, the usual photography websites. I actually write for a couple, mostly on FStoppers.com.
Your work “faceless, forgotten” is poignant. How difficult was it, at the emotional level to shoot? (check out the photo essay here)
I have worked on a number of social awareness projects, and each has its own emotional challenges. With Faceless, Forgotten, which tells the story of the refugee crisis in Europe, the most difficult aspect was dealing with the sense of helplessness amongst the refugees, as they were used as political pawns by the various Governments of the world. Forced to live in some of the most awful conditions imaginable, it was draining to watch parents forced to wash their newborn babies in rain water, knowing there was nothing I could do to help.
Capturing someone’s portrait is always a deeply personal experience. Regardless of whether I know my subject for just a minute or many years, when I photograph them we become connected, and dealing with the sense of unfairness of their situation was difficult.
Some photographers say that they see the world differently, and that they have a different perspective on life. What is your perspective on the world and on life?
I’m not sure I can summarise my perspective on the whole world, and life within it, in a few sentences! I would say from that my own experiences, regularly travelling all over the globe, is that there is far more good in the world than bad. Listening to the news, you could easily be forgiven for thinking everything was doom and gloom, but the truth is life is something to be celebrated everyday.
Today, Mauritians are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the independence of Mauritius. With your photographer’s critique eye, how do you perceive the Mauritian society?
One of the reasons Mauritius is my absolute favourite place to photograph is the sheer personality of the people. Everywhere I have travelled, throughout the whole Republic of Mauritius, I have found people willing to share their stories, with a big smile on their face.
We may be a small island but we truly do have a big heart, and it shines through laughter of the people I meet.
What is one question nobody has ever asked you—that you wish they asked you? … and what would be the answer?
I don’t know which are the question I am yet to be asked, I haven’t been asked them! Sometimes I am asked something that comes so far out of nowhere, it can cause me to think again about that particular subject. I think that is one of the things I appreciate most about photography, there is always something new to learn.