Paris, Film Noir, Hitchcock

Elizabeth Char

Elizabeth Char lives in Paris, France. Though she has a career in the television industry, her true passion is street photography. Elizabeth believes that street photography is a kind of active meditation or therapy. Her view of the street is one that captures the everyday elegance of those around her through attentiveness to even the smallest gesture that makes us human. While Char looks mostly for her inspiration on the city streets, she is also drawn to the language of the summer seaside.

I was born in Paris in 1956 and I live here still. I have a 33 year old daughter. I work for French TV. About photography: I always say that photography came to me. I didn't choose it. I always knew that I had a sensibility, a 'touch' with pictures, even before I had a camera. Elizabeth Char

WSP: Describe your photographic style. How did you develop your style?
EC: It is difficult for me to talk about my photographic style. I am an instinctual person so my instincts and feelings guide my way of photographing. I like to be close up to the people I photograph and I like to add a "dramatic" touch by accentuating the contrast. I am very influenced by "film noir", which comes through in my photography.

WSP: Who inspires you other than photographers (artists, writers, music, architects, and philosophers)?
EC: Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Jacques Tati, Anton Tchekhov, Aragon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Cezanne, van Gogh, Canaletto and many others.

WSP: Have you ever had formal training?
EC: Yes, I completed a basic photography course through NPC.

WSP: How has street photography changed you as a person?
EC: Street photography is a pretext for a walk. I have also become more receptive to everything around me; a light, a silhouette, a smile, wrinkles on a face, all this moves me more than before.

WSP: What are your photography weaknesses?
EC: I could strengthen my technical knowledge, and possibly I get too close up to the people I photograph.

WSP: What do you consider your greatest photographic accomplishment?
EC: Last year I took part in a workshop with Bruce Gilden. While looking through my portfolio, Bruce Gilden said: "I'm proud you took this picture.” What more to say, I admire Bruce Gilden.

WSP: Do you think a photographer must have ‘natural talent’ to become a great photographer?
EC: Yes, natural talent is needed, but hard work and discipline are also required.

WSP: Locations and weather conditions seem to be a crucial aspect to a successful picture. How do you handle these unpredictable factors?
EC: I live in Paris. Most of the time the weather is gray and rainy. I don't really allow bad weather to bother me or prevent me from getting out and taking pictures. Of course I love beautiful shadows and bright sunshine, but there are also very interesting scenes on rainy days, or when the sky is cloudy.

WSP: When you are out shooting, how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
EC: When I go out for a shoot I can sometimes plan to go to a particular spot. But often I simply have my camera in my bag, and the place and the moment will make itself known to me! As I said previously, I am instinctive in my work, and I don't look for shadows and lights according to the hours of the day.

WSP: What are some tips/advice you would give to yourself if you started street photography all over again?
EC: What can be a brake on my work, and which I underestimated, is that I have had a tendency to compare my work with that of another photographers. So what I would like to do is stop doing that, and just be myself without censoring or being too critical of my work. I am my own worst critic.

WSP: What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
EC: If one of my photos evokes a positive emotional response in just one person, I'd be happy.

WSP: What advice can you offer for those who want to get into photography but maybe can’t afford equipment?
EC: An expensive camera and equipment alone is not what makes a good photograph. One has to have a good "eye" too. Yes, that is more important. There is no point in having the super camera that costs thousands of dollars. A good basic camera, a fixed focal length or 24mm, 28mm, 35mm or 50mm (my favorite is the 28mm focal length), a good pair of shoes, and joy in your heart when you leave home. The best picture is sometimes right outside your front door.

WSP: Thank you for this interview Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Char at World-Street Photography (click)