PHOTOINTER-Hosted by China Photographers Association

Interview | Sebastien Tokalian: Travel and Self-salvation

2017-09-22 14:30:37  source: PHOTOINTER [Original]  author: Yuanqing  editor: Lee.W
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Sebastien Tokalian is French. My first acquaintance with him was through a friend. I heard that Sebastien sold all his possession and started a long bicycle trip. During the journey, he took a lot of photos. This year, he will participate in the Pingyao International Photography Festival, which makes me curious and excitement. Thus, I invited him for this interview.

Sebastien looks very sturdy, his face covered with beard. Dark skin, tattoos run through his arms. He walks with huge steps. On a first glimpse, one will find him an athletic person, which is very common among the foreign photographers.

Before the interview, I have viewed one set of his works. I am very fond of the dynamics from his photos, just as he said in the interview: “I will completely forget the world I live in, when I travel outside on my bicycle.” Thus, the story begins here.


Question: www.photoint.net

Answer: Sebastien Tokalian


1. Q: Can you tell us how you start photography?

A: Before, I was a skateboarder, and I had a skateboard store in France for 20 years. It was in 1990, when I was only 21 years old and I opened my store. At that time, I was very young. I loved skateboarding, and also loved this kind of life. I did not think too much before I opened the store. Of course, when running my store, I would take some photos to the products for publicity. Later, I learned photography by myself and started to shoot advertising films. In 2012, great changes occurred in my life, and I thought I had to make a clean break to my past life. Thus, I sold my store which I ran for more than 10 years. Then, I bought myself a bicycle and began my aimless ride trip.

It sounds like a very old fashioned story, but I just wanted to make a change to my life, and travel is the best way to forget. Meanwhile, I decided to take some picture on my journey, so I could hold such a feeling. Therefore, I bought a Leica M Monochrome, and I started shooting that way.


2. Q: What happened to enable you to make such a change in your life?

A: When I was young, I was a skateboarder and met my ex-girlfriend. She was an American. In order to stay with her, I went to the United States and lived in her parents’ house. Later, something huge happened in her family, and we returned to France.

So I can put it this way. I ran the store to fill myself with a busy life so that I did not have to think about the life problems.


3. Q: How did you take pictures on the road?

A: I used to run the skateboard store and I also took photos of the products and even shoot some advertising films. However, taking pictures on the road was entirely different. At the beginning, I traveled to the well-known attractions like the other tourists. The photos I took were all the beautiful blue sky and images with rich tone, but I found these pictures almost the same. One day all of a sudden, I pressed the shutter when I rode my bicycle, and a blurred photo appeared before my eyes. I found it can perfectly express my emotions at the time. Thereafter, I used this way to take more pictures. So to speak, I am more like painting with a camera rather than record.


4. Q: Why are you fond of black and white photos?

A: When I first started to learn shooting, I used color camera. Later I found that black and white one is what I really want. The black and white photos are enchanting. Now, everyone is talking about skills and techniques, yet I prefer the black and white camera that is simple and helps me to concentrate on the feelings I want to express, rather than letting me confined to external conditions.


When I take photos, technique is the last thing I will consider. All my focus is on shooting. I have my own camera pre-settings, such as slow shutter and fixed filter, which are never changed during my daily shooting. This can eliminate unnecessary distractions.


5. Q: Indeed. This explains why there are so many blurred and moving things in your photos.

A: I would not like to simply copy the things I see. I want to describe my feelings about them.


6. Q: Were these photos taken during the move inspired by your love for skateboard in the past?

A: When I ride a bike, I often move very fast and crazy as if I was on a skateboard. I would rather shuttle among the cars in a city and bring the skills to play skateboard in riding bike. I often twist the bike to feel the speed changes that have been featured by my shootings.


7. Q: Could you describe how you spend a day during your travel shooting?

A: I often sleep in a camp when I am in the wild. There was a time when I was troubled by serious sleeping problems. During that period, I always red some Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s works and also learnt Stephen LaBerge’s “lucid dream” that helped me to sleep.

I would look up to the sky when I cannot fall asleep. Every time, I could find something special and wish to record them by my photos. In the morning, I would make some coffee or tea and keep on riding. The route I choose is often random. I know where to start and where to end, yet I choose the road between the starting place and an ending point out of instinct. You know, it is very tiring to shoot for a whole day and riding gives me a lot of space to think. My bike weighs 70 kg, very heavy. To me, shooting is more like a break during my riding. Since I often think about a lot of things when riding, shooting helps me withdraw from thinking and shift my attention to other things.

Of course, I would take photos when I am riding, and often miracles happen at this time.

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8.Q:It seems that your photographs are seeking a unique style?

A: Yes, people see the same thing, but take totally different photos.

I have a photo of tree, and it looks like an outstretched palm. Actually, I saw it the moment when I stopped to pee.

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There is another photo. When I was bicycling, a beautiful waterfall suddenly appeared, and it was the afternoon, so I immediately decided to end that day’s cycling and took a rest there. Then this photo was produced. I want to emphasize again that, I love black-and-white photos, which have a kind of unique charm. If you take a color photo, it will be just a waterfall, while in the black-and-white tone, it could be a waterfall, or a ray of sunlight spilled from the sky. There will be infinite possibilities.

9. Q: Have you ever been influenced by other people in the study of photography?

A: The first man who influenced me was Henri Cartier-Bresson. I watched all of his videos and interviews on YouTube. He is a good story-teller, and he was a painter before, so he pays particular attention to the composition of a picture. From then on, I started to realize that photography can do many things.

However, though his photos are quite interesting, they are not what I want. I then went to see many paintings by Paul Cezanne, and I really like his style. No one knows why he painted like that, and Cezanne had totally overturned the previous painting methods. I think he just wanted to paint things in his imagination, instead of what he saw. I started to think, why I shoot, I think maybe photography is just like painting using a camera.

10. Q: Last, could you share with us your travelling routes?

A: From 2012 to 2013, I travelled on the Alps around my home.

In 2014, I started to camp. I crossed France, reached to the northern part of Spain, and then I crossed Portugal, reached to Morocco.

In 2015, I rode to Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily.

In 2016, Corsica Island, Sardinia, Sicily, South Italy, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, France.


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Sebastien Tokalian

For this article, special thanks to Kong Ning, Klavdij Sluban.

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