December is one of the busiest months for us here at Angkor Travel Photography, with countless passionate photographers travelling from overseas to learn with us while taking in the most photogenic sites around Cambodia. The recent return of our resident “Chinois” (Chinese) photographer, Régis, from assignment in Africa, then, has been very timely indeed. Thought Régis was French? You’d better read on…
Regis: My First Years in Photography
After travelling back to France to shoot for Hard Rock Cafe Lyon in November, I was invited by Handicap International to spend a few weeks in West Africa documenting their projects there. Perhaps not many of you will have heard of the tiny nation of Togo – it’s not exactly a tourism hotspot – but it may be familiar with football fans by virtue of it producing one of world football’s biggest personalities in Emmanuel Adebayor. Voted African Footballer of the Year in 2008, the tall, outspoken forward played for some of the finest clubs in Europe, including Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Monaco, and even captained his country for a brief spell.
I can recall my first years as a photographer: It was the 2003-2004 football season in France; I was still a young photographer, living in Nice, with only a few years’ experience shooting an old Canon film camera when I got the opportunity to photograph an event organised by AS Monaco. I remember making images of Didier Deschamps (the current French national team coach), and other well-known players like Ludovic Guily and Fernando Morientes. I also photographed a 19-year-old Emmanuel Adebayor.
I can remember vividly taking their photographs, making sure that every tiny detail was perfect as I was still shooting film with only 24-46 exposures. I almost miss those days; I think it was probably one of the best times to be learning photography, when we were forced to think long and hard about the details in every image we made, the composition, the light. Even now, with the advent of affordable DSLR technology, that attitude and attention to detail remains key. The downside of that era: As much as I would love to share the images with you all, they’re in an album somewhere in France; I don’t have the digital versions!
Somebody Else’s Chinese…
Some 15 years on from my first forays as a photographer, I now consider myself an experienced profesional, having shot for international companies such as Sofitel, Hard Rock Cafe, and Fendi Roma, as well as international NGOs such as Helpage and PLAN. I’ve just gotten back to Cambodia from Togo, having spent three weeks there shooting for Handicap International.
While in Togo, the local people could easily recognise me as being quite different. “Yolo! Yolo!” I’d hear the children yelling, meaning “White! White!” It didn’t feel so surprising having come from Cambodia, where smiling children pointing and shouting “Barang!” (meaning something similar) is commonplace. You become rather thick-skinned quite quickly, but something shocked me in Togo.
While taking photographs in a school in a small village to the north, by the Burkina Faso border, one young girl took my hand and said something I didn’t understand; I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to tell me as she said “Sinois, sinois, sinois…” She repeated her remarks a few times over but still I didn’t understand, before realising that she was actually saying “CHINOIS,” meaning “Chinese” in French. Because most of the foreigners in the region are Chinese workers building roads across the country, and I clearly wasn’t a local myself, she had presumed I was Chinese. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.
Before my next tour tomorrow, I am happy to share with you a few images I took for Handicap International*.”
For more information about Handicap International in Togo, their amazing program and how to support them, please visit their website, www.handicap-international.org.uk/country/togo
* All the pictures in this article belong to Régis Binard and only Handicap International may use them to promote their work. All other uses are strictly prohibited.