How did I become a professional photographer,
32 years ago?
“Life is short, no time to waste”, this sentence had been like an obsession, since my adult life started, and it pushed me to move on, following my passions and accumulating exciting experiences all over the world from motorcycle racing to photography, journalism, film making and teaching. Lets start from the beginning.
By Franc Péret (photos by FP, Maindru, Prieur and friends)
As many teenagers of my generation, I was looking for independence, discovery, challenges and adrenaline.
At 16 years old, my first motorcycle brought me a hint of all of this, but after 2 years of practice on the road, I needed something more thrilling.
From that moment, I will always have to find my way by myself as nobody among my friends and family members (except one Uncle who was passionate about Photography) was involved in racing or anything I will get into, later on: journalism, photography, life in Asia, film making and teaching.
Adult, I was on my own.
Being a student, I was eager to get out of my intellectual routine, I was in need of physical engagement (I am speaking about sport here) but I couldn’t raise enough money during my free time to buy a bike and race on my own.
I had to find another way to fulfill my need of motorized action. A crazy way.
SIDE CAR CROSS, the broken bone factory
By luck, I discovered a very unusual type of competition called “Side Car Cross”, one of the most physically demanding sport on hearth, and a very risky one, but it was free of charge for the guy who dared to play the “monkey” on this striking up to 1000cm3 twin cylinders, 100 horse power, 200 Kg unbalanced off-road monster.
In the 80s, the start of a race sounded like a full squadron of B17 Bombers taking off.
I did this type of international competition in Europe with great thrill for three seasons, but I had to stop due to too many crashes, traumas and broken bones: wrist, ribs, shoulder and back bone…
I always felt that pains and wounds were the price to pay to reach such high and unique feelings (Don’t get me wrong, I am still speaking about action sports here…).
You should watch those videos to understand what I am meaning and to get an idea of the “on board” crazy and athletic feel, racing a Side Car Cross in the heart of a competition.
I found those videos on Youtube and you need a VPN to play them from China.
If you don’t have a VPN and you are in China, just click on YOUKU VIDEO links.
Interesting things from start and a crash at 4mn50s:
YOUKU VIDEO 1
Great starts and great actions allover the video:
YOUKU VIDEO 2
Nice start and overtaking here:
YOUKU VIDEO 3
Action, Passion and Adrenaline were my drugs and I never needed to try any other ones in my life.
I guess that junkies might be bored people at the first place…
At this early stage, I discovered that by going through exceptional moments, I was stretching my feel of time.
1 day of racing was more than a month of routine, in term of experiences, memories and sensations!
I was addicted to strong emotions and despite my physical damages and obvious limitations (bad luck had never been an acceptable excuse for me), I pursued new crazy goals, on a softer way (a bit softer)…
ATLAS RALLY, the start of a new career
My studies completed, I worked 8 months and spent all the money to participate to my first African Rally, the Atlas Rally in Morocco, a brand new challenge I approach as professionally as possible with 6 month of intense technical and physical preparation.
This nine days international car and motorcycle race changed my life thanks to one of my sponsor who lend me a compact camera.
Here are some of my recorded memories, racing the bike from early morning to night through dust and stones in an unknown country.
I wanted to thank my sponsors by having an article published in different newspapers and magazines.
To do so, I took bunch of pictures while racing.
Later on, I succeed to sell my story to a motorcycle magazine (Moto Magazine), I approach before the race.
An unexpected OPPORTUNITY
Yannick, The chief editor liked it very much and he offered me the opportunity to become one of their freelance correspondent and I did so for 2 years as a hobby.
My expenses were paid, but most important, they lend me a camera, lenses and films for free. To improve my skills, they also invited me to join a journalism workshop which was a great experience.
This was the start of my photography career back to 1986…
I didn’t give up on racing as I needed to keep my physical condition, my riding skills and the adrenaline high to tell exciting stories to readers.
TRANSITION TIME between REASON and PASSION
For 2 years, I was in a transition position between my full time job as a technician for Airplane engine maker Snecma and my week-ends hobbies, split or mixed between motorcycle racing and photo journalism. For example, I participated twice to this amazing beach race you can discover in this promotional video. 1200 participants, 150 000 spectators and a great thrill for sharing:
My passion for discovery extended from racing track to photography and, soon, I invested more and more in camera and lenses than in chain and tires
In 1988 I decided to follow my growing passion for writing and photography by quitting my safe job to become a full time freelance journalist without being sure I will be able to make it.
Call it destiny, during my first journalistic trip overseas (Daytona, USA), I met a chief editor who gave me lots of freelance jobs later on.
My decision to quit my (soon to become) boring job was the right one.
Score: Passion 1 – Reason 0.
Beside my growing journalistic career, I was still practicing off road races for fun and passion.
During a press conference trip to Berlin, I met a French journalist who was quitting his position and he motivated me to take it. I did. This happened in November 1989, Berlin wall was falling down and a new life was paved for me, back to France.
PHOTOJOURNALISM, being on the move
From then, I truly became a professional photographer and journalist as 100 % of my income were from selling stories and pictures to magazine.
This was just the start of a long career with bunch of exciting experiences, amazing discoveries and tough challenges.
I got hired by different magazines and worked full time for 2 years for the weekly magazine Moto Journal, the European leader in that field.
Both competitor and photojournalist, I got the opportunity to participate to many different races allover the world such as in Australia and North Africa.
There, I had a chance to work on a location scooting ride in preparation of Tunisia Rally.
I was both a reporter and a test rider, both an editor and a photographer with a great variety of topics to cover.
As a journalist, I had the chance to travel a lot for my work, with more than 20 countries visited in total, mostly riding motorcycle on my own for 3 years.
A need for change
After a while, despite the great excitement to work in a field I loved so much, I was feeling that working for motorcycle magazine was too limited and I wanted to widen up my field of interest to get more diverse experiences.
Now, looking back to this period, I understand that I was already producing lots of different type of photography: sports, portrait, landscape, studio, flash, products shots…
My motivation to give my life another direction was driven by my hunger of discovery.
RECORDING a great range of emotions
Motorsport magazine were a perfect basis to start with as most of people are struggling with things in action and this was my major since my very first professional shot.
Everything else was much easier to learn, but I still had to learn and improve a lot. Here are some sample of my work at that time. You can discover much more in my Photography Portfolio
Finally, in 1993, I quit my job and France to become a documentary journalist, finding interesting stories and taking both notes and picture about it to be able to sell my photo reports to magazines or to present them to news agencies such as Gamma, Arenok and Sygma (which became Sygma-Corbis later on).
FILM MAKING in Taiwan
Visiting a girl-friend there, I started by a 2 months trip in Taiwan where I finally got the opportunity in 1994 to be hired by a film company to work as a still photographer for movies.
Here is a gallery showing some of my own picture and my work during the shooting of Hong Shi Zi (Red Kaki or Red Persimmon) in 1994, by famous Director Wang Tong:
The shooting lasted 4 months in many different areas in Taiwan. I learned a lot from this exotic experience, as I was the unique foreigner in the team and in most of the place where we stayed for shooting.
There, I discovered a totally new way of working with a camera, being very patient, tuning up my composition to describe different moods, and struggling with low lighting condition while learning all the steps for making a movies.
One of Wang Tong’s assistant director (Qu You Ning) liked my work and hired me to shoot the pictures of his first personal project. A short film called “Superman gets a mask” .
On his following project, I was working as an assistant director and I had the chance to meet an actor who is also a director: Dai Li Ren.
We became friends and once Leon Dai got the needed budget to shoot his first feature film, he hired me as his main cameraman.
Thus, “Summers” was also my first movie, as the main cinematographer I had to learn a lot on the field and I loved the challenge.
My passion for movie was already there as a spectator, but shooting a complete project is nothing comparable in term of enjoyment, emotion, difficulties and challenge… Getting quick and approved ideas, solving problem and respecting the schedule became a second nature to me.
Year 2000 was a big turn in my life and I felt that my destiny was linked to film making and Taiwan.
Summers got a great success, the story was appealing and my visual decision and shot images totally matched it.
You can see the result in my film making portfolio
After the premiere, many other local directors were interested in a collaboration with me as I was full of ideas and passion.
An unexpected end to my dream life
Overall, I stayed about 2 and half year in Taiwan working in film making field moving up, from photographer to assistant director and finally cameraman (Director of Photography).
Unfortunately, despite all my effort, I was unable to renew my visa and I had to leave Taiwan, losing a great opportunity to pursue a career in Film making there, as a cinematographer and director.
After so much effort, risks and sacrifices I had done to find what I really wanted to, I had to give it up suddenly.
This event was one of my worst experience in life, forced to leave a country, a job and people loved so much…
To be continued