Jean-Michel Landon
Linstable Photographie

19 September 2018

Jean-Michel Landon
Linstable Photographie

WE THE OUTLIERS interviews photographer Jean-Michel Landon (Linstable Photographie) about his social, humanist snapshots of life in Créteil.

How has Créteil shaped your photography?

I grew up in Créteil, in the 94th arrondissement. I lived there for almost 40 years. For the last year, I’ve been living in Choisy-le-Roi. I’ve always loved photography, but I didn’t imagine for a second doing it as a job. One day I was sitting at the entrance of a hall on the estate where I was working as a social worker, and I was watching the kids having fun. The town hall had been talking about destroying all the buildings, which made me think to myself: “Who is better placed than us to translate our daily life? Who will remember the way we lived?” That’s when it clicked. I bought a camera and took my first shot in Créteil.

How would you describe the subject matter of your photography?

I do social, humanist photography. I often work on a theme that I explore in the form of a photo-report. I’ve completed three photo-reports that focus on the lives of children and young adults in working-class areas. It took six years and culminated with the production and release of a book Une aventure inattendue (An unexpected adventure). I also work a lot with people who are homeless or refugees. My subject matter is human.

How do you achieve the shots you want?

I almost only do candid photography. I wander the streets being as observant as possible, and I try to capture a moment that speaks to me. It may be an emotion or a movement.

What do you want to communicate with your photos?

I try to convey messages and a reality to which many are oblivious. I see social photography as a commitment, even a militant act. I don’t just stop at photographing humans. There is a social approach. I need to get to know people and the environment in which I immerse myself before creating a snapshot. For example, when I take photos of people who are homeless or refugees, I sit with them, we exchange, I listen to their story, and I explain my approach. Systematically, I pay them 50% of the price of any photo sold, in which they appear, through the charity I created and am an active member – Un p’tit peu beaucoup.

How does your photography differ from existing representations of estates?

The misrepresentations and fantasies about life on estates date from their creation, but TV no longer vomits these ultra-shocking images on a loop. When the media decided to grab this subject, they needed sensationalism and transformed minorities into a majority. The fact that I took my first shot on an estate is not trivial; I wanted to convey, as objectively as possible, life as it unfolds from within.

How do you challenge the stereotypes of the estates?

I challenge them by showing how we live. You cannot be objective when you come with a camera to capture drama, put it in a box, go back to work and say: “Look! That’s how they live!” That’s misinformation because it’s not the reality; it’s one reality that’s often very distorted.

What motivates you to continue taking pictures?

My passion for people who have a particular story, and to highlight those who are in the shadows. You have to love people to do humanist photography.

Why black and white photos?

It came naturally to me. When I took my first picture, I didn’t ask myself the question. I think that there’s an element of nostalgia, or even melancholy.

En bas des blocs

My three photo-reports all take place in Créteil. I titled the first ‘En bas des blocs’. It lasted 3 years (from 2012 to 2015) and took place on the Sablière estate, which has since been demolished. I focused solely on childhood – on the kids who played at the feet of the towers. At the bottom of the blocks is where it all happens; it’s an extraordinary social life.

Un été à la cité

Un été à la cité’ was from 2016 to August 2018. This work was more inter-generational: I photographed the children but also teenagers and young adults. The goal was to show how people who do not go away for the summer holidays spend their time during those two months. It took place on the Sablières estate and in the neighbourhood of L’Échat, also in Créteil.

À l’ombre des tours

À l’ombre des tours’ is a more sombre report – photographing the daily life of about twenty young people from the neighbourhood of L’Échat who experience different social problems. I show everything that can’t be seen at first glance on an estate – things that are often hidden and sometimes taboo. I started it in 2017, and I should finish it for November 2018.

What have you got coming up in the future?

I’m working on a project with refugees living in a hotel. Along with that, I’m promoting my book that came out on May 30, 2018. It’s not easy.

Thank you, Jean-Michel.

You can see more from Jean-Michel Landon (Linstable Photographie) on his website and on Instagram

The interview was conducted in French and has been edited for brevity and clarity