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Meet Mahz, A Portrait Photographer from France

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

- By Anshul Raj Khurana

Mahz is a portrait photographer from France, currently based out of Indonesia. His work is focused towards capturing the culture and ethnicity of Indonesian tribes.

He is making some fantastic shots of the whole aspect of life. Being an outsider, it is extremely tough to get so close to the local tribes of any country. From his shots, it's evident that he makes a solid relationship with his subjects before starting.

When not doing portraits, he is an eccentric landscape photographer; I am sure you would love his work.

Anshul- Tell us something about your journey in photography? How did it all started and were you always fascinated with portraits? What other genres do you pursue?

Mahz- It may be surprising, but I was a total beginner in photography about two years ago. I touched a first compact camera in my life at the age of 19 during summer holidays with my family where I wanted to be the one to photograph "everything." I then started to get interested in photography, but it's in 2014 where I eventually bought my DSLR and where things became serious for me. From this moment on, I read hundred of books about photography and left my country to Southeast Asia to throw myself into a new travel experience. I was a huge fan of landscape and cityscape photography, and I initially started to learn photography in those particular areas. 

Portrait photography came in my life even later! It turned out that I didn't have enough time to seek locations and best places when I was traveling. So instead, I started documenting life and people in the cities I was traveling to. And it was working pretty well as I was at ease with people! I figured it was way better to transmit emotions and storytelling than landscape. 

Anshul-  How did you get inspired to start this project of documenting the local Indonesian culture and ethnicity?

Mahz- Réhahn, a French photographer, captures the ethnic groups of Vietnam. I was blown away by his work but even more by the philosophy behind his pictures. I had been following him for a few years. I got the chance to talk with him several times. I then decided to take the fall. To help me get started with such project, I decided to get informed by a lot of other portrait photographers like him such as David Lazar the way they were also doing it. I gathered ideas from one to another to create my (own) personal style. 

Today, I read more about ethnicity books and do research than I take photos. It's very hard yet challenging task to find ethnic groups and document them well. But it's also gratifying. The best shots come from the best documentation and researches you made beforehand. 

Anshul- Being an outsider or a foreigner, was it difficult for you to get in close with people of different culture? Do talk about some experiences.

Mahz- Being an outsider or a foreigner in Indonesia is definitely something! As a Caucasian, you get a lot of staring looks whenever you travel to Indonesian provinces. I cannot count how many "selfies" I took with people in this country. The selfie culture and the openness toward foreigners are impressive. It has helped me to become even more open with people here. So I would say it wasn't too difficult. Indonesia is a beautiful country where all differences create a strong unity. In Jakarta, we all greet each other like a big family and even in random places I haven't traveled before! 

One of my best experiences remains when I first went to Indonesia. I remember that very first day when I was at the airport going to another Indonesian province. I got the chance to meet an airplane officer from the company I was traveling with. We shared a meal and talked until my flight departed. I was also the first one to enter inside the airplane as he "escorted" me into it! It was a lovely and memorable experience about the incredible warmth of Indonesians.

Anshul- Your pictures are warmly composed, and you capture emotions beautifully. It feels that you strike a great connection with your subject while clicking. How do you go about ice breaking in the first place?

Mahz- It's been tough to do it, and I am continuously looking for new ways to improve my style as much as my approach with my models. At first, I got many rejections when it came to taking pictures. I wasn't comfortable enough and learned a lot from my mistakes. 

The only way to connect with your subjects is to speak the language. It's a must-have quality in all countries where English isn't part of their daily language. Hearing a foreigner speaking their language will make them suddenly open, and you'll see their smile shining! 

So that's my way. The most ice breaking way is to tell the language and say something linked with the current context of your models. In other terms, I also had to learn (which was very tough) the language here (and still do!) before even achieving some pretty impressive results with my photographs. It takes time, patience and devotion. I always speak the local language with them and try not to show my camera at first. I'm firstly interested in the model and his story before politely asking for a photo. 

It's always so challenging to approach someone new and to know about his story. It helps me going to meet one after another. There are times where the connection isn't here, and in this case, you just don't force it and respect the model. I'm not successful with everybody I want to photograph, but would say I now get a close 90% of success in my approaches. I make sure to show them their photos, and from this point, you can make sure they'll laugh. 

Children are fun to be with. When you are successful with one in a place, you have the guarantee to have all children from the Indonesian village coming to you in the next few minutes! It's awe-inspiring to see such a curiosity and openness but this is part of Indonesia and what makes it unique to me.

Anshul- I see some post production use in your pictures. How much is post processing relevant as per you? What software/ tool do you use? Any favorites?

Mahz- My philosophy is always to keep the original vibe of the one I got in the first place when I was shooting my models. I have learned a lot of post processing techniques and found out that the more you want to make some heavy editing, the more you are going to lose the entire vibe of your shot, but not only, you will also lose quality. 

All photos you see on the Internet or in advertisements got edited at some points. I softly edit mine using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I master this software, and this is my favorite. I always make sure to focus on the look and eyes of my portrait photograph while editing. In very rare circumstances, I would use Adobe Photoshop to change a background I don't like. But my rule is always to keep at best, the emotions I got in my models in the first place and enhancing them for a better result. 

Anshul- What’s in your camera bag? Tell us about your gear?

Mahz- I own a basic Canon EOS 60D that I bought as a second hand and a few lenses. During extended travel periods, I make sure to bring my most useful lenses and try to limit the number in my bag. It's so important to be as light as possible whenever you travel. 

My favorite lenses for the portrait are prime lenses: I use both 50 mm f/1.8 and 85 mm f/1.8. In some rare occasion, I would bring my 16-35mm f/4 for some landscape shootings.

Anshul- How do you motivate yourself to keep shooting? What is your mantra?

Mahz- I'm this guy who reads a lot. And I have read a lot about positive psychology which is, besides my photography, one of my other passions. I strongly think that your personality, the way you put hard work in your photography is even more relevant than the technicality of the shot itself. What pushes me the most is to know that no matter what, I'm going to at least meet interesting people along my way. I always prioritize experiences at first. It's the most important. 

If you get focused on taking that perfect portrait shot, you will never make it because you're asking for all conditions to be perfect. Not everything at once will ever be perfect. I have learned to let it flow. And not to take it too seriously. The most important aspect is to meet people, to share experiences and to have lots of fun. It's the relationship you get to create with people that will add the best value to your life as a photographer. Because that's the story, you put behind the pictures which will make a huge difference.

"Go for it or give up" is what I usually tell myself. I always choose to go for the things I want to achieve, no matter how hard it is or how long it will take me to complete. 

Anshul- Do you follow any photographers or did you inspire anyone?

Mahz- I do follow a bunch of photographers such as Réhahn, David Lazar, Steve McCurry, Mattia Passarini, Sebastio Salgado and a lot more because a photographer is an artist who relentlessly seeks new creativity in his work. I need them to feed and shape the version I will become in the future. 

I am always drawn to follow the world's best photographers. If you want to improve your skills, it is an absolute necessity for you to be pulled by the top best photographers. Your work will never be as good as them, and that's what should keep you going even further. And even after that, there is always room to improve by doing better than yourself. 

The other way around, I feel glad to have already motivated and influenced a few persons around me. A few other friends of mine, also photographers, have now the will to pursue photography more seriously. It keeps me motivated at the same time.  

Anshul- What are your vision and further plans for your photographic journey? Where should we see Mahz Photography in another 2-3 years?

Mahz- So many things to do! I would like Mahz Photography to touch people's hearts, emotions, and ambitions. I would like to be a source of motivation for individuals and for them to also take up actions in their own life. I would like to show humanity at its best and purest form by showing that happiness is within yourself no matter your conditions. 

Three years from now, Mahz Photography will have continued to grow as I will keep going to places, especially remote ones to capture more exceptional things and it should benefit of a bigger fan database counting and an even more significant support. On the very long term, I would like to inspire people even more with my work and leaving a real legacy for future generations.

I already planned to release books about my portrait photography work as a way to spread my photography to a broader public. Alongside, I would be opening future galleries, so more and more people could see my work. It would be one of my ultimate goals to reach in photography. Knowing that people love my work and they get inspired by it would also be one of them. 

Long goals like those take an incredible amount of time and even a lifetime. I'll do everything I can to make all of this come true. I'm building my professional website at the moment, and Mahz Photography should already reach 10K followers before the end of 2017 on Instagram as I always keep working on new ways of how to market my social media accounts.   

Anshul-  What kind of advice would you give to the readers on how to pursue one’s passion in photography?

Mahz- To never give up. Because you've already got everything, you need. And all those things are already within yourself. It doesn't matter the camera or where you are right now. The best camera to get you started is the one you have in your hands. The best location to get you started is the one you are in right now because so many things can be seen if you develop your eyes. 

Your first 10,000 photographs will be the worst. Consistency, perseverance, and faith, will build the bridge from failures to your goals.  

What will make someone as a true photographer is a capability also to seek and see things that other won't? Stay curious and updated about the trend. But don't set any high expectations to get you started. Remember the best things will happen along the way. So go out, meet people and have fun! Have a specific goal and pursue it relentlessly! 

You can see more of Mahz’s work here.

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