Working fast, working slow
After four decades of travelling, Jean isn't one for staying still. As we speak, he's juggling various projects – including an ongoing study of the world's oldest lighthouse in Cordouan, France, a series on the painter Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France, and a study in Niger inspired by the filmmaker and ethnologist Jean Rouch – but in recent years he has combined this documentary approach with a more "contemplative" outlook.
"Photography, like all crafts, is an ongoing education. I'm still learning about myself and about the world," he says. "When I'm photographing people working, for example, I have to watch and record their actions – you're looking for the decisive moments. Whereas with landscapes, mountains don't move and the light changes slowly. I work with these two registers or attitudes – fast and slow – but I can be fast when I'm shooting a landscape or slow when I'm photographing people. Either way, I'm someone who doesn't rush, who really looks at things."
Jean's advice for photographers starting out today is to be tenacious, as he himself was aged 25 when he approached that prisons minister. "Keep a balance. Be yourself, don't lie," he says. "Initially, it's important to align yourself with photographers – or painters, filmmakers, other visual people – whom you admire and who can influence you to develop a visual culture." But that said, "it's also important to be true to your roots and to your own motivations. Don't neglect your identity." It's advice that Jean himself tries to follow, even after 40 years. "I try to be myself, to be sincere, to always start like a beginner," he says. "You have to maintain that child's curiosity."