06 / 09 / 2008
Interview with Pascal Maitre
The encounter with Africa is often a striking experience. Pascal Maitre experienced it in 1979, when he dropped his studies in psychology to start his career as a photojournalist, working for three years for the magazine Jeune Afrique. “I can’t explain why I’m so passionate about photography. I think it has always been in me. It is said that photojournalists are either more photographers, or more journalists. I’m more a journalist.” Pascal evokes Africa as an extraordinary and moving continent.
After joining the staff of Gamma in 1984, he co-founded in 1989 the agency Odyssey Images. He is currently represented by the agency Cosmos.
Pascal Maitre works with numerous international publications: Geo, L'Express, le Figaro Magazine, in France, Geo, Stern, Brigitt in Germany, Life, National Geographic in the US.
Since 1985, Pascal Maitre has been covering Afghanistan: the Moudjahidins against the Russians, the war of clans in Kabul in 1992, Bamiyan and Buddhas in 1996, Afghanistan after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in November 1996, the commander Massoud and the Northern alliance in December 1998, the plundering of Kabul museum and Afghan treasures in July 2000. He has also made several reports in Russia, China, the Near East: Syria, Jordan, Lebanon (from the Hezbollah to South Lebanon), in South America: Sao Paulo, the city of violence; the Guerrilla war in Colombia (December 1991); the Indians at the Equator; Portrait of Rondonia in Brazil, the Trans-Amazonian. "I like working on news events, but in depth; in general, I spend 4, 5, 6 weeks there."
Pascal Maitre has made reports in more than 40 countries in Africa, dealing with the major issues, men and their lifestyle, politics, conflicts, and traditions.
In 2000, he published Mon Afrique, a book gathering 15 years of work on Africa. Pascal is one of those men who go around the world to bring back meaningful images. He tells the world with colors images. "I'm often asked why I use colors. I don't know, colors appeal to me." Because of political problems, security reasons, Africa is a country where it is difficult to work for photojournalists. "There, we are more and more regarded as strangers, because worlds are splitting apart. In photography, you have to learn a country, a continent, and the people who live there. You have to know how to talk to the persons you photograph, for them to open up and take you to the right places, explain the situation they are going through." Pascal Maitre met a woman from Burundi, Marguerite Barankitse, and decided to devote a report on her marvellous work: "A Saint in Hell... in the Great Lakes Region", in couvent des minimes. In Rwanda, Burundi, and Eastern Congo, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the violence, or had to flee to survive in refugee camps. Thousands of other lives have been decimated in prison, by poverty and AIDS. Marguerite, known as Maggy, has brought light and hope, building a future for thousands of children orphaned by war and AIDS. Ten years ago, during the civil war, she risked her life every day saving children whose parents had been murdered. Today, she has saved more than ten thousand of them. She has built homes, a hospital, and a movie theater. "She's an amazing person. I was impressed by her courage ad pragmatism" Pascal says. After the publication of his work, many associations and persons made a donation to Maggy. "It is fantastic!" Pascal exclaims, "I heard about it years later".
Pascal Maitre's most powerful feature in his photos is life. He can find it in the chaotic ruins of Mogadishu as well as in the cold of Siberia. "What is crazy in all this chaos, is that life goes on" he says. The originality of his photographs lays in this vision of the world. When other photographers look for the shock photo, or violence and sadness, Pascal Maitre shows the surrealistic side of certain situations. "What I wanted to show was the chaotic context in which Maggy has done all this. I think it resumes well my career; life is always the strongest. Africa often proves it".
Remarkably modest, when he could show off with his stories, Pascal just says he is a "mediator", "a privileged person who can witness stories and tell them with honesty. "I'm fascinated by my job". The real story is the one of the people he meets, of the people going through a war, or trying to survive in countries devastated by conflicts; all those people he regrets "to leave behind once the assignment done".