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02 sep


Frédéric Lafargue: “the better the camera the better the music...”

French photojournalist Frédéric Lafargue is exhibiting his work ‘Escaping from ISIS’ at Visa pour l’Image this year. The story behind this remarkable essay is made more poignant because while he was away documenting Iraqi families trying to escape from ISIS in their own homeland, the same terrorist group was attacking his.

© Yiannis Katsaris © Yiannis Katsaris

Frédéric Lafargue, at his exhibition in the Chapelle du Tiers-Ordre, Perpignan.

Compassion. There’s a word that is rarely used these days in conflict zones. But Frédéric Lafargue knows more than most about what it means to be sensitive in pressured situations. “The Paris attacks changed the face of the enemy for me, that’s for sure,” he admits. “Coming back from this assignment in Iraq, documenting people affected by ISIS, it took me a long time to cool down. As a parent knowing I was away from my children and family and not knowing if they were OK while the attacks were happening in Paris, it made me more aware of emotion, it made me as a photographer more sensitive.”

Frédéric’s exhibition documents the plight of several Iraqi families in and around Sinjar and Mosul who risked their lives crossing front lines to reach areas that had been liberated. He spent time with these families and lived with them and the stories can be seen in the Chapelle du Tiers-Ordre here in Perpignan.

“The selection of images I made jointly with Jean-François but the sequencing I left to him completely,” he admits. “It’s impossible to do it objectively – that’s why a second pair of eyes is always better.”

© Frédéric Lafargue for Paris Match © Frédéric Lafargue for Paris Match

A young man found with families taken in by Kurdish fighters is suspected of being an ISIS fighter: his beard has been hastily cut with scissors, he speaks Arabic but not Kurdish, and what’s more with an accent. He is being taken aside.

He continues: “I am feeling very lucky right now. For me this exhibition is really significant in terms of my professional recognition. It’s nice to be back. I still don't feel established – in fact I feel I am still in the comeback process. And I’m coming back to a business that looks nothing like the one I left behind when I went into film.”

Frédéric had a career in video previously and has only just returned to storytelling in stills. “For five years I have been away from photojournalism as I was making a film with my now ex-wife on cancer therapy. So really this exhibition is almost like a career revival for my life as a photographer and a photojournalist.”

“Everything has changed, though. I’m a long way from where I started, shooting in black and white and processing films every night for my local newspaper. I worked for the regional press in France, which is as big as the national press, but I am proud of my roots and how my career has evolved. That’s to say it’s not been easy.”

© Yiannis Katsaris © Yiannis Katsaris

Visitors at the Frédéric Lafargue exhibition in the Chapelle du Tiers-Ordre, Perpignan.

He refers to the speed at which young photojournalists are now working. “There are young kids out there who are working so fast. I was in Bengazi, Gaza and Ed Ou burnt me because he went in there, got the story, and was gone before I had even started because I was delayed getting there. But it was inspirational to me to see how he worked. I have to really concentrate on this medium but I don’t feel I have enough RAM in my brain sometimes.”

On the subject of technology, he is very honest. “I shoot with an EOS 5D Mark III and this camera just blows me away. It is such a blessing. It’s just a tool at the end of the day, and we are just ‘musicians’ – the better the camera the better the music. I shoot with a 35mm, 40mm, 50mm plus a 70-200mm lens. The 40mm pancake lens is really compact and perfect for staying out of the way. In my job I don’t want to be noticed. I prefer to let my pictures do the talking.”

Visa pour l'Image 2016