Having a Camera Does Not Make You a Photographer: Olivier Henry

My dad was into photography when I was younger. He had his own dark room and I was one of his favorite subjects. I would pose for him, pretending that I was smoking and this was when I was only two to three years old. It became a passion at a very early age.
When I was studying in Paris, photography became an obsession. Paris is such an amazing place, and is very inspiring. On the weekends my best friend and I would go out to take pictures of everything and anything. We would take photos in cemeteries. We had an attraction to cemeteries and I don’t know why.
I took part in a big photography competition in 1996, won and told myself that this will be my life. It was organized by the French Foto magazine, the Museum of Creative Arts and Tate, a big fashion brand, and I won first prize. So then I told myself that this is it, I will become a photographer—quit everything else.
I took a one-year intensive course in Europe Spéos Paris Photographic Institute. It was an amazing school that was taught by the top professionals in the industry. They weren’t just full time teachers; they were actually people who practiced the craft. I took the course to reinforce my knowledge.
I am constantly being shaped. I think if you don’t reinvent yourself, you are dead. I get bored very easily, everyone around me knows that.
If you put me in the middle of Africa to live with a tribe for a week, I will be able to adapt easily. Except maybe for the toilet part. I am very adaptable and I love that. I think it comes from my side of getting bored easily; I need to be a bit uncomfortable to be comfortable.
The outcome of photography in Asia is more reserved. Not in the sense of the photographers or the subject matter but in terms of the distance in the end result. It is less in your face.
Actors are great subject matters because they hate it when I ask them to be themselves. They are very interesting to shoot because once they let their guard and mask down they have to think about who they are. And usually they don’t know how to portray that person and they get very uncomfortable. I like that.
I don’t think I am a fashion photographer but I know I am a people photographer. At the same time, I am shy myself; so it is always an exercise for me to move forward and break that barrier.
I am very bad at faking. I wish I could be fake sometimes because when I don’t like someone, it shows.
Southeast Asia is a “Kodak” continent. Everyone here is taking pictures all the time and there’s this big lack of understanding that photography is an art form. Just because you have a camera does not make you a photographer.
I have felt drained and uninspired at times. I feel this everyday, but you got to snap out of it. Knowing yourself is the most important thing. Only you can get out of it and no one else will pull you out. There’s no point hating or blaming the world. If you look for people to bring you back to the path, you can dream on.