PROFILE

Pascal Maitre

A young man wearing red face paint and a head adornment decorated with shells and a large white feather.

Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Pascal Maitre took this photograph in Niger, West Africa during a Guérewol ceremony, an annual courtship ritual where young Wodaabe women judge the stamina and attractiveness of young Wodaabe men. The Wodaabe people belong to the Fulani ethnic group and are traditionally cattle herders and traders. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Pascal Maitre

Photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre has covered life in Africa perhaps more than any other photographer, and has won many major awards.

The French-born photojournalist has been working steadily since 1979, when he began his career with Jeune Afrique magazine. That work took him across a continent that he would come to know intimately over the course of three decades.

Pascal's diverse projects have documented many different aspects of Africa: its way of life, politics, conflicts, traditions and environment. In his career, he has also travelled to more than 40 countries, working in places such as Afghanistan and South America. His images have been published in publications including Le Figaro Magazine, GEO, Life, National Geographic, Paris Match, L'Express, Stern and The New York Times Magazine.
Pascal is one of France's top photojournalists, though interestingly he didn't train as either a photographer or a journalist. Originally a psychology student, Pascal discovered his love of storytelling after being asked to do a small photo story for an organisation that supports gypsy communities. The secret to his success is his ability to be a fly on the wall when he's on assignment. His ability to build trust with subjects in so many situations allows him to put the story front and centre and make his message paramount. Pascal says he knows his images will not change the world, but they can play a small part in helping to change the viewpoints of a few thousand people. And, in turn, those people may enlighten others.
A headshot of Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre.
Location: Paris, France
Specialist areas: Documentary, nature photography
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Male and female students in colourful robes sit behind desks in a classroom that's divided in half.

In this powerful image taken in December 2018, students sit in a segregated classroom at a Koranic school in the city of Agadez in Niger. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 50mm, 1/200 sec, f/13 and ISO3200. © Pascal Maitre

Pascal's passion for photography was cemented during his compulsory year of military service in the French Army. By a twist of luck, the chief photographer for the French Minister of Defence was married to a woman from Pascal's village. Upon meeting him, this photographer helped arrange for Pascal's year of service to be spent in the photo lab at the Ministry of Defence, where he was able to connect with photographers from all sorts of backgrounds. After his military service, Pascal remained in Paris and used these connections to get his big break at the French weekly magazine, Jeune Afrique, which counted notable photographers such as Abbas among its staff.

It was as a staff photographer on Jeune Afrique that Pascal undertook his first assignments in Africa, a continent he had wanted to visit since childhood.
A young Dogon woman peers out from between two bright yellow patterned curtains.

This girl belongs to The Dogon, an indigenous ethnic group who have lived in Central Mali for centuries. The ongoing conflict between the Dogon people and Fulani herders, which dates back decades but has become more violent in recent years, saw her abducted and held hostage by Fulani jihadists. She was ultimately shamed into leaving her village. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 27mm, 1/50 sec, f/6.3 and ISO2500. © Pascal Maitre

In 2010, Pascal's photographs of Somalia helped National Geographic win the National Magazine Award for Photojournalism in the USA, and in 2015 he was awarded the Figaro Magazine Lifetime Achievement Visa d'or Award at Visa pour l'Image: International Festival of Photojournalism in France. Pascal has exhibited his work many times at Visa pour l'Image, twice at MEP (Maison Européenne de la Photographie) in Paris, and had a large retrospective of his work at the Arche de la Défense in Paris, and also at the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow. In 1989, he co-founded the agency Odyssey Images and is now represented by MYOP in France and by Panos Pictures internationally. His books include My Africa (2000); Amazing Africa (2012), a collection of his favourite images from his 30 years working in the continent; The Magic Tree (2017), about the baobab trees of Madagascar; and When Light Will Touch Africa (2017), about the continent's electricity crisis, all published by Lammerhuber.
Growing up in France, how did you develop your love for Africa?

"My grandfather's neighbour was in the French military and served in the Sahara. In his home he had numerous objects from Africa, along with pictures he took when he was there. I would spend time talking with him about his life in Africa, and it was then that I first dreamed about going there."

What's the best way for young photographers to break into the industry?

"Always be curious, have lots of energy… and believe in yourself. You should also find a strong story that nobody else has done – something you can make your own. When you have an idea you believe in, you'll never give up."

What do you look for in a potential photo story that motivates you to invest your time in it?

"I am interested in journalistic stories that have strong visual potential and haven't been done before. The stories that interest me most are those that represent something important and are not covered in mainstream current events. In other words, a story that is slightly off everyone's radar but will become important in the near future."

How do you approach your subjects?

"When I have an idea for a story I'll do a lot of research on the idea and then reach out to local people and talk to them about it. If the story still seems viable, I will look for someone local who can help me, like a fixer – someone who can help me make contacts and help with the groundwork for getting clearance to shoot, sort out visas and other logistics."

How do you edit down your body of images for a book?

"When I've worked on a story long enough and have a good idea that it can become a book, I will survey all of my images and see if I can get them down to a select group of 300. I'll then make small prints and start arranging them into chapters and sequences. I might then make further cuts and consult an art editor for advice."

One thing I know

Pascal Maitre



"The first thing to do is make sure you know everything there is to know about your story, whether it's people, wildlife or something else entirely. Then start to think about the situations where you'll be able to shoot pictures that will help drive the narrative of that story. Then your pictures must be original. There's no set length to photo stories, but I'd say you need four or five really unique images that illustrate the most important point of your story. Doing good pictures is easy; doing incredible pictures is very, very hard, and this is the difference."

Facebook: Pascal Maitre

Instagram: @maitre.pascal

Website: pascal-maitre.com

Pascal Maitre's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Pascal Maitre's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless camera offering photographers and filmmakers high resolution stills and 8K video. "I love this camera for its beautiful image quality, quick autofocus, the big dynamic range and for how easy it is to shoot with. It is the perfect camera," says Pascal.

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera that sets new standards for photographers and filmmakers. "This mirrorless camera is the perfect second camera body for me," says Pascal. "The quality of the images is amazing."

Lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This high-quality standard zoom has a fast f/2.8 aperture and excellent image quality that has made it a popular choice for many professional photographers. Pascal says: "This is my main tool – I shoot 90% of my pictures with this lens. I love it."

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

This high-performance L-series zoom lens features a super-fast f/2 aperture to deliver exceptional image quality. "The high quality of this lens is fantastic," says Pascal.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

With Image Stabilizer and ASC coating for superb sharpness, this L-series zoom can shoot effectively in a range of difficult weather conditions. "I love the sharpness of this lens; I like that it's not too big and so easy to use," says Pascal.

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The successor to the Speedlite 600EX-RT that Pascal favours is made for fast frame rate shooting. Whether used off-camera or in the hotshoe, it's a versatile tool that enables you to take full control over your lighting. Pascal calls it his "favourite ever flash".

Notebook

"I am always writing information and captions for my stories, which is essential for me," says Pascal.

Pocket light

"I use this if I need to light part of the picture," says Pascal.

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