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Gravity Defying Ballet Dancer and Photographer Mickael Jou

Levitation is an emerging field of photography as you all know. Different techniques can be used (here’s a tutorial of a multi-exposure levitation technique), but the grace and elegance shown by Mickael Jou is simply outstanding. 

iLHP is very proud to say that this is the first detailed interview of this magnificent, poetic and graceful ballet dancer. He used to practice ballet and modern dance routines on the streets of Paris, where tourists would often photograph and film him. This gave him the idea of capturing portraits of himself and start a 365 day photo project showing his elegant, gravity-defying dance moves in spectacular snapshots.

“Whatever you’re doing, someone else probably already did it better than you. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot work to be better than them.”

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.4; 1/640 sec; 400 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.4; 1/640 sec; 400 ISO

iLHP: Thank you very much Mickael for taking the time to answer our questions! Please, tell us a bit about yourself.

Mickael: You’re very welcome. I’m 30 and I currently live in Berlin. I’m French-American, raised in the USA and lived almost 10 years in France. My parents are Taiwanese. I used to work in marketing in Paris.

mickael-jou-everyday-dance-designboom-01

 iLHP:  Wow, that’s what I call international! How long have you been into photography?
 
Mickael: About three years.
 
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.8; 1/3200 sec; 400 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.8; 1/3200 sec; 400 ISO

iLHP: What made you go into photography? And what does it mean to you?

 Mickael: I got into photography because I wanted to start this self-portrait project. Photography is another way to express things that I try to express through dance. I think photography is a great way to see how one views the world. Not everyone has the same vision, and it’s interesting to see how one views the world in comparison to others.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.8; 1/320 sec; 1250 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.8; 1/320 sec; 1250 ISO

iLHP: Did you learn by yourself or through photography schools?

Mickael: I learned by myself. I just read the instruction manual.

“There’s just so much that one can do with the human body, and then setting the human body in different scenes. The possibilities are really endless.”

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iLHP: Awesome! Most people don’t even open their manuals! What’s your equipment? Do you use any particular accessory? Which one would you keep if you could only keep one of them?

Mickael: I have a 5D Mark III and mostly photograph with a EF 50mm f/1.2L. I also have a EF 24-70mm f/2.8L (I, not II) and a EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. I mostly use my 50mm 1.2 for my photography but I think the pictures with my 70-200mm 2.8 are probably better. It’s just too bad that it’s so heavy…

My essential accessory would be my tripod, or I have a bunch of scarves that I like to use when I do my self-portraits. I like to think of my tripod as my best friend, so I would keep him.

EF 24-70mm f/2.8L | @ 60mm; f/2.8; 1/640 sec; 2500 ISO
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L | @ 60mm; f/2.8; 1/640 sec; 2500 ISO

iLHP: Have you exhibited your photos?

Mickael: I’m currently exhibiting in a bar in Berlin (Mokkabar, Gneisenaustraße 93). I got 7th place at the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon, France. It would be nice to win something, but my primary objective is to finish this project.

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iLHP: That’s already very good! How do you combine dance and photography? I mean, how do you dispatch your time between your two activities?

Mickael: When I was working in marketing, it was really hard to find time for everything. I used to get into a routine where after work, I would go find somewhere with my camera and tripod and then dance for about 30 minutes. Then when I was warmed up, I would take a picture of myself. It was kind of tiring. Instead of dancing now, I currently do Crossfit 4x a week to stay in shape and stretch almost everyday, but will probably always think of myself as a dancer.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.2; 1/6400 sec; 100 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.2; 1/6400 sec; 100 ISO

iLHP: I understand. As you said, photography is another way to express your dance and to share it. So what does interest/inspire you the most do help you achieve your photography?

Mickael: I think that one really has to believe in one’s self to achieve anything, not just in photography. That helps me move along, just the idea that I’m getting better, that every picture is a journey, etc.

My dance is a constant source of inspiration, this 365 photo project is almost half done but I feel like I could be doing this for years, since everything can be a source of inspiration. I guess seeing beauty everywhere? There’s just so much that one can do with the human body, and then setting the human body in different scenes. The possibilities are really endless.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/5; 1/1000 sec; 500 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/5; 1/1000 sec; 500 ISO

iLHP: Oh I’m sure it’s endless. How do you prepare a shooting session then?

Mickael: I usually notice a location that I like. That’s my biggest trigger. Because even if I have a great idea for how I want a new picture to be composed, without a location, nothing works. So I’m constantly looking for new locations. And then when I see a location, I bring my camera with me and see what happens. Usually I have a pretty good idea on the spot of what to do.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.6; 1/500 sec; 4000 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/1.6; 1/500 sec; 4000 ISO

iLHP: You have a very unique style. It’s soft and very poetic. I believe they’re mostly one exposure shots but what do you usually do in post-processing?

Mickael: Oh thank you for that compliment. Yes, I do single exposure shots. In post-processing, I work on colors and lighting, and I try to convey the same emotion that I was feeling when I took the picture.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/4; 1/1000 sec; 400 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/4; 1/1000 sec; 400 ISO

iLHP: Have you been influenced by some photographers, either around you or famous ones?

Mickael: I was probably most influenced by the neoclassical department in the Louvre Museum in Paris…

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iLHP: Wow, that’s quite a reference indeed 😉 Do you travel a lot? How do you choose your locations? Where are they, usually?

Mickael: I travel when the occasion comes up (vacation, work, etc.). Traveling is important because it’s always a chance to see new things and get more inspiration. And plus one is usually more motivated to take pictures when traveling.

I choose my locations when I see something that could be used in a photo. Meaning, I see a setting where I think I could insert myself into it. Usually this is some kind of lopsided scene (2 trees for example, and then I can be on the side). My locations can be anywhere, that’s what is so great about this project. I can do it inside, outside, anywhere.

EF 70-200mm f/2.8L | @95mm; f/2.8; 1/1600 sec; 320 ISO
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L | @95mm; f/2.8; 1/1600 sec; 320 ISO

iLHP: Nice. We’re loving this project but I was wondering if you already have a next project in mind?

Mickael: Don’t have one. I need another 3 years to finish this one. I’ll be lucky if I get this done!

iLHP: Oh you will, I don’t doubt it. Do you have any tips for beginners or amateurs and even pros in order to share your knowledge, besides practicing a lot? 😉

Mickael: Any tips?

1. Believe in yourself

2. Don’t listen to other people. There are a lot of people who are not going to like what you’re doing, but that’s okay, because there’s probably a lot of photos that you don’t like either.

3. And know that whatever you’re doing, someone else probably all ready did it better than you. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot work to be better than them.

EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/3.2; 1/500 sec; 2500 ISO
EF 50mm f/1.2L | @ 50mm; f/3.2; 1/500 sec; 2500 ISO

iLHP: Thank you so much Mickael for this interview, it was a real pleasure having you here at iLHP!

Mickael: Thank you for featuring my image and this project that counts a lot for me!

Don’t forget to follow Mickael on his Facebook page and discover all of his work on his own website!