Ivan, it’s so great to be able to interview you here. You are a Swiss photographer from Lausanne, currently based in Barcelona where you work as a freelance graphic designer for several advertising agencies.
You have a very distinct visual style… your use of light, shadow, colour and layers add depth and a very vivid quality to your compositions. You have photographed extensively in Africa and Asia capturing the spirit of each country and its people.
I am so happy to have discovered you and excited to introduce you here on the Swiss Street Collective.
Could you tell us a little more about yourself and how and why you got into photography?
Photography has always been present in my life as a graphic designer. At the age of 18 when I started my studies at ECAL (Lausanne), I had many doubts whether to start my career as a graphic designer or as a photographer. But I thought that graphic design would open more doors for me.
But in any case, I always liked working with images.
At school, we had a teacher who made a big impression on me. Werner Jecker, a great designer whose work was mainly based on working with images and typography. He used to say: “Images don’t need to declare something but to be able to tell a story. The content must therefore already be formulated in the picture. I contribute to accentuate the expression, with different selected perspectives, cut-outs, collages, in order to create a single unit, a final product.
It is interesting to see how images and typography interact and that they are very difficult to separate. A word can be transformed into an image and vice-versa!
In that sense, we can see that photography and graphic design are constantly in relation, but each has its function and mission in communicating.
To answer your question concretely, I have always been involved in photography.
Graphic design and photography – how do both these creative worlds come together in your work? Is there an influence of one on the other?
Having worked for many years as a graphic designer, whose work is mainly based on an assignment according to the needs of a client and trying to give him a concrete and effective solution. This means that, in most cases, the creative process goes through a complex and confusing situation until its maximum synthesis is achieved. The goal of good communication strategies is to have a simple final product that communicates well and is clear and precise. All this work implies a well-structured script and a meticulous methodology where there is very little room for improvisation.
As a street photographer, my way of working could be just the opposite. That is to say: I am more personally interested in images of greater visual complexity.
Images that, in my opinion, are more playful and that allow more than one reading, creating a visual emotional tension. For this, I need to work without the need to follow a pre-established script, without strategies, but to let things flow, looking for the right place and the right moment where improvisation can arise.
That instant, where there is no time to think, makes us less predictable and consequently, in my opinion, gives us more surprising images.
As mentioned earlier, you have a very distinct style. How did you go about developing this visual vocabulary? What are your sources of inspiration?
The main inspiration is undoubtedly graphic design. But there are also photographers like Harry Gruyaert who, without being graphic designers, work in a very similar way. They give great importance to shapes and colours as an element within the composition. Colour is more physical, black and white more intellectual and abstract. In front of a black and white photograph, we are more eager to understand what is going on between the characters, whereas with colour we must be immediately affected by the different tones that are going to express that image.
Colour should not appear to be added, it should be the essence of the image. Many photographers who are used to working in black and white see an object that has such a colour, when the object and the colour are exactly the same.
Your portfolio of exotic countries such as Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Senegal, Morocco, India, Indonesia, Thailand and more shows tremendous curiosity for people and places. Were you always a traveler at heart or was it photography that invoked this in you?
I have always liked to travel. But the photos I used to take were more like souvenirs. The most important thing was the journey and I could spend a long time in a magical place but maybe it wasn’t the most interesting thing in terms of photography.
In that sense my way of travelling has changed a lot. Now I can perfectly well be in places that are apparently without any interest, but that have something that makes them special on a photographic level.
It is fascinating sometimes to see a photo of a totally unremarkable place and that photo, because of its composition, colours and shapes, becomes a magical place! It is one of the most interesting aspects of travel photography.
I also have to admit that I move more on the streets thinking about framing and composition. I also try to create situations where, for example, if there are children in a square, I tell them some things, I play with them and that always gives more play at a photographic level.
Of all the places you’ve photographed in, which did you find the most stimulating?
This subject is very interesting because in the end I think photographers tend to always go to the same places and that means that the photos tend to be very similar, like a “déja vu”! There is a kind of homogenisation of culture and of what we see.
Varanasi for example is an extraordinary city and very appreciated by photographers, but the problem is that having seen so many photos of that city, it’s very difficult to try to erase everything we’ve seen before and come up with a fresh look without any clichés.
Given the current travel restrictions, you have been doing some photography in Barcelona itself. Creatively speaking, what are the opportunities and challenges of photographing in a more familiar environment?
Yes, because of the pandemic, I have started to take photos in Barcelona. They are photos taken in a different way with a different lens. The format is vertical, I use a 50mm to have a slightly more closed field of view and perhaps they are more in the format of a poster. In this case, I’m not trying to tell a story, it’s more an exercise in composition and working with shapes.
In Switzerland, street photography is not as recognized as an art form and photographing in Swiss cities and towns can be quite intimidating. What has been your experience with street photography in Africa and Asia? Are the people there more open to being photographed?
Personally, I think it is just as difficult to take photos in Basel as in Ougadougou. Every city, every country has its difficulties.
In African and Asian countries you have to be more careful not to offend people because of their cultural and religious differences. But on the other hand, people are more grateful, innocent and respectful of a photographer’s work. On the other hand in European cities you have to give more explanations as to why the photo was taken and I think there is also a certain paranoia about privacy. But this is another matter.
What’s next in terms of your photography plans and goals?
Benin and Togo in October. My idea is to try, as far as possible, to cover the whole of West Africa with the intention of being able to make a book one day!
Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Ivan Margot gets his degree in Graphic Design & Communication from the ECAL School in Lausanne.
He currently works in Barcelona as a free-lance for several advertising agencies and spends most of his time researching and working on various projects related to street photography.
He is especially interested in the concept of a more spontaneous photography that contrasts with the more methodical work of the graphic designer.
Thank you Ivan, for your time and for sharing your story here.
Interview written and conducted by Ulka Chauhan