interview Inès Manai ///

From time to time, I enjoy watching short or lengthy documentaries on photography, even if I do not know what makes a good photographer from another however, I find it interesting to listen to the technical side of this specific craft. The work of Ines is very pleasing. We had two rendezvous, first near her school in the early afternoon around a cup of coffee, the second one where I took all those several pictures, near Odéon, wandering around the neighborhood then, we headed to Le Louvre, her favorite museum, surrounded by those astonishing Art pieces whilst conversing about her studies, wisdom, and love for Photography.

à Paris : une discussion avec Inès Manai.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas


French version

Can you introduce yourself?
23 years old, I was born in Paris. My parents have Tunisian origins. I think I develop a sensitivity towards Visual Arts at a very young age. I was curious to study Applied Arts. I loved drawing and since kindergarten. At this time you do not really realize what you do, however, to have this freedom of expression gave me confidence. Subsequently, in High school, I took a major in Plastic Arts and History of Art. I applied to join the Louvres school sadly I didn't get in. I took some time to think about what I wanted. In the meantime, I went to the University but it was not suited for me.

What happened there?  On a personal level, I thought it wasn't that bad especially because you can be a free spirit. You manage your time as you feel, you have no real pressure.
Absolutely, but this serenity that you can have, I felt it as something dangerous, counterproductive. I stayed one year. The thing that upset me the most is certainly the opinion of some teachers that you consider mentors and who on their side does not take you very seriously and does not try to stimulate you more.

What do you mean?
Well, teachers who do not believe in your abilities. In the end, it was a great stimulation because you draw on your resources to go forward, to get some motivation. Later on, I had this envy to produce a magazine, so the next logical step was joining a graphic design class.

When did this idea appear?
I guess because, at that time, there was not anything I was thinking about on the market, everything we know today. The press was seen as a singular thing.

You already collected some of them?
Very much! It comes from a tradition, in my family, my father who travels very often always brought fashion magazines, I found myself with the VogueNuméro or Vanity Fair, jus to quote a few.

You realized at a young age your appeal to Fashion.
At the age of 10 exactly, there was not something that clicks, I immersed myself in these publications, I just loved contemplating all these images.

The imagery interested you more than the textile.
Yes, I think that's it. I remember an incredible photograph of Lily Donaldson taken by the talented Nick Knight for Harper's Bazaar. Looking at her today still gives me shivers! My father had also given me a small camera when I was in high school, I took all my friends in pictures. I was not thinking at that moment that I was going to do something more conventional ... I went on with and applied in an Art section. The experience was not beneficial, I  only stayed one semester. Over time I met people who were practicing, therefore it inspired me to do so. My father went to Indonesia and Thailand and brought me a new camera, a Fuji Xm1. Knowing that I was no longer going school in this period, I had the opportunity to work as an assistant set designer and DA on fairly large projects. It allowed me to discover more fully the world of photography, it was captivating. Later on, I joined a graphic design program.

Why did you choose to go back to school when you had the opportunity to create content and was able to do something you planned?
Well, I still had this magazine project in mind and I was not satisfied technically, I did not imagine myself as a Photographer, far from it. It was only once, with the experience I had working for Purple Magazine that this idea became something more concrete.

And especially these meetings you talked about, I imagine that it influenced you, to be able to work alongside people who are already in the work environment you have thought about, it gave you a career perspective.
Absolutely, it inspired me strongly and certainly gave a new impetus to my work. Basically, all that I had not had the opportunity to learn, and to experiment in my school career, this lack has always been fueled by meetings and professional experiences.

Tell me about your experience at Purple Magazine.
I knew someone who was already working for the magazine, and the Digital Editor was looking for another person to replace her, so I had this opportunity that came to me besides it's pretty crazy because I did not know not the magazine.

What was the job? Did you have the pressure, immediately, being in the first year of your graphic design program, this job had a new degree of requirement?
Yes, I had but it was good pressure. I was writing and mainly producing photo reports. I started taking exhibition views. It was after seven months that I was able to do my first report for Fashion Week. I had the opportunity to do my internship at Purple with a free pass for all these shows.

Were you satisfied with your first shoot?
At first, it was difficult, the photos were blurry, nothing was going well but I had the confidence of the people I worked with so I went on with accreditation for 10 new shows.

Do you have complete freedom of expression or do they impose specific things?
In the beginning, I had to follow a specific agenda, however, with time and work produced, I could propose more and more thing.


Have you looked at what has been done to get inspired?
Yes, however, without identifying my work with what I saw except for the photos I had to make during evenings where you have a particular Purple signature. But to be honest, when it came to the technical side, I learned on the job, it was stimulating.

The next step was to be able to choose the events you were going to document, right?
Absolutely, it ended up with that. From this year I only cover the shows I found an interest.

With school did you have enough time to manage everything?
Somehow yes. I worked full time for Purple I had a busy schedule. It was complicated because on one side I had the school program I wanted to finish and on the other, an opportunity to work, attend events, photograph and assist to conferences in the presence of significant artists.

After your graphic design studies what happened?
I completed my year with a Vogue publication on a photo documentary of my family in Tunisia. I started a magazine project on the subject of Western culture and Eastern culture, in view of the political context we are dealing with on a daily basis, through the lens of the media.  It's a problem that matters to me. I wanted to create a fashion series in Tunisia with Western designers clothes worn by locals people. I was supposed to work alongside a friend who collects Raf Simons, unfortunately, it did not happen. Consequently, I went there, with my family, and for three days I did not take any pictures.

It was only a few days later, at the market, that I started taking pictures of the people who were nearby. I put these pictures on Instagram, then, somehow a publisher at Vogue sent me a message. They had a crush on a few photographs I took and asked me to produce a full series for the magazine.

Did you leave with the same material? It must have evolved along with your abilities.
Yes, I still have six lenses. It is a matter of situation and being able to adapt to all conditions in all circumstances. I am very often on the Le Bon Coin digging new materials!

Did you felt some pressure?
Yes and no, the only pressure I had was to have enough material to be able to produce something valuable. However, all the purpose of making this fashion series was deflecting on a story focused on my family. I didn't want to shoot them at first.

Why so?
Hard to say, they are humble people, they have something special, I think I was intimidated.

You were able to trespass this situation in a very natural way, how the shooting took place?  I suppose they were pleased with the result and enjoyed themselves while you were working.
Yes! It is like a tradition where they gather once a month around a meal, all generations are there.

It's like being in a bubble, for a few hours, to be able to ignore all these problems.
Absolutely, it was able to show other values that unfortunately the media do not relay frequently. When the article came out on Vogue, the feedback I got was unthinkable. People identified with my photos, my family, I was surprised. None of the clichés are staging.

Have you already exhibited this series?
No, but that's something I'd like to do.

How did you make the selection?
I sent 100 photos and then they took care of the selection based on the texts I wrote alongside.

Are you satisfied with the result? It is a wonderful project.
Yes, but I had a few remorses two days later because I did not tell my family. It was a secret. They read the article a few days later because the series was everywhere on the Internet. My grandmother called me right after, it was funny. In the end, everyone was content. I tried to convey a more joyous, authentic and non-kitsch vision. I did not want to do anything dystopian.

To produce this kind of project, of a greater scope which is more personal, in a way did it allow you to do an introspection?
Of course, this kind of project helps me to understand what I really want, where I belong. It was my first personal series, and I had the desire to go deeper into this heritage issue. Finally, with this project, I was able to integrate les Arts Décoratifs, a few of the photographs are displayed in the corridors of the school!

“Right after the revolution, in 2012, I went back to Tunisia to see my family,” Inès Manai wrote in an email earlier this month, about the photo essay published here. “When I was walking down the streets of Tunis, I saw an evolution. The girls who I remembered confined in their houses or apartments were now on the terraces at some cafés. They were proudly smoking their cigarettes—which is a very controversial act for a woman there—wearing sexy clothes, like they wanted to claim: ‘I’m owning my own body now and religion has nothing to do with the law anymore.’ It was a new beginning.”

In Tunisia, Hope for a Bright Future.

Five years after the Arab Spring, photographer Ines Manai captures a new beginning - Vogue.

What about the teaching, do you enjoy it?
This is just the beginning but yes, it's rewarding. I have complete freedom of expression. In addition, we have access to material, which is not something you can brag about especially when you do photography. I am able to produce things like prints with school support.

Who is your inspiration photography?
Nick Knight who was, in my opinion, a forerunner. I also enjoy the work of Mark Peckmezian and Harley Weir.

Tell me a bit about your trip, did you go to Pompeii?
Yes, at the moment I am working on a pillar series. In fact, I went to Naples where I lived next to a prison. It was not convenient. As you could see, I take a lot of photography about this specific theme because it represents an architectural and cultural element that you find in the East and also in the West. My idea was to make a series where you do not have a geographical index of where I was.

How long did it take you to produce this series?
One afternoon, I ran everywhere!

Does every moment that you live, you envision it as a potential photograph?
It all depends, based on my emotions. There are topics that will affect me more than others.

I suspect that it can become sickly, this constant need to capture every single thing you have an interest.
Of course, it becomes so especially when I find myself facing something that I admire.

So if the timing is not ideal, it does not matter, you stop and in your subconscious, you have to make this picture.
Clearly. However, to be specific, on the series I made in Pompeii, I usually take a hundred photos before choosing the right one, there are many parameters to take into consideration as the angle of the camera and, it is necessary to have a great lighting set up.

there are many parameters to take into consideration as the angle of the camera and, it is necessary to have a great lighting set up.

Why do not you take a stabilizer, it might make your job easier?
Because we it is easy to notice it when you are using one. In my opinion, the works I am producing are like paintings made hands raised.

What's next?
I am going to go back to Tunisia and create a series on the Carthage ruins. It is a romantic theme that has a symbolic view. Then, go to Athens and then to Italy on the island of Ischia where held a castle in ruins.

Can we expect a posteriori publication?
Not at all, I realize this series for me it's something visceral that I need. Afterward, I share it with people via the networks. It's not just an aesthetic approach but something that has more symbolic value.

It's complicated to conveys emotions through social networks and to understand why and how. I think people do not ask the right questions anymore, do not try to dig further, to think. The proliferation of "photographers" via these networks, how do you perceive it?
Yes, but in this case, as you say, this proliferation, on your side, does not prevent you from being a photographer too. I think that somehow it promotes the emergence of some people who may never have dared to show their work.  In any case, it gave me the assurance that I was missing, finding and developing my own aesthetic afterwards. This competition is necessary, it makes you want to stand out. Long before I started thinking about technical issues, it was important for me to think about my aesthetic identity, the messages I wanted to spread through my works.

Do you use your iPhone in the same way?
Much less than before. For a while, I used it all the time.

Do you sometimes take your iPhone to capture a photo and then put it aside and use your camera?
Never. There's this three-second rule that's relevant to me. When you face something that is moving you have three seconds to capture that action, if you start thinking that way, you will see, you will become paranoid. Sometimes I regret not having taken a picture of a specific moment, because it is also a question of speed execution, the time to release your device, set up your lens...

Tell me about your first cover for the magazine RECENS.
The editor of the magazine saw and loved the project I did for Vogue, it was a natural process.

Did you choose this picture?
I sent a series of photographs and then she made her own selection.

No website?
I am working on it!


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interview Inès Manai ///