Yannis is a photographer from Libreville, Gabon, currently based in Montréal, Canada. His work aims to change the narrative about the African continent. He uses his photography as a way to celebrate and represent the many cultures and identities of Africa. We caught up with him to talk about his work and see how he’s been coping in isolation.
Hi Yannis 🙂 How are you feeling?
Hello! I’m doing very well. thank you for asking!
How has 2020 been for you so far…?
2020 has been a very weird and unexpected year for everyone especially with the pandemic and all of the terrible news and events that keep happening throughout the world. It has been a little bit stressful to be aware of how much pain and suffering the world is going through right now so I have been trying to take care of my mental health and disconnecting from the internet to regroup often.
On a personal note however, 2020 has been a year of growth and I have been able to reach a lot of milestones that I thought would take a little bit longer. I am grateful that despite the state of the world things went fairly well in my professional life.
What was your experience of lockdown in Canada?
Lockdown was very stressful at first because most of us did not when or how it would end (we still don’t). I have always been someone who very rarely goes out anyways so the majority of my time was already spent at home. Thankfully I was still able to work through it and do not personally know of anyone who has been badly impacted by the virus so it has just mostly been a time of rest for me, which I always welcome.
Did anything good come out of it for you?
A lot of reading and redirection in terms of the kind of work I want to create and what kind of artist I want to be.
You’re still studying, right? What subject?
I was working all through 2019 but I am going back to school this fall to do a Masters in International and Intercultural communications with a focus on African artistic productions as the subject for my thesis.
You’ve become known for your bright, positive representation of African identity: documenting the culture of the continent and its diaspora. What message would you like people to take from your work?
I like for my work to tether between the authentic and the fictional. As a child I have always been inspired by and interested in science-fiction and the aspirational messages that came out of these stories. I want my work to have that similar effect which is why I am inspired by African mythology and spirituality while still being deeply rooted in the very real cultures, identities and experiences of myself and the people I photograph. I want for my work to tell stories that transport viewers to a world where African brilliance and beauty is the default and not the exception.
What is your process when you shoot portraits?
Depending on the project, it typically starts with a general moodboard or a few lines on the story I would like to tell. From there I build what kind of place would fit best as well as who will be the subject, what they will be wearing etc.
Where do you find your models?
Mostly friends, friends of friends or models I randomly found on the internet.
Tell us the story behind a piece
Scorpius is the story of the brightest constellation in the sky. I created this series with my friend and French actor Christian Lohez in my living room here in Montréal two years ago. Christian and I shaved his head in the bathroom for the shoot and stuck these sequins all over his body to represent the constellations. I really appreciate this piece because it was created purely out of spontaneity from a conversation with my friend, which I think is always the best kind of project.
What music do you listen to while you shoot?
It depends on the type of photos I am taking and the taste of the models also because I try to make sure that we both enjoy whatever is playing. Lately it has been a lot of Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour and Nick Hakim’s latest album “Will This Make Me Good”
Do you ever experience bad mental health days or anxiety? If so, how does your practise help to relieve them?
I do experience bad mental health days like everyone else and I have historically always had a lot of anxiety. When I do I always do my best to try to step back and do what I think feels good at the moment. I’m not one to feel bad about taking time off work or school or any other activity because I believe that there is no point in doing something if you don’t feel like it anyway.
My practice helps me with these bad mental health days because it’s a form of escapism in a way, and it allows me to recenter and refocus on some of the things that are the most important.
Dark or Light?
Light except when it comes to my bedroom windows. I hate a bedroom that is too bright.