In this interview with Makhtar, Senegalese photographer based in Paris, we are invited to gain an insight into his world and the connection that he has with photography.
For those who don’t already know you, could you explain a little about who you are and what you do?
Lot of people don’t know me and if by any chance they want to, here’s a quick summary : My name is Makhtar DIAKHATE and I’m a Senegalese Photographer. I have been living in France for the past 10 years and developed my interest for photography a few years ago, 6 exactly I think.
I started with landscape photography because I had a coworker who was really into it back then. Actually, he introduced me to photography. I slowly made my way into Street photography and Portrait over the years and that’s definitely where I find my peace and most inspiration. So yeah, that’s what I do now, I go out, travel, meet people and draw them with light. Nothing out of the ordinary.
What was your reason for choosing to pursue photography professionally?
That’s the thing, photography is not my main job, it’s my hobby, my -not so secret- identity. Professionally, I’m a Software engineer in Paris. We all know how life can get overwhelming and I sometimes blow off some steam by grabbing my camera and working on some projects. I also do some commissioned work (photoshoots, weddings etc) when I have time. But I feel like I would be under a different kind of pressure if photography was my main job and then, how would I blow off some steam?
Who / what is your biggest creative influence – where do you tend to draw the most inspiration from?
I think I get the most inspiration from my own life and my relations to others. I love listening to people, their stories, the way they see life and navigate through all its struggles but I also try to listen to myself and that is something we often overlook in my opinion. It is important to be attentive to your own emotions. Especially when you are a black person, because society will sometimes make you think that it doesn’t matter. All that, mixed together, that’s where I get my inspiration from. My work is a visual representation of how as an African Man I see the Western world and how it is to navigate in a society with a different culture than yours.
Your work varies from monochromatic images with interesting compositions to beautiful portraits with bright pops of colour. What have you found to enjoy shooting the most and why?
I enjoy taking photos of people, I really do. I feel like a picture with no living figure whether it’s a person or an animal, lacks a soul. I tried a lot of different styles before finding mine over the years, my monochromatic work is quite old and I’m not sure that I’ll ever come back to it one day. What I enjoy the most is watching a scene unravel in front of me, taking it all in my mind, enjoying the moment, being part of it if I’m talking to people for example, then taking the photo. My first memory is my mind, not the SD card of my camera and I don’t want to see the world through a lens, I want to enjoy the moment and share it with my viewers with a simple caption : “look, this is the moment that I enjoyed earlier, have a glimpse of it”.
What things did you take away from your time spent travelling and interacting with other cultures?
So many things, I learned a lot about myself (yeah I know, that’s a classic thing to say but I mean it). I am very spontaneous when it comes to traveling, most of the time I don’t even plan it, I just take days off, buy a ticket and go. I did a lot of traveling alone before the pandemic and met amazing people. Whenever I go somewhere, the first thing I try to do is to interact with local people and it’s not the easiest thing to do : language barrier, cultural differences, racism…
I try not to be the typical tourist, people enjoy when you’re genuinely interested in their culture. And I also try to share mine.
I remember meeting a Indonesian photographer in a crowded market in Bali once, Mark. It was in the middle of my trip and I hadn’t taken any photos that I liked so far, only classical stuff. In 2 hours, he taught me so much about Balinese culture and it piqued my interest even more.
This meeting inspired my project : The Balinese, I wanted to meet the “real” ones, not just the Balineses who live next to the touristic locations. So I drove 2 hours and landed in a village where I met Baggus and his association. Event got invited to a wedding, but that’s another story.
To me, a country is defined by its people, not just by the beaches or the mountains. You just have to be willing to see and experience it. It’s always nice to enjoy the sun somewhere but don’t forget about the culture. Don’t forget to interact, you could learn a lot about yourself and maybe share one thing or two. I might be alone at the airport when I travel sometimes, but I have never been alone in a country, I have millions of people around me.
Where do you hope to visit in the future and why?
Namibia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt and Ghana. I want to explore Africa more, there are so many places that I haven’t seen yet. I realize that I’ve been to more European countries than African ones. But I’m glad that I did all that before the pandemic. It will probably inspire a new project.Oh, I also want to visit Japan, I mean…who doesn’t ?
One of your more popular projects is titled: ‘Wax OFF’, can you explain your ideas and intentions behind these images?
The idea was quite simple. I was born and raised in Senegal. I used to go to a place called “Lac rose” (it’s a pink lake) with friends and family when I was younger and I decided to organize a photoshoot there. My intention was to do something quite intimate in a place that I loved. The purpose of the series was to express the feeling that most of the people who live in a country that is not theirs have. That invisible bond that we create with this new land while still trying to stay attached to the motherland. Who am I now ? Am I still the same ? That’s why you have the shots with the reflections in the water and the mirrors, a sort of introspection. It’s also why you have different clothing styles, african and western ones. It’s the symbolism between the 2 cultures.
I also wanted to have my own interpretation of “ET phone home”. When you have a character who desperately wants to stay in touch with his people.
The project was quite successful, I had the opportunity to work with talented models and designers from my country. Loved it!
Do you have anything exciting planned for the future?
Yes ! I’m currently working on a project about mental health. It’s a subject that is too often overlooked in African society. And there’s still a lot to say about it. I’m very excited.I’m also organizing photography workshops in Paris and introducing beginner models and photographers to this art. And oh, i’m also planning to do a photo exhibition this year ! I hope that everything’s gonna work out.