What I've Learned: A Photographer's Journey - Alan Cottenet

What I've Learned: A Photographer's Journey is a Masters of Photography series dedicated to our students, exploring the stories behind the imagery they have created. For other student interviews check out our blog posts. 

  Alan Cottenet works as a personal driver for a CEO in Paris, France. He's father of a 4 year old boy and spent several years living in Rio de Janeiro, a city he's incredibly fond of. He plans to quit his job as a driver to pursue his dream of being a photographer, and we definitely think he has what it takes. Alan first gained our attention when he uploaded the below photo to the photostream. Alan's work encompasses both colour and black and white, his street scenes and interiors seen from the street embrace wonderful juxtapositions of people, reflections, internal light and external light, he captures moments, looks and body language in all his work. What intrigues us is the sense of backstory in all his work, leading up to the point of capture.    

How long have you been into photography?

A first tryout in 2014/15 ended up brutally as I wasn’t satisfied the way my pictures looked. Made a new try in May 2018. Since then, I never stopped shooting, even for a day. And I’m still not satisfied... Always had loads of love and high interest for photography but never really felt like shooting. I had to make products photography for a previous job but that’s it. At this time I could learn basis from studio photography and generalities about photography and editing. It helped in a way.

What made you want to start taking photographs?

I needed to start taking photographs to reconnect with my son and my parents earlier this year. I’m living too far from them and felt the importance having photographs to take away with me. This way I could connect with them anytime and give posterity to our great moments, laughs and joys.

"This is also a testimony for my son and hopefully for the people one day soon. I hope he will see these photographs in decades and say 'Oh really it looked like that! People were dressed this way! My father was doing this that day...' I’m documenting my life and my lifetime and hope someday it will be timeless for everybody out there, my son first."

What do you enjoy in photography?

Photography is making me free. It is also the perfect ally to my passion for walking. I love turning this ordinary life, those ordinary moments into something. In this point, I could identify a lot in the words of Joel Meyerowitz about the ordinary things/life/moments. Photography is poetry. My poetry. A meditation. Also the most sensitive way to express myself and my feelings. I’m better with images than words for my loved one.  Wether I’m in a state of deep joy, anger or whatever I can let things out with photographs. It is now a way of living and being a part of this world. It’s making me happy. Simple as that. This is also a testimony for my son and hopefully for the people one day soon. I hope he will see these photographs in decades and say 'Oh really it looked like that! People were dressed this way! My father was doing this that day...' I’m documenting my life and my lifetime and hope someday it will be timeless for everybody out there, my son first.  

What is your favourite piece of kit?

Equipment has been a tough time. I bought my first camera, a Fuji X100F, 15 days ago! I was saving from May until now but it was still too expensive... My parents decided to pay a part of it to encourage me... Lucky. Camera is a fix 35mm lens. A digital crop at 50mm which I’m using depending the situations and moments. I’m now saving to buy the 50mm lens converter because I obviously have appeal for this focal length. Then I’ll have it all. It is my ultimate camera. A lethal weapon. Compact, silent shutter, intuitive. Feel it was made for me. Immediately knew where all the controls were and will stick to it for the next century !! I really wanted a discreet camera to remain unseen which is quite difficult considering I’m 6ft3 As I had no money still few months ago, i started shooting with what I had; an iPhone from my company and a Pentax ME super. Shooting Film has definitely poured me into photography and I decided to have my own darkroom to avoid costs of developing but mostly to control every aspects of my photography. It was like a revelation and confirmed I had to make a living with photography one way or another. Now shooting both film and digital.  

"Photography is poetry. My poetry. A meditation. Also the most sensitive way to express myself and my feelings. I’m better with images than words for my loved one. Whether I’m in a state of deep joy, anger or whatever I can let things out with photographs."


What was the most influential moment in inspiring your photography?

A personal story I’ll write a few words about. Foremost the birth of my actual son but also the premature loss of my first child. It’s all related. Felt I had to immortalise everything. Relax I’m all good, sorry for the ambiance.

What does your photography say about you as a person?

What does my photography say about me as a person ? Wow. I don’t know actually. I just hope it gives a beautiful image of humans in general. People are beautiful. I hope it’s sweet and generous. With a strong love for humanity, a respect for working and middle class, a care for the isolated one, the poor who are truly important to me, coming from the heart for personal reasons. I hope it is social in a good way because I want my photography to be useful at the end. Whether for good vibrations, smiling, laughing and emotional state or to denounce something I’m feeling bad about, denounce some of the injustices of our world. I’m a deeply involved person, physically and mentally, in everything I do. These are not the things my photography is saying about me... But what I aim to show and express through my photography that matters to me. [activecampaign form=15]

Which photographer or book has had the biggest impact on you? Why?

I could name dozens. Henri Cartier-Bresson. His book Photographe and his biography L’œil du Siècle (eye of the century) by Pierre Assouline (following their written and spoken correspondances). Why? To me, because he brought a whole new level in photography. He was always higher, ahead of time and things, taking out the small unexpected detail about things and human being, showing what we all wanted to see, what we would not see or showing...nothing but what he wants! He was composing like no others. See it, frame it, shoot it. Bang. That’s it. Intuitive and intuitional, animal instinct, smart, sensitive, out of the box thinking, rough and tough, ambivalent, contradictory, salvage. He made photography visible, simple and accessible to everybody. Consistently explaining the same key points. Giving keys to succeed in a way. Seems so innate to him I felt it was possible for everyone. Even if he said 'at the end, either you have it... Or you don’t...' He invites to enlarge your world, your vision. Making the technical part yours but not essential. Learning how to frame and shoot! These are the reasons why.

Are you working on a photography project? OR do you have one in mind or one that you'd like to start?

My main project, for now and yet have to make it clearer, is Paris, differently. That’s my pretentious idea. Like HCB said (him again) 'landscapes have eternity'. I feel this as well. Everybody can photograph Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe. I want to show Paris as a Parisianer, on a daily basis with ordinary places, moments, people, workers, scenes. Sort of a Doisneau approach.  We are surrounded by beauty and I’m lucky living in such an inspiring city. We still have typical French/Parisian things to offer. On the other hand, big avenues are full of lights while small streets (people are living in) are full of trash and rats. That’s a city most of the people are in love with but don’t know much about from the inside. I want to document as well Paris off the beaten path. In every aspects. Poverty, immigration and integration issues, sports, our history and culture, religions that are living together and fighting sometimes, the impressive dirtiness. What I love from this project is that I can take out various subjects from it and document them my way depending on my mood. It’s endless and a lifetime project. I can document everything in here. I mean we have 20 districts within Paris! 20 projects! Plus suburb areas, cafés/restaurants, architecture, tourists, Parisians, students, flowers, parks, homeless and so on... There is always something I can connect to and express depending on my state of mind. It will be long but will worth it hopefully.    

"Actually I can’t stand my photographs anymore after the finding/framing/shooting/editing process... I put my heart and soul every time it is possible. It’s like a drug, an addiction to joy in the making. But at the end, for some reasons, it’s never sufficient to me."


What are your favourite photographs that you have taken?

I don’t have a favourite picture, I’m sorry. Still trying to build it. Actually I can’t stand my photographs anymore after the finding/framing/shooting/editing process... I put my heart and soul every time it is possible. It’s like a drug, an addiction to joy in the making. But at the end, for some reasons, it’s never sufficient to me... Once I press the shutter, I’m like: on to next one! It may sound sad but I don’t think it is as it’s helping me improving constantly...

What is your favourite photograph (that is not from you)?

Kabuki Actor Funeral by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Please let me just mention Saul Leiter. Any of his. His work is immense.  

"This course benefited me in the most important aspects of photography and as a human being : It gave me self confidence and the wings I needed to fly. I now feel everything’s possible."

How did the course benefit you?

This course benefited me in the most important aspects of photography and as a human being : It gave me self confidence and the wings I needed to fly. I now feel everything’s possible. I went further and it’s only the beginning. Still have a lot to learn but I’m already a better version of myself. Joel Meyerowitz is absolutely incredible. Warm and caring. Expressive, serene, calm... His empathy, love for poetry and beautiful things are like no other. He empowers you at each lesson, long or short one. He comforted me by speaking of instincts, intuition. It’s helping me defining my own sensibility/approach. Last but not least, seeing him in action is a chance.  

In the course you have taken with us, what was your favourite lesson (please tell us which course and which title) and why?

For now, 50% of the course from Joel Meyerowitz it’s lesson number 12 'The Meyerowitz colour zone system'. This lesson taught me how to see the world again. How to see it in COLOUR again. It’s like I’m discovering everything again with new eyes. A gift that was just about few technical adjustments and light. When well exposed, the world in colour photography is a gem and totally new to me. Also number 3 'Looking at pictures' because when you learn how to speak about a photograph, you learn how to make one as well.

"If I had to choose one piece of advice it would be: trust your instinct. I repeat for anybody out there: follow and trust your instincts"

What is the best piece of photographic advice you have come across?

Being instinctive. If I had to choose one piece of advice it would be: trust your instinct. I repeat for anybody out there: follow and trust your instincts! Using the light properly too. Going full manual following Meyerowitz colour zone system (again!). Feel the place I’m in, wether i like it or not. Always finding a way to photograph something wherever I am. Being in a place I hate is now impossible. I always have this 'YES!' shot making me happy! For more photos by Alan, check out our photostream here, where he is a frequent contributor. Check out Alan's Instagram here   A Photographer's Journey credits. Photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 by Alan Cottenet Photo 6 by Henri Cartier-Bresson   [activecampaign form=15]

Steve McCurry - A Life in Pictures

Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures, a book detailing the life of iconic storytelling photographer and MoP master Steve McCurry, is now available to purchase. The largest and most complete piece of work detailing Steve McCurry's incredible 40 year career was written by McCurry's sister Bonnie McCurry, Steve's sister and President of the McCurry foundation.     "The book brings together all of McCurry’s key adventures and influences, from his very first journalistic images taken in the aftermath of the 1977 Johnstown floods, to his breakthrough journey into Afghanistan hidden among the mujahideen, his many travels across India and Pakistan, his coverage of the destruction of the 1991 Gulf War and the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York, up to his most-recent work. Totalling over 350 images, the selection of photographs includes his best-known shots as well as over 100 previously unpublished images. Also included are personal notes, telegrams and visual ephemera from his travels and assignments, all accompanied by Bonnie McCurry’s authoritative text – drawn from her unique relationship with Steve – as well as reflections from many of Steve’s friends and colleagues."   To find out more and purchase the book, Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures,  click here, to see Steve McCurry's master class click here.  

Joel Meyerowitz - Inside/Outside

The Polka Galerie in Paris presents Inside/Outside, dedicated to the legendary artist photographer and MoP Master Joel Meyerowitz.


"The exhibition “Inside | Outside” revisits six decades of photography with complete structural freedom and a friendly hand from the artist, who entrusts the viewers with the keys to his archives. The visitors’ paths through this exhibition are countless, as it sums up a life spent observing people and landscapes, now presented from a new perspective: simultaneously as an homage and as a critical analysis of the photographer’s body of work over time.” 

From November 9th to January 12th, 2019, the gallery will present the second part of the exhibition “Taking my Time”

For more information on Inside/Outside click here, to start Joel Meyerowitz's eye-opening photography course click here.  

Albert Watson - Dreamscapes

Today, November 5th, MoP Master Albert Watson opens his Dreamscapes exhibition at the Izzy Gallery in Toronto. Running until December 2nd this year, the images combine landscape textures with nudes. The photo is of Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima. It incorporates texture of water and reeds Albert Watson photographed separately on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Visit here for more information on Dreamscapes and stay tuned for Albert's masterclass coming very soon, check out his course page here.

BBC Podcast: Photography legend Joel Meyerowitz on how to take a good photo

Listen to Joel's interview with BBC Radio 4, outlining his top 5 tips for taking a great shot.

Join us at Photo London

Join us at Photo London on Saturday and Sunday, the 19th and 20th May. Co-Founder, Chris Ryan, will be hosting a talk with Joel Meyerowitz discussing his life and asking questions about his street, landscape and still life photography. There will be a Q&A afterwards to ask Joel your burning questions. The talk will be hosted in the Screening Room at Somerset House, at 4.30pm on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th May, Click here for more details

Joel Meyerowitz answers your questions

Joel wants to answer your burning questions. Choose a question from the poll to be in with a chance of winning a free course! [woobox offer='mqgmgo']

Interview with Joel Meyerowitz by NYC-ARTS

  Joel Meyerowitz talks to NYC-ARTS about his endless passion for photography.  

Where I Find Myself: Joel Meyerowitz's latest book

Joel Meyerowitz has recently released his latest book. ‘Where I Find Myself’ documents the entirety of the photographer’s career to date, published to coincide with his recent 80th birthday. Joel’s photography career began with a chance encounter. While working at an advertising agency, he came across the great Robert Frank shooting with two models in a studio. Seeing the spontaneity and fluidity with which Frank moved between his subjects flicked a switch in the mind of Meyerowitz. He quit his job as an art director the same day in order to pursue photography. Armed with a 35mm Leica, he hit the streets of New York City with Garry Winogrand. This was the beginning of an illustrious career, founded upon his iconic street photography.     As suggested by the title, the book is sequenced in reverse chronological order, in the same way an artist looks back through their career. It begins with his latest work on still life, shot in his home studio in Tuscany, where he now resides. These shots are reminiscent of Giorgio Morandi and are a pleasant surprise when first opening the book. They are utterly different to his earlier work. The book moves through the various styles and focuses of his career. It contains the exclusive coverage of Ground Zero, his widely acclaimed landscapes of Cape Cod, his pilgrimage around the United States in the footsteps of Robert Frank and his experiments with black and white and colour photography. The book closes with his street photography from the 1960s, a perfect homage to the career of Meyerowitz. In the words of Joel himself, “street photography is jazz”. Each chapter begins with a short, eloquent essay written by Joel himself that provides a wonderful insight and context to his photos. What becomes clear in the book is the perpetual transition through style and form Joel has taken over the years. He’s best known for his work on the streets, but Joel is a true master across the board, from portraiture to landscape, still life and everything in between. This book beautifully documents his career. Click here to check it out. Want to learn from Joel how to take stunning photos? Take an online course with him here at Masters of Photography.  

Student Interview: Kim Aldis

Kim Aldis is another of Joel Meyerowitz's early students and also a successful photographer, animator and all round visual creative in his own right. He has spent many years in the film and TV industry. We had a chat with him to find out more.

Hi Kim, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your personal background and your style of photography?

I spent 3 years studying photography at The London College of Printing, 1975-1978 after which I freelanced and assisted for a couple of years, mostly in the music business working band shots for PR and a few record sleeves. I also worked on quite a few pop videos for quite well known bands. After that, I got involved in 3D computer animation, which was beginning to take off in TV at the time and ended up with my own company in London doing film & tv CGI and VFX, animation & post production. TV titles, commercials, that kind of thing. I sold that some time around 2000, spent some time freelancing and consulting. I retired early about ten years ago and now I do pretty much as I please.

Sounds like a great career. How did you get into photography? Was there anything in particular that you remember that made you want to be a photographer?

It was all rather clinical, really. When I was around 14, 15 and didn't have much on an idea where I was going and my mother suggested a vocational assessment. So we trotted off to an office in Harley Street where they asked me a bunch of multiple choice questions and presented us with a bunch if charts, graphs and three career suggestions; architecture, landscape gardening and photography. Photography seemed like an interesting thought so we bought a basic camera and some darkroom gear and that was it. The other thing my mother did, for which I'll be forever grateful, was to buy me a subscription to the Life Library of Photography books. Time Life, over the years, have commissioned an extraordinary amount of quality photography and they drew on that work in the early 70s to produce a series of remarkable books about great photographers and great photography. A book arrived every month and I collected 20 or so of them, I think. It was from these books that I learned about photography and the work of photographers like Bresson, Penn, Arbus and the like. I think if anything has had an influence on me it's that series of books.

That's a really interesting path into photography, thanks for sharing. Would you mind choosing 2 of your own photographs and tell us a bit about them?

Only two; that's tough!  
This first is a shot of a bunch of kids on the sea front in Paignton, just down from where I live. They were messing about, as kids do, and I started rattling off some shots. Almost immediately they spotted me and gave me some really quite serious grief. I love it when that happens, when you're taking shots, you get made and often the shot is better than the one you were after. Never stop shooting.   I took this one in Torquay town centre, at the main bus stop by the harbour. Everything was just there; 4 little old ladies with their white hair, the light, the bus with the Pokeman advert. Perfect.  

Very entertaining photos! We love that second one. What made you choose to study Joel's course?

I'm not interested in technical. I have a photography degree and I spent 35 years working with digital imagery, often at a deeply technical level. I think I have technical covered and honestly, it's not the most important part of making pictures for me. What I'm really interested in is how photographers, particularly great photographers work, what they're thinking and how and why they approach their subjects. So when a photographer of Joel Meyerowitz's stature announces a course where he's going to talk about just that, it's an opportunity not to be missed. I jumped.

How are you finding the course so far? What have you learned?

I'm only up to lesson 7 so far and there's a lot more to come but already I'm looking at the world and approaching people differently, being more open and more obvious about what I'm doing, thinking about the photographs I'm taking and leaving less to chance. There'll be more to come I'm sure.

Great, thanks for chatting to us Kim. We hope you enjoy the rest of the course.

  To see more of Kim's work, take a look at his instagram page and his website. To see the work of more students inspired by Joel's course, check out the student Photostream.