Photographer’s Q&A – Mathieu Bélanger
This week’s Q&A is with Quebec City-based photographer Mathieu Bélanger. His web site is www.photojournalistmb.com.
Charlevoix, Que. – A Charlevoix lamb at the Ferme Eboulmontaise in Les Eboulements on May 13, 2009. Charlevoix lamb was awarded the designation “Indication Géographique Protégée” by Quebec’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, meaning the product’s name is now legally protected based on its region of origin. According to local media, the Charlevoix lamb is the first food product in North America to receive this kind of designation. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)
What were your first steps in the industry?
My parents bought me my first film camera when I was about 16-years old but at that time, I did not enjoy photography enough to think I would become a professional photographer.
In 2003, while I was working at a local camera store in Quebec City, I bought my first digital camera, a Canon 10D. It was probably at that moment that I thought it would be cool to become a photographer. But I had just enrolled in graphic design at Laval University, so I needed to make a choice: go forward with my degree or switch to a photography program.
I decided to stay with graphic design – sometimes we just make silly decisions – but while in school I got a job shooting for Le Journal de Québec. I knew then that I wanted to be a photojournalist.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation, and are you where you thought you would be now?
While at Laval, I dreamed of working for a wire service/news agency and that dream came true a few months before I graduated when Reuters photo editor Peter Jones called and asked me do an assignment. I couldn’t ask for more! Still living my dream today!
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
My inspiration comes from the drive I get when I compete with other photographers. I’m a very competitive person so when I’m on an assignment, I always want to have the best shots, to get as many pictures as possible in the papers. The tougher the competition, the bigger the inspiration is going to be because I know I’ll have to be on my A-game.
Quebec City – KISS performs during the Summer Festival on July 16, 2009. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)
Do you have a mentor?
There have been quite a few people who have helped me since I started out. René Baillargeon got me my first job in photojournalism, at Le Journal, and ex-freelancer Didier Debusschere, now at Le Journal, helped me get my freelancing job with Reuters.
I also have to mention Reuters’ Peter Jones and Shaun Best. They both helped me understand how to choose and edit my pictures when I had a hard time getting play in the papers. Their advice, knowledge and support helped me – it will always help me be a better photographer.
Without all those guys, my progression would have been much tougher and much slower. So thanks!
Quebec City – Quebec Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest reacts as he sees a suporter during a rally on March 24, 2007. Quebec voters will go to poll on March 26, 2007. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)
What was a pivotal point in your career?
I think, so far, there have been two pivotal points in my short career. As strange as it might sound, the first one came when I was fired from Le Journal in 2005. At first, I was kind of angry but after a few weeks, I told myself that I was going to prove them wrong. So I worked harder.
In 2006, I began to freelance for Reuters. So far, it has been the most pivotal point in my career because I’ve been able to do things I would have never thought of. And I have to thank the guy at Le Journal who fired me for making that happen!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a couple of features for Reuters but since it is a very competitive world, I’ll have to keep them to myself! So keep an eye on Reuters web site to see what they are!
Quebec City – Laval University ‘Rouge et Or’ Marc-Andre Lacombe jumps to make a touchdown catch against Montreal University’s Carabins, October 15, 2005. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)
How important to you is multimedia?
Multimedia is becoming more and more important. Someday, I guess the newspapers will probably only be available as an electronic version. So if you want to maximize the purpose of the medium, I think you have to consider multimedia.
A long time ago, a lot of companies were making oil lamps. But when electricity became available to every household, these companies had to rethink their future. A lot of them disappeared, some evolved and some of them made oil lamps a work of art.
So, in my opinion, every industry has to evolve with the time and I don’t think ours is different. But, in the meantime, I don’t think multimedia has to be the only way to go. I think it all depends on the assignment because some are very well-suited for multimedia and some aren’t. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a learning process. I’ve made some and I know what I have to work on!
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
Every day, I try to look at pictures that go on the wires – when agency photographers do an assignment, most of their photos are easily accessible. I also check newspaper staffers’ pictures but most of the time you only see one or two pics from an assignment.
Also, I always try to look at the daily papers as much as possible to see if I got my butt kicked by other photographers at the same event. Making mistakes is part of the process but understanding them and not making them again is, in my opinion, the crucial part of the progression of a photographer.
Ile Bizard, Que. – Phil Mickelson of the U.S. plays a shot from the sandtrap during his four-ball match at the President’s Cup golf tournament at the Royal Montreal Golf Club on September 29, 2007. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education, etc.).
As I said, I always try to look at as many pictures as possible during the course of a day, so here are a few links:
And here are a few where I go to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in our industry and in the world.
What is your favorite way to unwind?
As the old saying goes … watching a game, having a Bud (with some friends, for sure). I also like to get behind the stove and cook a great meal for me, my girlfriend or some friends. I have to say that my first love was cooking, but I guess the stars didn’t line up good for that.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
This one piece of advice came from Ryan Remiorz, a CP staffer in Montreal. At an event where there were a lot of photographers, Remiorz told me to stop running around like a headless chicken and to just pick the best spot I could think of and that the picture would come to me (but to not miss it when it’s there)! It was kind of him to tell me that because I was working against him and I have to say that it has been a really good advice so far!
St-Felicien, Que. – A polar bear shakes his body to remove water at the St-Felicien Wildlife Zoo on March 6, 2008. Canada is home to approximately 15,000 of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world. (Photo by Mathieu Bélanger/Reuters)