Photographer Mathieu Bitton is known for his rock and roll work as well as his remarkable black and white shots of musicians and regular people. He took the time to answer some questions from CaliforniaRocker.com editor Donna Balancia. Bitton recently had a successful showing at the Leica Gallery in West Hollywood.
CR: How have your experiences traveling around the world at an early age affected/impacted your art?
MB: I think they made the world accessible to me. Like nowhere was to far or unreachable. I have always loved to travel and always knew I would end up working in a field that required a lot of travel.
CR: Do you think if you had grown up in the states it would be a lot different today for you?
MB: I’m not big on “if.” One step in the opposite direction can change your whole life in that instant so I can’t say. I mean I got to the states at 14 so I partially grew up there.
CR: Is it that you are interested in photographing The plate and the struggles of impoverished people or do you think that people with darker skin tones are more interesting subjects?
MB: There are very few impoverished people in my series. There is a homeless guy in Memphis and a couple questionable people, meaning I wasn’t sure if they were. I think I’m fascinated with the black culture as a whole and have been my whole life.
CR: Have you ever had other exhibits in Europe? is there a difference in the reaction of European people to your work compared with the reaction of Americans?
MB: Yes. I had my Lenny Kravitz “Ascension” exhibition In Vienna, Austria in August 2015 and Sofia, Bulgaria earlier this year in April. Well the reception to my work at the Leica gallery was phenomenal but I guess Europeans were maybe more excited and had a lot more questions for me and maybe more impressed with the fact that a French kid realized his dreams in the states. It’s more unusual than if I was from the States.
CR: Can you make any comparisons between the living situations of people in say, Bahamas or in other not as “wealthy” countries and people in the United States?
MB: Well I think technology is the main difference. I just don’t see kids on iPads and iPhones here in the Bahamas (I’m currently here in Eleuthera). Back in the states people are always on their devices. You just don’t see that here. Just yesterday I was watching kids playing soccer and hide and seek and wrestling and just playing outside all day. There is also no entitlement like in the US. I think we have a lot to learn from these communities.
CR: What is it exactly about hands that you like to focus on? How did you surmise your theory that you believe the hands tell the story of character, but they have hand surgery today to look younger! Are there any photographers whose hands have inspired you?
MB: I just love hands. I can’t really explain it but they do have the lines are like the rings in a tree. They tell the age and experience of the person. I never heard of hand surgery but I’m not surprised. We are lost as a culture. It’s really sad. As far as hand photography, there is one photo bag truly inspired me and that is Irving Penn’s hand portrait of Miles Davis for the Tutu album.
CR: I saw your family at your gallery exhibit. Do you remain close to your family? Who was the one who told you to go for the photography career? Did they want you to do something other than photography?
MB: I’m very close to my family. That’s the core of everything for me. But no one ever told me to do anything I do. That’s my own doing. Photography didn’t even come first for me. I’ve been a graphic designer and art director for over 29 years. Photography was a hobby that turned into another career. My parents always wanted me to just do what I want. They didn’t push me in any specific direction.
CR: What is the common bond you share with musicians? Do you believe musicians are getting a fair shake today? Do you believe photographers are getting a fair shake today?
MB: That’s a tough question. I’m a music lover. Collector. Aficionado. And I’ve worked very hard to keep music alive through box sets, compilations and albums I’ve worked on. But it’s very tough to be a musician today. It’s nearly impossible to make money unless you’re one of the acts who performed at Desert Trip last weekend. But I’m all about passion and have always said you can’t do your art for the pursuit of money.
CR: What advice would you give to aspiring photographers today as far as the marketplace goes?
MB: Photography is a tough market too. I think I’m lucky enough to juggle several careers that all work together successfully but I would tell aspiring photographers to just get a decent camera and go out there and find their subjects. Shoot as much as you can and as often as you can. If you have the eye, you’ll find your style. If not, well, you tried. You can’t get anywhere without trying. It’s a grueling job too. Not meant for just anyone.