Evan Dale // June 9, 2020
So often, the people doing the most for the world of art and culture – for photography and cinematography – are those who have the courage to capture the exceptionalism of the everyday. Don’t get it twisted, the high-fidelity and extravagant serve their purpose, too. But more often than not, the most brash, brave statements come at the hands of the most honest art. For a while now, that search for truth has led a lot of modern photographers and videographers to the timelessness of film methodology. Like the return to vinyl, its texture and innate imperfection grant it a strange, deeper connection to the tethers of reality as we know them – or at least as we knew them through the innocent omnipotence of childhood.
And yet, film is no cure-all; no secret weapon for the astutely authentic artiste. There exists something else – something far less tangible – that grants the most vivid storytellers the lens with which they see and subsequently share.
For Mathieu Ajan, that something is a deeper understanding – a learned keenness – for unearthing genuine humanity through emotion, and all of that, then through a lens. He sees differently and can capture that difference with beauty and detail. The young photographer and filmmaker uses a swatch of techniques through myriad mediums – film, photography, illustration, presentation, celebration – to bring his work to a pedestal of vivacity and textural realness that almost everyone else in his field seems not quite able to grasp. His inadherence for one specific technique proves that all media are not created equal, but that all can be successfully wielded by the right artist looking for different methods of expression. And from where that point of understanding the beauty in his depiction of life is sourced, the same mysterious thing drives viewers to his work.
It’s intangible, honed, raw, and unapologetically distinctive.
It’s photography, but even more so, it’s film.
An executive of the British Film Institute and the founder of Bounce Cinema, Ajan’s love and obsession with videography is both well-documented and influential. It’s also thriving as the crossroads of his two most professional directions have taken flight simultaneously. For his part with BFI, earned through a solo career creating his own films and working, too, on his own photography, his role becomes educational as much as it becomes a role as an educator.
Beyond it, his entrepreneurial stewardship to found Bounce Cinema, speaks his greatest volumes.
‘Bounce is a community helping [viewers] discover and connect with the world of film. Through [their] programme of screenings, talks and workshops, [they] bring thousands of people together to celebrate cinema. [They] are an independent organisation and reinvest a percentage of [their] time and resources into supporting new and emerging talent.’
Before the reinvestment, comes Bounce’s investment, where the creative collective and mobile Cinema host pop-up film screenings and artful education on the subjects they pedestal. Not only connecting the world to the beauty of film, and the unparalleled atmosphere of their unique screenings, Bounce is one of the foremost purveyors of the need not only to acknowledge, but to celebrate blackness in an industry that has long struggled with the imbalance of white washing. As it says on their site, Bounce is ‘a programme to support & advance the careers of black people into the film industry.’ And Mathieu Ajan being a very influential, entrepreneurial black man carving out his place in film’s modern landscape, it’s no surprise when even looking away from his work with Bounce or BFI, that his personal portfolio breathes of the same socio-political awareness, racial celebration, and creative genius.
There seems no guiding thematic direction that drives his greater photographic portfolio; no adherence to black & white, to color, to portraiture or landscape. Instead, his collections exude wide range and a stylistic eye that captures beauty by no specifications. His human centric work exhibits an obsessive consciousness to the state of contrast. Subjects are often backdropped by deep, brash color palette, oftentimes staged, but oftentimes candid. And when not underlined by a block of color, his ability to capture the exceptional texture of ordinary place speaks to his understanding of setting in film. Tonal, tactile walls behind a team of coworking women; the infinite texture of a brick road underneath a sitting young man – though the two shots feel so removed from one another, they’re tied akin by Ajan’s ability to capture the essence of a place, through the backdrop of photography.
His interest in the human landscape – the manmade – is also stark and enthralling in its nature to capture an environment of reality. Though the viewer has likely never been to the restaurant draped in burlap; never ridden the Hammersmith & City Line, Mathieu Ajan’s ability to craft photography so rooted in the reality and the texture that we as humans all feel, marks his work with a relatability and a tangible underscore of life.
Naturally, his ability to celebrate life even in undirected shots of the human experience leaves his portfolio of portraits – directed towards a subject with obvious intent – unendingly vibrant and emotional. Close or far, candid or staged, his capturing of life through a lens is unparalleled in its emotion, through its inimitability. Though ranging in color, grain, focus, and intent, all breathe of Ajan’s unique talent to capture humans as their most honest selves.
When it’s all said and done, that is what drives and defines the creative expanse of Mathieu Ajan’s portfolio. Personal & professional; film & photography; black & white & color; portraiture & landscape; the underlining of story through the lens of honest human emotion crafts and cuts the direction of his work and that which he shares to the rest of the world through his professional platforms, earned and founded. So, for fans of photography or film (that should include everyone on this planet with a soul willing to connect with others) Mathieu Ajan is quietly, understatedly, one of the most important creative visionaries in our world today.