Words: Dave Swan and Amber O’Dell
There’s an argument when it comes to the arts and indeed any creative endeavour for that matter, that professional training is a double-edged sword. While it can be beneficial to developing technical skills, it can also erode one’s unique creative flair.
Why is it that some of the most incredibly talented artists and photographers have never been formally trained? Does formal training incite a certain homogeneity where over time you become conditioned to approaching it like everyone else, in turn detracting from the organic nature of self-taught creativity?
Yann Fatras is a case in point. This incredibly talented videographer has never undergone formal training and yet his innate skill behind the lens is there for all to see. We recently caught up with him to talk how he became so enamoured with film and photography and the path that led him here from his home in Paris.
Yann was born in France, a country revered around the world for its deep, rich history in the fine arts. For as long as he can remember his world has been immersed in the arts – everything from music to painting and photography. The one constant growing up and into his adult years was that he was always surrounded by artists. His father and brother were musicians and some of his friends became well known artists, so it was only natural that he too would develop a keen interest in the same. Yann picks up the story.
“Art has always been really present in my life. Music, painting, photography – I love all of them.
“Growing up, I always had a camera in my hand, and I guess that is where it all started. I have always liked photographing people but like randomly and really organically. I think that’s where my vision comes from, it’s very natural. I don’t like too much setup as it detracts from the instinctive nature of photography and videography. I’ve always shot that way.”
In many ways, Yann was drawn to the camera as a means of capturing life’s memories. He felt compelled to capture those special moments in his life with friends and family so they had a keepsake forever and a day. It was these very friends that soon noted his talent behind the lens.
“People started saying that they really liked what I was doing, so when we arrived in Australia I decided to step it up a bit. I got a better camera and then more better cameras, and three years ago I decided to really do the whole leap into that side of things and get into it commercially.”
It is here that we need to take a step back and understand what fate befell Yann for him to undertake his journey to our distant shores.
“I was a very high-end pastry chef, working with some of the best chefs in Paris. My career was on the rise and I was preparing for a world contest of sugar art. But just before the competition, I had this motorbike crash and it crushed my leg and arm. I was 23 at the time.”
Yann was hit by a truck that had run a red light. It crashed directly into his side. It’s what we Australians know as a T-bone accident.
“I broke my bike in half. My whole leg was crushed and my hand was almost detached. It was a massive motorbike crash – like something that shatters your life for real. I very nearly died.”
After a long recovery and learning to walk again over the course of two years, Yann returned as a pastry chef but constantly being on his feet all day after such a catastrophic accident took its toll on his body, but not his mind.
“It pretty much broke my career, but I didn’t care about that aspect because I knew that something would happen. Since that day, I’ve always told myself to not plan too much – to go with the flow, but go hard with the flow.
“If something happens, go with it. That brought me to not plan too much in my shoots. I always tell my assistant to make a shot list but learn to change things around to suit the moment – to be organised but also go with the flow. That’s exactly how I handle my life, and that’s what this accident brought me.”
It’s an inspiring outlook on life, and one you can instantly see through his steely gaze. Yann lives his life with zeal and passion. You can see his commitment to this ideal and I must confess, hearing Yann utter these carefully chosen words, and the manner in which he expressed it, gave me goosebumps. It is surely a reminder to us all to live our life in the moment because we so readily forget this simple ethos.
Following the accident Yann and his girlfriend considered their next steps and decided to “change life” which entailed a move to Australia. “Aurélie was a massive support. We kind of made the same decision together and wanted to see where life could take us. We wanted to do what we love and start enjoying every day, so we decided to pack up only what we needed and sell the rest.
“We spent two years in Byron and then came up here to the Sunshine Coast. We have lived here for 13 years now and have two beautiful daughters, Léna and
Charlie, aged nine and four.”
Through this period Yann launched his business WalkAndSee Media where he is a visual storyteller/ videographer extraordinaire working with businesses the likes of Suzuki, Surfing Queensland, Surfline, Pangea Maps, Heads of Noosa brewery and various fashion and lifestyle brands. One of the projects he has been working on most recently is with Travis Fimmel and the new beer brand he co-founded called Travla.
“I love when people get together and bounce ideas off each other, and I learnt a lot working alongside such a creative person.”
Following his shoot with Travla, when Yann and I caught up, he informed me he was soon to jet off to Sri Lanka. Ohh, the life. Jokes aside, you can tell how hard Yann works and as they say, the harder you work, the luckier you become.
“I got contacted by the producer of the film, which is a Sri Lankan guy that used to be a programer in New York and is now back in Sri Lanka with his wife and kids. He sponsors some of the riders that we were filming in Sri Lanka along with a crew of surfers that were part of the Sri Lankan Olympic team. They are really good surfers. I am leaving soon to shoot over there. It’s going to be something really big I think.
“We will then travel a bit with the film. We are going to use our network to show it in as many destinations as possible, in particular Sri Lanka, here in Noosa and hopefully in San Francisco and France.
“Our main goal is to promote that country because it’s amazing. It’s got incredible surfers but no money to promote them.”
The trip sounded incredible, and as some of these photos lay testament, it was. Yann forwarded a few of the photos before we went to print.
With such a diverse array of clients, I asked whether this presented particular challenges to him and whether it also entailed investing in an extensive amount of different gear.
“One thing that a friend and a very good artist told me when I started pursuing videography commercially was, ‘Mate, you’ll have to find a line and keep it. People need to recognise you for that line.’ I fully heard him, but I disagreed straight away because I didn’t think that it applied to who I am.
“It could be that it worked for him, because when you think about painting, it’s true, you don’t want to paint with oil and suddenly you paint with water colours or something else – people need to recognise your style. But with photography and videography, because we show the world, we have to be able to show every part of the world and every category of the world. So, I don’t want to be put in a box. I think we live in a world where we need to be adaptable.”
This brings me back to my original point about being true to yourself and what feels right to you, as opposed to perhaps the conventional approach.
“I grew up doing this. I may not be formally qualified but I have been to the school of life. I guess that is why my perception and intuition is different to someone that has learned it at university. I didn’t want to get into school, or learn how it’s done, because I didn’t want to lose that organic vision because I felt that’s what makes it interesting.
“I love to plan my shoots, but I leave room for the unplanned side of it too. I like the organic nature of the unplanned and being in the magic of the moment.
“However, that is something that you can’t have in Hollywood. There’s massive money at stake and every single step has to be written down. It kind of breaks the magic of the moment.”
Considering the trash fire that has erupted in Hollywood at present, perhaps this pursuit has been wisely avoided by Yann. In case you are unaware, chaos has ensued as a result of big production companies beginning to entertain the idea of using AI to substitute the distinctive talent and imagination of writers and actors, who are already tethered by a system that values profit conservatism over creativity.
Considering where many creative industries (mostly the ones with a big commercial bosses behind the helm) are heading right now, it seems that art in all its forms is straying more and more away from challenging, fresh and unique brush strokes and more and more towards commercial, and what some may describe as boring, plain money-making crap.
This is why, in an industry of painstaking, controlled perfectionism, Yann’s organic shots are just insanely refreshing to look at.
This leads me to Yann’s gear, which is always a topic of interest for aspiring videographers and photographers alike.
“I have been using Sony gear for quite a while. There’s something to it, and the form factor is a big deal. I’ve got all my gear in that brand, so it’s always felt silly to change just because of a trend.
“Sony is comfortable, but Canon and Blackmagic are also amazing. Anything is good as long as you know what you’re doing. I just keep Sony because I love the form factor and the fact that it’s a bit smaller. Their lens range is also amazing and good for what I’m doing. It’s perfect both size and quality wise.”
As Yann reaffirms though, great gear doesn’t necessarily make for great work. Personally, I have a set of tools at home but I can assure you my wife does not even remotely consider me a tradesman. I am possibly more like Frank Spencer. Our younger readers won’t even know who he is but suffice to say, clothes may maketh the man but tools certainly don’t maketh the tradesman.
“It’s not really the gear, it’s what you do with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got really good gear. I’m working with the Sony A7S III and Sony R IV and it gets me amazing videos and photos, but if you give that to someone that doesn’t know how to use it, they will give you shit.
“People talk about the colour science of say Sony and Canon, and yes, of course they’ve got different science, but give it to someone that doesn’t know how to edit, and it too will look crap. Give it to someone who knows how to edit, and both Sony and Canon will look amazing and vice versa. I think it’s just about always knowing the gear.”
In terms of water housing, Yann uses SeaFrogs.
“What I love about my SeaFrogs is that, in the housing, there are these little details like a pump that goes into it so you can create a vacuum seal inside it. I’ve never had any fog, which is amazing for me. It’s also got an LED for leaking, so if any leaking happens you can see it straight away. That was a game changer for me.
“When it comes to the form factor, it’s a little smaller than the rest but that’s a good thing. I have been in really hardcore situations, and I’ve never had any issue with it, so I’ll keep working with it. I’ve always said I’ll stay with the team that works. If I wasn’t happy at one stage, I would have gone for something else.”
And this brings us to surfing. As we are all aware, there is great surf in France. Most of us have heard of Biarritz, Hossegor and Lacanau, but how far are they from the French capital?
“I was pretty much a holiday surfer and snowboarding, and skateboarding was the link between those times. It’s only since I arrived in Australia 13 years ago that surfing became an entire part of my life routine.
“We mainly surfed all through summertime and then snowboarded during the wintertime because it’s very easy to access. Going to the snow takes six hours by train, but it goes pretty quick. I’ve always been into that stuff and getting the cameras for it. I shot a lot of skateboarding too.”
I must confess I have always envied those who reside in a place where surfing and snowboarding are a stone’s throw away. Living on the Sunshine Coast, I may be close to the surf but the snow is a couple of days drive.
This explains how Yann became an avid surfer, snowboarder and skater, but I was curious as to how his relationship with the two top blokes behind Thomas Surfboards, co-founders Thomas Bexon and Jake Bowrey, developed.
“I met Jake when I was living here at the Sunshine Coast. When we first came here, 10 years ago, I was always in the water. I met both him and then Thomas back when Jake was still a glasser at Classic Malibu. We have stayed very close friends ever since.”
That explains the relationship, but I was equally interested how a talented videographer ended up working with them at the Thomas Surfboards factory. I thought to myself, surely this guy can’t be a surfboard shaper too.
Many of us are lucky to possess one talent let alone a myriad of gifts. “No, I’ve made some boards, but nothing professional. I’m not a shaper. I’m surrounded by amazing craftsmen, and I will never say that I am a selfshaper, but if you give me a blank, I can make a board that works. It’s so good to see it under your feet when you are surfing.
“That’s the thing, like everything that I love doing, I need to understand the beginning of the idea and then I really get the whole concept of what I like. That’s why I work with surfboards, that’s why I do all of this stuff.
“Plus, when I’m surrounded with all of these guys it’s hard to not enjoy it. There’s always something happening, there’s always an idea coming up that’s so cool and then boom, it brings you some other vision. It’s so good to work with these dudes and be surrounded with that. I don’t want to leave that any time soon.
“Anyhow, I don’t shape for them, but I cut boards for them one day a week. I was a furniture maker for about three years of my life.”
There he goes, another bloody talent. While I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, his never-ending list of talents was starting to piss me off. As always Yann was as humble as could be.
“Yes, I worked as furniture maker. That was after my accident when I was in the transition of becoming a full-time videographer. One of my dreams was to work with timber. So, I did that a bit, learned the CNC machine (automated cutting machine used in furniture construction as well as pre-shaping surfboard blanks) and that lead me to getting involved with Thomas and Jake.”
As for the future, Yann will continue to pursue what comes naturally and go with the flow.
“I just want to keep doing what I want to do at the moment. It’s been a few months since we had all of those issues last year (Covid). The main thing for me now is just to really get into the organic flow of life. That’s the main thing that I want to bring with me – to just enjoy it.
“I could stay from dark to dark in my studio, editing a real good piece, and I’ll be the happiest man, but the next day I could be out all day in the water, and that will be my happiest day.
“I’m really trying to say to people that I go with the flow, I go organically. That’s the main thing that I want people to understand about me is that I’m hard to put in a cage. If you let me follow my stuff, something good will happen and then we can work together.”
For those on the Sunshine Coast who are interested in checking out some of Yann’s still photography work he has a photo exhibition in Noosa on the 28th of October at L’air Studio in Noosaville. For his portfolio of videography and still work, you can check it all out at walkandseemedia.com or go to his Instagram handle walkandseemedia.