Photographer Interview: Ocean Morisset

There's something uniquely inspiring about self-taught photographers as they seem to posses a level of determination to learn the craft like no other. With this drive Haitian-born photographer Ocean Morisset has developed a talent I think is worthy of a photojournalism contract.

View Ocean Morisset's photojournalism and read his Brothaluva Cafe blog or friend him on Facebook.

D&B: Where are you from?

OM: I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and moved to Brooklyn, New York when I was 3 years old where I've been most of my life. I currently live in Harlem.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started - any
"formal" training?

OM: Well, I specialize in photojournalism and documentary photography, mostly project-driven, but I also enjoy exploring Fine Art photography.

I started shooting pictures when an ex gave me a camera (Canon AE-1) back in 2001. The relationship with my ex is over, but the one I have with photography continues to flourish!

I'm motivated by two things in photography; (natural) light and my emotional relationship to the light and subject matter. My feelings determine what vein I will shoot in and also whether I shoot in b/w or color.

I'm completely self-taught and really take pride in this fact though in 2005 I was accepted to the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop for Photojournalism, which I guess counts as "training", and further sealed my commitment to photography.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?

When I started, I was shooting a lot of slide (Kodachrome and Scala) film and 35mm (Tri-X) film. My first digital camera was a SONY know, the one you had to insert a floppy disk into?

Right now I'm sort of divided between Canon's and Nikon's, so I use both. I really enjoy the immediacy of digital photography. I do miss the darkroom, but I don't miss smelling those chemicals!

My technique is pretty straightforward; I shoot images with a "story" in mind and I prefer getting as close to the subject as the shot calls for, using short to medium focal lengths.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?

OM: I can't say I have any mentors per se, but some photographers who inspire me are Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Chester Higgins, Jr., James Nachtwey, Nan Goldin, and John Dugdale. All these photographers inspire me to have a greater sensitivity towards my subjects.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)

OM: None that come to mind.

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.

OM: Well, the journey has been an uphill battle towards establishing myself in a field where there are so many good photographers to speak of. Still, I view photography as a language.

Many people may speak the same language, but there are many different dialects and intonations. Everyone has something to say, a way of expressing themselves, and I believe each has a place at the table.

In the grand scheme of things I'm still somewhat of a newbie when compared to photographers with careers of over 20 years or more. This is my ninth year shooting images and I have to say, I've learned alot about myself and the world through photography. I cannot imagine my life without it.

The journey has been incredibly frustrating at times, especially due to being self-taught. Trial and error, and error and error. Finally, I'm seeing myself in my images.

I recognize my intentions and I'm starting to see a theme across my work, and all of it revolves around emotion and spirit and what I want to communicate to the world. The process is still ongoing for me, and I'm still making new discoveries about myself every day due to my exploration of life through photography.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?

OM: I want to leave a legacy of images for future generations to ponder the way the world has evolved. I want people to be inspired by my work. I want people to see life through my eyes and heart. I want to tell stories that educate and change people's viewpoints, especially if those viewpoints have been negative.

For example, I have a large body of work that focuses on the black Gay and Lesbian community. This community has been marginalized for so long because of homophobia and ignorance. I want to show the LGBT community in a positive light, highlighting its contributions to the larger black community and showing that we are really in fact all the same, with the same desires for life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

D&B: What's your dream photography project?

OM: Ha! My dream photography project is to travel the world shooting images of indigenous people and cultures. I find people fascinating and love to experience the "spirit" of different people around the world.

D&B: What's the biggest (life) lesson you've learned through photography?

OM: Be patient. Be in the moment. Be aware.

D&B: Tell us about your experience shooting in Haiti post-earthquake. Being Haitian yourself, were you able to detach yourself as a photographer from the suffering around you?

OM: When I traveled back to Haiti in April, I didn't go as a photojournalist necessarily. In fact, all I took was a small pocket camera with me. I went to Haiti to render medical care as a volunteer for Project Medishare. I'm a trained United States Air Force Medic and went to Haiti with the intentions of helping to treat the sick and wounded.

I did however, photo-document my experiences there when I could, but photography in this case wasn't my primary focus. I didn't want to confuse my mission for being being there. I should also state that I never really "detach" myself from any suffering that I may see, especially from my Haitian people.

Feeling the suffering (or joy) helps me to capture images that are in turn emotional, honest, and direct. This is why I enjoy photojournalism and why I never manipulate images in post-production or shoot highly "stylized" images . I photograph from my heart and like for the viewer to connect emotionally with my work.

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