#TrueCalling: Tahiana Chabanis Andriamanjay

IN COLLABORATION WITH HUAWEI,
featuring photos shot/edited on the new Huawei P10, co-engineered with Leica.

Why do we do what we do? What is it that drives us, day after day, to pour our time, effort, and our heart and soul into the art, the beauty, the solutions and magic we create?

We pursue our dreams and chase them into our reality not because it is the most natural thing to do, or the easier way to live. Quite the contrary. It is hard work, it is dedication (sometimes to the point of obsession — do we see a few nods?), and many have described it to be a lonely journey. So why do we do what we do? Because, quite simply, when all is said and done, it gives us joy and feeds our life’s purpose. And hopefully, by doing what we do, we’d be spreading a little of that joy, and a little light to the people around us and, who knows, the rest of the world.

In a new seven-part series entitled #TrueCalling, we’ve partnered up with Huawei to bring you the stories of seven women — creators,

doers and, yes, dreamers — to find out what makes them tick. How has whipping up a new recipe, making sculptures, or capturing moments from around the world, for example, brought them happiness? What interesting lessons, people and ideas have they encountered along the way? We’re going to give you a glimpse into their worlds through our lens.

This week, we hung out with jet-setting art director and photographer Tahiana Chabanis Andriamanjay at her loft. With a multi-cultural, artistic background (she was born in Madagascar, raised and worked in Paris and is now based in Singapore), a peripatetic lifestyle, and a picturesque Instagram account that is guaranteed to give one a serious case of wanderlust, Tahiana intrigues us with her view of the world and this elusive thing called creativity.

  

SOMETIMES, THE SIMPLEST AND MOST BASIC THINGS AROUND YOU MIGHT BE THE MOST INTERESTING.

First of all, your photos are amazing. When did you first discovered your passion and gift for photography and creating?
Tahiana Chabanis Andriamanjay: Thanks for the compliment! I don’t really see myself as having a gift, but, coming from a family of musicians and artists, I’ve been interested in creative activities since childhood. My great-grandfather was a pianist and music teacher. My grandmas were amazing seamstresses. My father and his brothers play multiple instruments and they’ve all played in different bands. I attended my first rock concert when I was two years old. I grew up learning, trying and experimenting with many different creative pursuits like music, modern jazz dance, ceramics, sewing, painting and, of course, photography. Because I was given this liberty and encouragement to try anything, I really had the chance to find the best way for me to express myself.

How did you eventually decide that photography was it
TCA: I studied arts and communication at school. I had no specific career in mind, but I was lucky enough to have teachers who always pushed me to discover and use various media: Print, films, digital… Photography wasn’t at that time something I had felt comfortable with. I remember my first years as a designer in a digital agency, I was so impressed by some seniors who were taking amazing shots by themselves just because they couldn’t find suitable options online. I never felt I could do the same.

I only got myself into photography in 2008, when I started my blog, le blog d’Olive. Its first purpose was to be a moodboard of the things I liked or discovered every day at the time. I had just left the countryside where I lived for Paris, so I wanted to document the best coffee places I had discovered, my favourite galleries, where to get an amazing brunch, et cetera, just to remember them.

At the end of my first year working at the agency, I could finally afford to buy a camera, and I’d go on short trips across Europe — it was around that time that I really took an interest in photography, and I fell in love with it quickly and totally.

Do you think that not having been trained conventionally has allowed you to create in an out-of-the-box manner, and capture moments with your heart?
TCA: 
Capturing interesting moments obviously involves emotions, but you also need a good sense of composition (and bit of luck as well). Learning by myself, I had to experiment and find out how to use my camera, and come up with what felt like the ‘right’ way to create a good picture. This helped me create my own views and perspectives on photography, and develop some kind of personal style. But at the same time, my eyes were already trained to see, analyse and deconstruct art, so that made it a bit easier. I was also consuming a lot of books and online articles on photography. In that sense, a lot of what I do really comes from what others have done before me.

What has looking through a lens taught you to see?
TCA: Static visuals can be very frustrating. When trying to depict a moving scene, it is difficult to only capture one specific frame stuck in time to express an entire moment. But it’s also what makes it all the more powerful when you get it right. Looking through a lens has taught me to pay attention to the little moments happening every day, and how to capture them to faithfully translate them in a single shot. I’ve also learned that sometimes, the simplest and most basic things around you might be the most interesting.

Do you have a favourite photo? What’s the story behind it?
TCA: 
This is a very hard question because I’m very critical when it comes to my work. If I had to pick one, it’d be more for the story than the aesthetic, and it would definitely be one that I did in Singapore for a fashion brand in a lalang field. I was chasing the morning light, so the team had to start working at 4/5am in order to catch the rising sun — in addition to all the challenges attached to an outdoor shoot. It was my first fashion shoot behind the camera. I’m usually more experienced in directing than being the eye behind the camera, so it made the moment a really sporty experience. I had to crawl, roll in the fields, get wet, and I was perspiring like hell when the sun started to rise… Teamwork was what really made it happen and, beyond all the difficulties, it was a lot of fun!

How good you become only depends on how far you’re ready and willing to go for it, and how much of your life you’re ready to dedicate to it.

Looking through a lens has taught me to pay attention to the little moments happening every day.

Travelling, it appears, is big part of your life and creative work. You’ve lived a rather peripatetic life growing up, moving from Madagascar to Paris, and now Singapore. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about life from observing the different cultures and people?
TCA: Being born in Madagascar, raised in France and having family around the globe taught me to embrace culture, be curious, and above all, be open minded. When I arrived in Singapore three years ago, the city was just perfect for me! There are so many cultures existing together here that you inevitably meet people with completely different backgrounds almost on a daily basis. And inevitably, we realise we have so much to learn from each other, but also a lot in common! I’ve also noticed that many local dishes from Madagascar happen to be very similar to Indonesian, Filipino or even Chinese cuisine. So I kind of feel like homed here.

Do you think we all have a calling in life? What’s your take on that? Do you think you have found yours?  
TCA: 
What I believe is that there isn’t only one but many things you could be good at in life. How good you become only depends on how far you’re ready and willing to go for it, and how much of your life you’re ready to dedicate to it. Giving it the name “calling”, I believe, comes later, once you’ve spent enough time on it that you can’t really go back on your choice! I have a bit of an addictive personality, so when I start something, I need to dive as deep into it as I can, until I feel like it’s time to move on to something else. So far, it hasn’t happened with photography, so that could be the closest thing to a calling for me: Something I never feel the need to move on from.

We need to talk about your Instagram. Obviously, it looks amazing, and you have quite a following. Do you have any tips on how to create good content on this social media platform?
TCA: It’s hard to give you a specific formula as I hardly even know how and why myself! Above taking and posting pictures I like, I think what makes people follow you on Instagram is your personality and sense of aesthetics. The more unique and authentic you are, and the more your posts reflect what you really are, the easier it becomes for everyone to understand — and like — what you do.

There’s a saying: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up to work.” What do you think? And what do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
TCA: I still consider myself very much an amateur regarding photography. And I do work mostly when inspiration strikes, even though I am finding more and more ways to look for it. From my own experience, I’d say that if you want it to work, in any kind of activity, you have to observe, get inspired, have references, and know/learn a lot from what people have done before you to be able to find your own path. But when I’m stuck, lost or drained, I recharge my energy by doing some very simple things, like taking a good ol’ nap, cooking, going for a walk, hanging out with friends… simple moments that don’t ask too much of me!

Finally, what’s your mantra or favourite quote?
TCA: I’ve always liked “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I’m always trying to learn new things, and surrounding myself with people who are more talented, and know a lot more than I do.

PHOTOGRAPHY & ART DIRECTION  //  Karman Tse
SHOT ON  //  Huawei P10, co-engineered with Leica

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