Héléna el Mokni is one of the most talented rally photographers. She puts a lot of character in her pictures. I had the opportunity to talk and meet her. We discussed WRC, love for film, print and Italian comedy.
– Where are you from?
– I’m from France, I was born in Grasse and grew up in Antibes. I really enjoy this cosy area.
– What are you working on at the moment?
– As you know this is the end of the year so I have plenty of time to relax and to focus on different things. I’m working on a new book project. I drive through the villages and catch the lights, architectures, people and old adverts. I work with my Nikon F and the rolls. Also, I paint with watercolors.
– I love photographing on film as well. Do you take film camera to rallies also?
– Yes! I take my polaroid and my Nikon on the rallies. I tried to do photos of the drivers and cars during the rally but it is very hard, you have just few seconds sometimes and I need to focus on the priority which is to bring back photos for the website.
But I can enjoy to use those 2 during my recce for example. I made an experience in Mexico, I shot the same photo with my Nikon F, and one photo with the Canon 5D MkIII and 24-105 lens. When I developed the film and printed the photo from the Canon, I just noticed again a huge difference in quality, nothing is better than shooting with rolls. I have to shoot with digital today because of the expectations of my clients but everytime I have the opportunity I leave my digital camera at home!
– I feel you’re quite fascinated by print, why do you do books in our digital age?
– Because everything is “virtual” nowadays, I’m a bit old fashion girl but I like authenticity. There is much more emotion in reading a real book on paper, you have the smell, you can write notes on it, or go back quickly 20 pages backwards easily if you need. You have like a map in your brain and everything keeps feelings and senses alive doing this way. Alike photo books for example, I used to stock photos – too many – on my computer. Everytime I wanted to show something to my friends or family, we had to sit in front of the computer. I decided to print them and create photo albums. I enjoy it so much! And my friends too! You see a story, you can compare photos, you have several pictures on each page so everybody comments about it, it is much more interactive and alive.
– How would you describe yourself?
– First thing that comes to my mind is that I’m a perfectionist. I hate to do thing half, its either fully, either nothing. And when I do it fully, it has to be perfect.. I hardly forgive myself, I’m actually learning how to do so!
I’m very dedicated and patient, that’s why sometimes I wait minutes or hours to get the picture I want. I don’t like to shoot just to get a shot and tell myself “ok, this is done”. I see photography as an art, more than a job or something that provides me money to live.
I’m quite creative too, for each photo report I write notes on a paper of what I could photograph differently, and then I try to do it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not, but it’s on the list for the next time.
– What inspires you?
– Life. The lights, the landscapes. I love just to sit and listen to the wind coming through the leaves, the sound of the waves while sitting on the beach. Watching the sunrise, watching people. What also boosts me is the cinema, I’m an art lover in many aspect and also I love to go to movies, almost everyday. Watching old italian movies make me laugh a lot and this is a kind of a fuel to keep me happy.
– Would you say that Italian art house movies are your favorite?
– I could say yes. I love movies from Comencini, Scola, Germi, Risi.. they had the talent to talk about problems of our society and on another hand the scripts were originals, very different from each other and most of it funny. You could laugh about something sad and still it was touching you.
– Do you enjoy modern cinema? What was the last moving picture that touched your heart?
– A lot! I saw many movies lately. A documentary particularly touched me, it is the french movie “Demain” that shows what alternatives could be done to face the change in the climate. As a movie, “Youth” and the last Woody Allen film “Irrational man”.
– So, tell me what keeps you busy lately?
– All year through I’ve been working hard on the Volkswagen Motorsport Wallbook project. It is an artistic project, I really enjoy doing it. Every year is a new challenge. We have to chase new ideas, improve the design and I have to introduce different photos. That’s a great challenge.
– You worked for VW Motorsport for quite a while now. Will it be true to say that they are your main client?
– How do you get photography assignments? Through an agency or you’re a well-established freelancer?
– As a freelancer, I created a network of contacts. It was tough and still it is not enough, you need to fight a lot in this business.
– What for you is the most enjoyable part of motorsport photography?
– Travelling. I meet different people, discover new cultures and also I could understand the world better, which is so complex. I remember the first time I went to Mexico, I had butterflies in my belly for months after my trip. I was so happy to have seen something so different than what I was used to.
– Like they say, how can you know anything about your country if your country is the only thing you know. Tell me a story of a great acquaintance with person or culture that you made.
– Difficult to choose.. I would say that Mexico was something that changed me a lot. The first time I came there I saw people struggling in life, but still smiling and welcoming us. The opposite of our European unsatisfied culture..
I remember the moment when an accident had just happened on the highway. Some people were dead, lying on the road. We had to drive to the podium. My friend told me “don’t look!” I looked and I don’t regret. In France, if people have an accident, everybody is slowing down to see what happened, like vicious, then they criticize, talk bad. But there, a crowd of people was around, they didn’t stop by curiosity, they were praying.. a very honorable attitude.
– You’re mostly involved with rallying, is there a specific driver/team you cheer more than others?
– I really like Jari-Matti Latvala, his friendly attitude but mostly his driving style, always sideways!
– Pictures make history and freeze moments, do you feel sad that you missed some great milestones of rallying: if there was a time machine, where would you like to come back?
– I would love to go back 20-30 years ago yes! We were more free, the competition was open and everything could change in the overall within one stage! And of course the Safari.. a dream..
– What is your highlight of the year?
– When I got next to an elephant in Thailand.. it was so tall I was impressed and I had to control myself not to run away!
– Why do you wake up in the morning?
– To enjoy the gift of life.
You can check more work by Héléna on her website: www.helenaelmokni.com