Q&A – Philippe Graton | Photographer, author: ‘We can bring Michel Vaillant back to Macau for a new adventure’

French photographer, writer and comic book author Philippe Graton was invited to the Macau Literary Festival 2017 “The Script Road.” He is hosting a photo exhibition and a display of the original prints of the album Rendez-vous à Macao (1983) at the Old Court Building.

Since 1994, Graton has written scenarios for television and for the comic series Michel Vaillant.

In 2012, he re-launched the adventures of Michel Vaillant with a new season.  At the end of 2015, he issued a 320-page illustrated biography of his father, Jean Graton, who originally created Michel Vaillant in 1957.

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the Michel Vaillant character. In an interview with the Times, Graton revealed that he is thinking about bringing Michel Vaillant back to Macau, and shared some stories about the comics series and his passion for photography.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – Are you really considering bringing Michel Vaillant back to Macau?

Philippe Graton (PG) – Thirty years after, I am thinking about bringing Michel Vaillant back to Macau, during my stay here for the Macau Literary Festival. I have been also observing places, thinking about what could be a new adventure for Michel Vaillant in Macau, because Macau has changed a lot with time.

Macau is still extremely interesting. It is very interesting to see it in a comic. There are a lot of clichés about Macau. Macau is not just casinos. Once you step a little bit aside, you see so many other things. […] I almost fell in love with Macau and the Macanese people, because they are very nice people. It is very charming, and it’s very interesting.

Culturally, you have people from not only Portugal and China, but all over the world. This mixing of culture makes them a little bit special; very open-minded to many things, interested in many things. So it seems that for all the nine days that I have been here, I have encountered very nice people and discovered the city. […] I was in an incredible hotel: the MGM hotel, which is fantastic with a lot of taste […] I have seen the construction site of the next MGM hotel in Cotai, which is simply amazing. I have been taking pictures there. I have been to Coloane Village: quiet places, with the trees, the small places, and you feel like being in Portugal. It’s so different, and you are one kilometer away. There is a rare richness that inspired me to write a scenario for the next comic. The Macau Grand Prix is also very spectacular. It’s one of the toughest races whether it is by car, or motorbike, it’s quite something. I think we can bring our character Michel Vaillant back to Macau for a new adventure. I am not sure, but I am really thinking about it.

MDT- Is this your first time in Macau?

PG – It is my first time [in Macau] – not in Asia, because I have been travelling to other places. But for Macau, I can tell you that it will not be my last.

MDT- How is Macau different from other Asian cities you have visited?

PG – It is very specific, and I think it is due to this Portuguese history. It’s not Asia, it’s not Portugal, we are somewhere else. Even here, for example, the Portuguese culture and the Portuguese cooking are influenced by the fact that Portugal has conquered many countries in the world. Macau is a place of travelers, so even the cooking has been influenced by all that. You are not eating the same way you eat in Lisboa, for example, so all that is really, really interesting. Because it gives Macau a very strong identity.

MDT – Did you find Michel Vaillant interesting from the very beginning, while your father was developing the character?

PG – I [thought] my father had the most boring job on earth, because I never realized the glamour of it. At six in the morning, my father was in his studio and drawing, and he was doing that all day, and I would see him at dinner before going to bed.

So my father would disappear into the attic at the beginning of the day and come back at the end of the day. And I said that it was the stupidest work you could have. It was only at school that I saw in the eyes of my schoolmates, of my friends, that maybe he was doing something special. […] But soon my father brought me to races. And of course, I met a lot of very interesting people. Some great car drivers and things like that. Then I started working with him. It was just supposed to be giving him a hand, for a short time. But it just so happened that I continued. By accident, I started writing the stories of Michel Vaillant.

MDT- Is taking photos of celebrities the same as taking photos of strangers?

PG – Due to my job, I meet famous people. Whether I am taking a photograph of a king, or an actor, or a stranger, I have the same rules. I photograph them the same way. Some people say that is interesting because it captures different things than when [other] photographers take portraits of celebrities.

MDT – How was your talk at the School of the Nations [on Friday]?

PG – It was for pupils around 15 years old, so that’s not the easiest [audience]. You will never know if they are obliged, because of the teachers, to go listen to that guy, or if they are coming because they are interested. […] In my case, I didn’t prepare at all because I did not know what they were expecting from me and what I should be talking about. […] When I arrived, I showed them on the screen, in three or four minutes, how a comic is made. And I showed them a few photographs I took. They were very interested and asked a lot of questions that surprised me. I was quite happy not to have to make a long exposé for one and a half hours.

MDT – Why black and white pictures? Simply because you like it?

PG – Yes, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. Because I found life very complicated. There are many things in life; there are filming, movements, and colors. Taking photographs helps me understand things and people. Sometimes when I take photographs I understand much more of what I see. In reality, I am distracted by everything that is around me. The light that’s moving, the color, what people say. When you take photography, you focus on the essentials, especially in black and white. It’s the shapes, the lines and the expressions itself; you go from three dimensions to two.

It’s like a map that allows you to read what’s happening. I am taking pictures every day, and sometimes even of my everyday life, my children at the table waiting for dinner. We can’t wonder why we take pictures at that moment. When I look at these pictures afterward, I see things that I don’t see in real life.

The relationship between people, the way they stand around each other, the hierarchy: you don’t catch that in real life because it’s moving too fast. In photography, it really helps me to understand life and people, and to see things in a different way. I like black and white very much because of that. You go to what’s essential.

MDT – Are you interested in coming to Macau for another year of the Literary Festival?

PG – I would certainly come every year [if I could]. But they will not invite the same artists back.

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