Setting off to photograph families in Laos, documentary and portrait photographer Rémi Chapeaublanc (whose previous portrait project “Gods & Beasts” brought him to Mongolia) took with him the Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash, his friend Maria Rouge to assist and Jules Pajot, a filmmaker to capture footage of it all.
After taking several different forms of transportation, the crew arrived in north Laos where they found a translator and guide to help them along their one-week journey. “What usually takes me two weeks took two days with his help,” Chapeaublanc says of the guide. “When you travel without a guide and you don’t speak the language, it takes a very long time to explain things. You have to make a real effort to understand each other.”
It rained for the first day of portraits in the Phayong village of Laos, but that was the least of the French photographer’s worries. Though the portraits had that signature stark Chapeaublanc drama to them, he still wasn’t entirely satisfied with the results—the shadows were falling off behind the people and the backgrounds seemed to get lost, almost as if they were somehow separated from the subjects.
He was worried about figuring out a solution that night, but after sleeping on it, Chapeaublanc woke up with an idea: he would set up a flash behind the houses’ bamboo walls, letting the light peek through the cracks, creating much more of a presence and a connection between the backgrounds and the people.
He shot more portraits in Sop Khan, then in Moug Douk before the trip came to a close. When Pajot asked him for advice on dealing with travel anxiety, this is what Chapeaublanc offered (a philosophy that should sound very familiar to wedding photographers):
“My way of traveling is to give up my position of decision maker and completely let myself go and see how situations unfold,” he says. “I deal with this kind of situation by waiting, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that things always end up in exactly the right way.”