Take It From Me: Florent Mamelle

Know any volcano photographers around? Well, you do now! Florent talks photography and settling into Malaysia as an expat of eight years.

by / Published: 14 Mar 2017

Take It From Me: Florent Mamelle

Occupation: Volcano photographer
Nationality: French
Time in Malaysia:
8 years

Making Malaysia home

Between 2000 and 2009, I thought about moving to Southeast Asia. I sold my business, thinking ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it’. My kids were four and seven years old, so it was the right time for them to have an English education. My wife and I are from Paris and Lyon – big cities – and I need to live in a city for my business. We couldn’t stay in Bali, too small; Jakarta, too messy. The shortlist was Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. We chose Kuala Lumpur because of its infrastructure and because we could speak English there.

Learning Malay

Each time I want to take lessons to learn Bahasa Malaysia there are always Malaysians who ask me, “Why do you want to do this? You don’t need to!” But I would like to learn! Of course I’ve picked up a few words already, like makan and boleh.

Favourite festival to shoot

Due to my travels, I’ve begun to understand Buddhist and Indian culture quite well. Every year, I go with a friend to Thaipusam and spend one or two days just shooting. It’s very difficult actually as there’s not much light and you have to catch the moment as people are constantly moving. I don’t like to use the flash, so it’s really good practice for taking portraits and pictures in low light.

Similar to France

Malaysians and French love food! If I could introduce something from the French culture here, it would be more choices of French food. There are a few places here that serve French food, but it’s quite expensive. In Bangkok and Cambodia, there are so many places to find really good, reasonably priced French food. Why not here in Malaysia too?

Favourite exhibition space

If I had to choose, my favourite space would be White Box at Publika. I like the setting as you can move the exhibition walls around. It was the first place I wanted to exhibit my photography and I did a dual exhibition there with a friend once. We’re planning to exhibit here again in the future.

Favourite dish

My favourite dish here is char kuey teow! I love it! I don’t have a particular place; if I see a stall selling char kuey teow, I’ll just park and go for it. Malaysia is good for food. If I’m in town, I’ll be at Pavilion, Bukit Bintang or Jalan Alor, which is really nice for seafood.

Photography tips

When people see something nice, they don’t move. They take a picture from where they are and zoom. My first piece of advice: use your legs, you’ll see different perspectives. Think before taking pictures. Know the limitation of your device, be it a mobile phone or professional camera. I use a prime lens so I don’t use the zoom often. If I were to take a picture of your face, I’ll use an 85mm or 50mm lens depending on what I want, like do I want your eyes sharp and everything else blurred, or do I want something in the background clear? You have to know what you want.

Photographer community

When you go to exhibitions, you meet crazy photographers or travellers who have been all around the world. Every time we meet, they give me new ideas and my list of places to visit grows longer. That’s how I plan ahead and know what’s coming up ahead of time like a ceremony in Papua New Guinea in August, a Festival of Lights in Myanmar in October – the list goes on. And in between, there are always the volcanoes.

Tips for Expats

Our friends and family are in Paris, so we had to find a new balance. My family and I have been travelling around Southeast Asia for quite some time, so it was actually easy for us to adapt. Be open-minded and don’t stick to only one place like KLCC!