PROFILE

Jérôme Gence

A man in silhouette raises his arms towards the ceiling of his apartment, which is filled with Hatsune Miku collectibles.

Canon Ambassador Jérôme Gence is fascinated by the impact technology is having on our lives. This image features Rodgers, one of his subjects, showing off his Hatsune Miku collectibles, in his apartment in Tokyo, Japan. Hatsune Miku is a virtual idol created to promote voice synthesizer software. "All these goodies suspended on the ceiling help Rodgers to decorate his life," explains Jérôme. "The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM was the perfect lens for capturing the atmosphere and all the small details." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 18mm, 1/5 sec, f/4 and ISO1600. © Jérôme Gence

"When I discover a great story, I get a strong gut feeling about it," says documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador Jérôme Gence. "When my body does that, it means I know it's something I want to talk about in my images."

Jérôme experiences this visceral feeling when working on stories focusing on the impact of the internet and new technologies on people's lives. His enthusiasm and dedication have been rewarded with success. During the past four years, Jérôme's images have featured in magazines including Le Figaro, Stern, Le Monde and on National Geographic's website, and in 2020 he won the Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Award for documentary work with a social purpose.
Jérôme, who was born in 1984, says his curiosity about the world came from growing up on Réunion Island, a remote French department in the Indian Ocean. "It's a beautiful island, but being there helped feed my curiosity, because I was always imagining what was beyond the ocean," the photographer says. "I was really interested in going abroad, to see and explore things I didn't know about."

After school, Jérôme moved to France to study for a master's degree in Entrepreneurship at a university in Paris. He then began working as a data analyst, a job he continues to do today for international brands.
A black and white headshot of Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Jérôme Gence, taken by Chi-Hui Lin.

Locations: Paris, France and Taipei, Taiwan
Specialist area: Documentary
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
 A woman works at a co-working space in Canggu, Bali. On the wall in front of her is an idyllic beach scene.

Jeje, an Indonesian digital nomad, working alone at Dojo Bali Coworking in Canggu, Bali. "I found a certain feeling of loneliness in this scene," says Jérôme. "This young woman was working alone in a co-working space in front of a paradise beach scene." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 28mm, 1/20 sec, f/4 and ISO640. © Jérôme Gence

However, the turning point in his life came in 2013 when, inspired by a BBC documentary about Darjeeling in West Bengal, India, Jérôme began a long overland journey from Paris to the Himalayas via several countries. He took a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) to document the journey.

His high-quality images from the trip were subsequently exhibited at Atelier Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an art gallery in Paris, in 2016. Jérôme also got to know the French photographer Éric Valli, who advised him to find his own specialist area and explore it through documentary stories.

Inspired by the suggestion, he chose a subject he already knew well. "As a data analyst, I observed how the internet was changing society and the ways companies can make people addicted to the services they provide," Jérôme says. "I realised nobody in photography was dedicated to this topic, although there are so many things to say about it. I started to look for stories in that direction, and I found photography gave me a voice to explain what's behind these new technologies."
 A shot, tinged with green, of a young live-streamer looking out of a doorway from behind transparent sheeting.

"When I first started to photograph Monjie, a young live-streamer, she was not very comfortable with the camera," Jérôme recalls. "She was training at the agency that just hired her, so I wanted to be as discreet as possible. Using the compact Canon PowerShot G5 X was the perfect option. It helped Monjie remain herself without compromising the quality of the photographs. To me, this is the definition of a great camera: a tool that helps you to capture the true essence of your characters." Taken on a Canon PowerShot G5 X (now succeeded by the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II) at 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO125. © Jérôme Gence

Since then, Jérôme has produced long-term projects on a range of internet-related subjects, mostly based in Asia. They include Livestreamers: Geishas of the Internet, a series examining the lives of young women who broadcast themselves online. Another is Virtual Singers: I Love a Hologram, which looks at the phenomenon of Japanese computer-created digital divas such as Hatsune Miku.

Jérôme's current project, Telework, documents the ongoing transformation of lives through home working and what it means for individuals and society as a whole. To shoot this project, he recently started using the Canon EOS R5. "It's an incredible camera – in terms of specifications, it's just crazy," he says. "It's a great tool."

Jérôme's work today is still driven by the sense of curiosity he developed as a child. "I haven't yet found the answers to all my questions," he says. "I think the reason I keep telling stories is that I'm always trying to find explanations for myself, as well as showcasing topics that are important to others."
You didn't study photography at school or university. How did you teach yourself?
"I loved to read photography magazines and books and learnt a lot from them. When I bought my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I read the manual and found out all I needed to take pictures. For me, photography is not about which exposure mode you use; it's about what you want to show. That's what matters the most."

How do you persuade people to be photographed?
"I simply introduce myself and the people I work with, then explain the reason we would like to know more about them. I also share my previous work with them. It's really important to explain your project and to reply to their questions. It's all about trust. People feel touched that you're ready to dedicate months to cover a part of their story."

How often do you meet your subjects?
"I like to meet my subjects many times and I become really obsessed with the people I photograph. I could travel thousands of kilometres just to document something that is happening in their life. I like to follow and discover everything about them. I may have a camera with me all the time, but that doesn't mean I use it all the time. You get to know when it's the right time to use it – and when it isn't."

What do you like about shooting long-term projects?
"For me, long-term projects are the quest to understand everything I'm running away from: an ultra-connected world, driven by social media and immediacy, where everything tends to be the same. When I'm doing these stories, I isolate myself from my own world so I can dive inside the topic and cover all aspects. It's very important for me to make sure that my photos, and the story, reflect the lives of the people I'm photographing as much as possible."

One thing I know

Jérôme Gence

"Editors are often sent documentary stories on the same subjects, so if you want your work to be published, it's important to choose original topics to photograph. However, it's not just about the theme you choose, but how you photograph it. You have to try new angles, new perspectives, new ways of storytelling."

Website: www.jeromegence.com

Jérôme Gence's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

A beautifully engineered and thoroughly accomplished all-rounder that captures every nuance, every colour and every detail. Jérôme says: "The EOS 5D Mark II was my first professional camera. I used it on my Himalayas trip and it changed my life. I upgraded to the Mark IV because the frame rate is much better. The improved high ISO performance is also an advantage when I'm working indoors, because I never use artificial light. I still use the Mark II as a backup, though."

Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II

The latest version of the camera Jérôme uses is a premium compact camera with a high-quality 5x zoom for superb results whatever you're photographing. "I always make sure I put the Canon PowerShot G5 X in my bag. It's the model I use to photograph things I want to remember while I'm travelling. The compact size, combined with the great specs, mean it's the perfect camera for approaching people," says Jérôme.

Lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "This is an amazing lens. To me it's the best lens for storytelling because I stay close to people when I photograph them," says Jérôme.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

The successor to the lens Jérôme favours is a premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, for the highest image quality possible even in low-light conditions. Jérôme says: "I use the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens when I'm shooting in people's homes in Asia, because often the rooms are small. It also helps to capture many details in a single frame."

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

The latest version of the lens Jérôme uses is a high quality zoom with innovative lens display and Nano USM. "I really love the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM and used it a lot when I was travelling in the Himalayas. It offers a great all-purpose zoom in a compact size," says Jérôme.

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