We are super excited to be on the cover of Portrait Photography Magazine《人像摄影》, one of the most circulated photography magazines in China! We’d like to share our interview here in English!
A big shoutout to Sails Chong, a wonderful friend who always inspires me and helped make this happen.
Fashion without Borders
— Beauty of China through photographer MOJA’s lens
Awamu Moja's work is rich, harmonious and inclusive. He always interprets the exploration and interest in different cultures of the world in a unique style. In his view, the essence of fashion is the pursuit of beauty, without restrictions, regardless of national boundaries. “The process of finding beautiful pictures often puts us in a difficult position, and it is this kind of challenge and transcendence that constitutes the essence of happiness we have in our creations.”
A Luxembourg Photographer Who Fell in Love with China
Awamu Moja, a fashion photographer from Luxembourg, is surrounded by a group of professionals who love aesthetics, fashion, performance, architecture, graphic design and art. “Our photos are the result of teamwork, and the hierarchical structure depends only on the capabilities of everyone, and I am the link between all of these talents.”
In 2018, Moja came to China with his team and was deeply intrigued by Chinese history, culture and architecture. “I have never encountered such a vast and colorful country. Especially for photographers, it is a huge treasure house. The artistic culture of China impresses me the most, which can be summarized into two words: finess and details.” In Moja's view, people here can talk about tea, silk, paper, porcelain and calligraphy all day long, and discuss Confucianism, Taoism or Zen, and take so much care organising their lives around Feng Shui, Tai Chi, Yin Yang... “Calligraphy is an excellent example of complexity, diversity, finess, sacredness and ancient history. There are so many codes of conduct in China, and I must admit that it is difficult for foreigners, but it also makes the experience interesting.”
In Moja's opinion, a good photo means a challenge. “It must go beyond the line that you thought you could never cross. The process of finding beautiful pictures often puts us in a difficult position, and it is this kind of challenge and transcendence that constitutes what we have in our creations. The essence of happiness.”
Fashion is Art without Borders
The unique experience and background make Moja's art rich, diverse and integrated. “I was born in Africa, I am a Belgian descendant. I completed most of my studies in Italy and eventually chose to stay in Luxembourg. Now I work in 6 different languages. I can't choose my favorite country because I feel that my home is everywhere. Therefore, I naturally enter many different cultural markets around the world."
In China, Moja has collaborated with three well-known fashion designers to produce a series of legendary stories. The shooting locations were selected in Xichan Temple, Tulou and West Lake. He draws on household legends and characters, reinvents his characters in a personal way, and describes a unique and poetic China. “I want to understand different fashion cultures, try to re-interpret it by creating a visual story, and connect fashion with it, let the audience forget the reality, and immerse in the mysterious atmosphere full of magic.” He always tries to shoot in difficult locations with amazing backdrops and play among fashion, culture and history.
“I want to create a story that enhances and gives another dimension to the ‘regular’ fashion picture. This is the type of photo I like to take.”
Moja always has a unique insight into photography. He encourages young people who are passionate about photography: “Build a dream, never give up, no matter what people say, stick to your own creed and style. Opportunity always favors those who are prepared. The best work will always be in the next shot."
The Best Fashion Must be an Exchange of Artistic Views
Speaking of his love for fashion, Moja said: “Fashion allows everyone to express themselves easily and artistically. Fashion embellishes the men and women who pay attention to themselves. Fashion reflects the great creativity and thinking of fashion designers. Fashion is life. It is everywhere and characterise the human beings. Fashion is also the middle point of art, design, creativity and self-expression. Fashion is a historical witness of human behavior. Taking Hanfu as an example, it is an extremely interesting open book on Chinese Culture."
At the same time, in Moja's view, the threshold and requirements for fashion photography are very high, requiring a large amount of upfront preparation, human resources and financial support. “ In order to present the best results, our team will have at least 15 people. In addition to the photography, there will be stylists, costume designers, agents, magazine editors, etc.”
“The most difficult part for the photographer is to instill his ideas and artistic expressions into the team with these experienced and artistic backgrounds. The best fashion work is always the result of the exchanges of artistic views of all creators. It is not just the creation of the photographer, but the work of the entire team.”
Moja believes that the preparation phase before shooting is very important, especially the moodboard. “The photos we took in Fujian, China used 140 different moodboards, and we even digitalized 3D drawings of some places, such as the Tulou buildings, for the team to study the possibility of implementing different solutions on site. These 3D drawings have helped us greatly for the composition, space, and light direction."
To ensure the picture quality, Moja only uses the Phase One medium format camera at 100 MP and 150 MP, together with the German Schneider Blue Ring lenses. “I have almost all of the Schneider's lenses, and my favorite is the 80mm LS f/2.8 lens. I often use 45mm LS f/3.5 and 150mm LS f/2.8 IF lenses. I almost always shoot between f/11 and f/22, most often at f/16."
From War Photography to Fashion Photography
When Moja was only 10 years old, he clearly realized that he wanted to be a war photographer. "At the age of 15, I told my parents that I want to go to Italy for a holiday alone. This is just to appease my mother. In fact, I went to Belfast in Northern Ireland and took a lot of black and white photos about the war between Irish Nationalist and British sympathiser." In 1975, the 17-year-old Moja covered a story as a freelance writer on the famous Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry, when British soldiers shot and killed 28 Irish civilians. This experience confirmed his wish to become a war photographer. He chose communication and journalism as a major in the university.
In 1989, Moja covered for a well known French Agency, the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Spiritual Guide of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Teheran, Iran. “Where, I saw that almost all the pictures published by a large number of magazines were fake, and they were re-created after the event. After that, I decided to stop photography.”
In the next 27 years, Moja never touched the camera again. He completely changed his direction, created his own event planning company, and successfully produced many large-scale projects: Cannes Film Festival, UEFA Football Championship for important clients, such as MasterCard.
“Life led me through an unusual process, and at this point I want to pick up the camera again to accept the challenge of becoming one of the photographers known in the world.” Until 2016, art and fashion reignited Moja’s passion for photography. “I really like Nick Knight, Pamela Hanson, Ellen von Unwerth, Elizaveta Porodina, Lara Jade, Zhang Jingna, Sails Chong, Chen Man, and their works all have their own strong style.”
When talking about the future shooting plans, Moja said: "I want to use 15 art photos to interpret the famous Italian writer Dante's book "The Divine Comedy"; also participate in the UNICEF project on the precarious situation of children in Western Africa; in addition, at the next Cannes Film Festival, there is also a MOJA Photo Lab project with 6 photographers and 6 fashion designers..."