From Photojournalist to Post Production, Joao Bolan's photo journey
Three years ago Meero was a small startup with big aspirations to empower creatives around the world. Now, Meero has been described as the largest photography company in the world. We try and better the lives of photographers in more than 100 countries by providing them with guidance, educational material, a platform to communicate with each other and connecting them with top global brands. We are giving creatives the necessary tools and providing them with time-saving technology to ease their lives and let them focus more on what they love. You might wonder who is behind all this? Well, here’s your chance to meet the team and get to know the people that are committed to improving the world of photographers. Meet João:
I heard that you have been working as a photojournalist for years, how did you find yourself doing that?
I was frustrated at work, and I wanted to do something different. In 2013, in Sao Paolo, while working in the marketing department of a company, I started taking photos here, and I started getting positive feedback. That’s when I started my career in photography. I decided to invest in it myself. I got the books, I watched the videos, everything. I learned on my own and I decided that I wanted to be a photojournalist.
I spent 3 months [documenting an NGO in Nairobi, Kenya]... it was a huge experience that moved me in so many ways. After that, I was sure that I wanted to do photography for the rest of my life, so I quit my previous job to start to be a photographer.
I became a photojournalist for a small newspaper working on social issues. After that first experience, though, I decided I wanted to do it seriously, I didn’t want to do the local newspaper, I wanted to go to the next level. I was self-educated which took me halfway there. Once I reached that point, I was already making a living as a journalist but covering things that didn't interest me that much.
So what did you do?
I realized I needed formal education so I came to Paris to study documentary photography. I studied at Magnum, which is a large photo documentary agency. I spent one year there, learning from the photographers of the agency and once it was finished I said, I think I am ready to take it to the next level.
So you’ve traveled a lot for photojournalism?
I went to Ukraine, I spent 3 months there in 2016 and 2017. That was the first real experience that I had covering a war zone. After that, I went to the Syrian Border, the migration, the crisis in Jordan.
© João Bolan
What else? I went to Morocco, to Iran this year, I went to India, to many different countries where I could find issues to cover, it was very interesting. I did that from 2015 to 2018. That’s when I found Meero.
Why did you go from being a war photographer to working at Meero?
There are two reasons. First, I was driving my family crazy. My parents and my girlfriend were scared for me. Imagine, when I was in Ukraine, I was in a ‘hot zone’ for a month. Their lives were starting to be complicated because of that. I knew I couldn’t keep it up for a very long time, I still want to have a family and I think that if going to these places is your career; well it's very hard to do. I was searching for stability. I am getting older, so I said it's time to slow down a bit and think about the future.
And the second reason?
I think Meero is actually opening photography up to more people. I was very impressed by the fact that we are developing an AI for photography. If I am honest, I saw that as the future of photography so I would rather be on the inside than on the outside. If my job is going to change, I want to be hands-on, so I can take advantage of it as a professional. I found the idea of the company very nice, more stable, less dangerous. Not less stressful, but less dangerous.
So what do you do here at Meero?
I work in post-production, which I always did for my personal work. But I had never worked in the volume that we do here; so you have to follow guidelines and preferences. Commercial photography as a whole, I have never done that, I said to myself, it might be interesting if I learn this too.
Again photography is a shifty terrain, it changes all the time, it is something that is dependant on a machine. And machines, well, they evolve very fast nowadays, so I thought that I needed to learn that side of photography as well. Not only photojournalism and documentary but also commercial photography. To learn a new profession. That's why I made the change.
Do you miss being in the field?
I still miss going to the field and reporting a lot, I have a hard time finding time to do it now, but in France, we have a lot of vacation time. *Laughs* It's quite enough, when you come from another reality like me, so I try to make good use of it. I went to Iran this year for 10 days on my vacation time. I was on vacation but I had my camera, I was taking pictures, asking people about what they were doing...
I can’t stop doing it. I will do it for the rest of my life I think, even if I don't get money from it, I still like doing it. I don't do much with my photos now, I post them to my friends, I sell some to my close contacts, but I don't make much money from that.
So what is your day-to-day at Meero like?
I started at Meero as an editor, so basically our job is to take the photos that photographers shoot for us worldwide and prepare them for the clients. Meero works with photographers all around the world so we need to standardize the quality we deliver to our clients. We have to make sure we deliver the best that we can to the people who hire us for the jobs. We receive the raw material that the photographer shoots, we develop the pictures. We put them on Lightroom and we fix the basic parameters.
How does your team work with AI?
Today, our biggest interaction with the AI is to first develop the tools, the basic algorithms. The AI is based on a set of algorithms that we have to feed, it is machine learning. It gets to a point where it replicates what we do, but first, we have to teach the machine how to treat the photos. We treat the photos manually and then we hand them over and we say, this isn't an ideal picture for this color setup, or whatever. Today the algorithms are very good and very advanced, yet they do not complete the task of the human eye.
The algorithms won't replace us, but they help us gain time. The algorithms give you a very good starting point and it's up to us to really fine-tune the photos and fix the remaining problems. We can get to the final point much faster than if we started without them.
Is there anything you wish people knew about what you do?
I think that our job is quite important for the work for Meero because we are the last step before the pictures reach the client, so we certify that delivery will be good. We work on a huge volume. Our team is really talented, they have a very good capability of recognizing a photo and knowing what we have to do. I think we are an intrinsic part of the success of Meero. We try our best to be assertive in the results, just for people to know its a real job.
Can you explain what you do at Meero in three words?
Enhance Visual Properties
What do you shoot with? I think some people will be interested to know that.
Sony Alpha 7R. But that's something I learned while studying at Magnum. The camera's never more important than your eyes. I don't even talk about my equipment, I don’t even know the latest equipment because I think that this can not bypass the fact that photography is the practice of writing with light, by definition. So you have the light, if you have a lens, you can take a nice photo.
Makes sense. Why did you choose that particular camera though?
I chose the Sony Alpha 7R because it is lighter but it still has great quality. I was sick of carrying my Canon 5d and my lenses, they were getting too heavy, it was giving me neck problems. So I wanted smaller but good quality equipment.
When I went to Ukraine last time, luckily nothing bad happened to me, but I was thinking that if I needed to run, well, I had a helmet, a bulletproof vest, if I had my backpack plus my camera, plus three lenses, I would have been slowed down.
I also wanted something more discreet, less noisy, so I don’t have to put a huge lens in someone's face.
What was your best idea ever?
To come to Paris to study photography formally. Photography is my obsession. I feel I learned a lot, and that education allowed me to be here today, to do the projects I always dreamed of doing and to have enough knowledge to accompany me on a great job. I think it was a very good idea. My parents might disagree...
What is something people would be surprised to find out about you?
I think it’s something intrinsic to photographers, that even today I have a hard time talking about my work or selling my photos. It's something very complicated. I consider myself an experienced photographer, without any pretense of false modesty, I feel confident in my experience and my knowledge, and yet I still have a hard time marketing myself.
I think that’s something a lot of aspiring photographers can relate to…
Even Magnum photographers feel that way! They are very good and they have the agency behind them, the agency does the selling so they can focus on taking pictures. If you talk to them, though...I always give the example of Josef Koudelka, who is an institution inside Magnum. One of the oldest photographers still alive and one of the very best that we have, but when we asked him to give a lecture about his photos, he was not able to do, he explained, ‘I am sorry, I cannot. It's just that I have difficulty talking about my job.’ And that’s Josef Koudelka, so it makes you realize ’Alright, it's not just me…’