Mono no Aware

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About Mikaël Thomas

"Passionate and beginner amateur photographer from Switzerland. I seriously discovered photography last year with a Pen-F. I've been taking a distance learning course for one year, I take pictures every day, I can't go out without a device anymore. Olympus seduces me with its philosophy that embraces mine. Aesthetics in objects, aesthetics in results."

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Hello, my name is Mikaël Thomas, I am 45 years old and French by birth, Breton to be exact, I live with my Italian companion Andrea whom I knew 20 years ago, and after living 13 years in Turin, we settled in Switzerland, in Rapperswil near Zurich, in 2011. I work for an insurance company as a data scientist and take care of a group of 12 women that I all love! I am passionate about foreign languages and oriental worldviews.

When I was 10 years old, I lived with my family in Dakar, Senegal for two years. I will always remember the beautiful Nikon camera my father used and that I was allowed to touch when there was no film inside because it was expensive. I think that this economic aspect kept me away from devices for a long time until the arrival of the first digital devices. What a joy to free oneself from film development!

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.12-40mmF2.8 @40mm . f/2.8 . 0.5″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.12-40mmF2.8 @30mm . f/2.8 . 1/125″ . ISO 200

I had a Canon digital SLR some 15 years ago, but I didn’t really know how to use it, and I was a little confused by its size. The arrival of the first smartphones gave me back the passion for photography. I got caught up in the magic of filters and touch-ups for their “Wow” effect, but I still didn’t know anything about the 8th Art until last year. One day in May 2018, I was nauseated by the “big nose” effect and the deformation at the corners of my smartphone photos. But I didn’t really understand where it came from.

So I asked myself what the market had to offer for a small digital camera, and my heart turned to the Olympus Pen-F. It had good technical evaluations, and above all, it was handsome, very handsome, too handsome. I found it in kit form with the Panasonic pancake 20mm on a second-hand Swiss site. From the first shot, I fell in love with the camera and especially with photography.

Olympus Pen-F . 1/13″ . ISO 640
Olympus Pen-F . Lumix G 20mmF1.7 . f/7.1 . 1/1250″ . ISO 200

As I felt though that I really didn’t know anything about it, I found a distance learning course in Switzerland, Nicéphore (that I highly recommend to Francophones…), which I registered for in September 2018 and which I still attend. The main interest was to have a reference to evaluate my photos. I am fortunate to be followed by a passionate and inspiring trainer, Laurent Kobi, whom I thank every day in my heart for his support and encouragement. He opened me the doors to the wonderful world of photography and allowed me to discover great artists, acquire a visual culture and above all, to follow my own path.

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.75mmF1.8 @75mm . f/1.8 . 1/4″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.75mmF1.8 @75mm . f/2.0 . 1/160″ . ISO 6400

I turned to the M4/3 because the Pen-F is beautiful (I can’t repeat it enough) and because I didn’t know anything about the technical issues of using high ISO, dynamic range and because in the end, all this interested me, and still interests me today, only a little. I wanted a device that was small but strong. And beautiful. The aesthetics of the device is an essential factor for me. This tool, a link between the world in front of me and my perception, must, through its aesthetics, contribute to the fixation of the image. It’s silly, but that’s the way it is.

After a stay in Venice during the Carnival in March this year, I felt the limits of my Pen-F in terms of reactivity and focusing. I found afterwards a used OMD E-M1 MkII box. And then I immediately knew it would become my companion. I loved it too from the first contact. Bright, racy, precise, surgical, merciless. A serial killer, when the Pen-F is a Latin lover that makes hearts fall…

As for the lenses, I spent my first year of training with fixed focal lengths on my Pen-F: the 12mm f2.0, 25mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8, 60mm macro and the wonderful 75mm. And then, with my new camera, it made me want to try the PRO lenses, the 12-100mm f/4 for strolls, the 40-150mm f/2.8 with the MC1.4 when I need to get out of my lynx eye, and the fabulous f/1.2 prime lenses.

I took advantage of the excellent second-hand market in Switzerland to indulge myself without too much expense. In addition, during my training, I discovered the pinholes with whom I also fell in love for the dreamlike rendering and the very high depth of field. I have a Pinhole M4/3 Thingyfy which is very often the main lens of my Pen-F.

However, I would like to point out that I only see these objects as extensions of my hand and my eye and I choose them according to moods and desires. They’re just the surgeon’s scalpels. But they must do their job properly, and I repeat, be beautiful. I love them all, like children, and I take them all out regularly according to the occasions. Nevertheless, I have a weakness for the 75mm which is for me a technical and aesthetic success.

In addition, I discovered during my training that very long focal lengths are my best friends, the 40-150mm f/2.8 is my best friend. Thanks to their compression effect, they allow me to cut small pieces of the world around me, without cluttering myself with unnecessary details. The fixed focal lengths f/1.2 are also wonderful jewels. And like all jewellery, we like to have it and take it out on the right occasions. Those ones will see Venice next year!

Olympus Pen-F . Olympus M.25mmF1.8 @25mm . f/10 . 1.6″ . ISO 200
Olympus Pen-F . Olympus M.25mmF1.8 @25mm . f/13 . 25″ . ISO 800

I now reserve my Pen-F for my everyday bag. I like to have this device with me at all times, just in case. I usually leave on one of the f/1.8 fixed focal length lenses for their compactness and performance. My pinhole lens is often part of the game too when the sun shines! The creative wheel from the Pen-F is also really noteworthy and I think underestimated.

Otherwise, it’s the E-M1II, for everything else. It’s my racehorse, a real black panther who has trouble missing a picture! Of the two devices, I admit to being bewitched by the possibilities of the jpeg engine. It’s so much better than LR! I have a little pinch for the vintage filters because I have the feeling to see again pictures of my childhood in Dakar…

Olympus Pen-F . Olympus M.25mmF1.8 @25mm . f/2.2 . 1/2500″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.40-150mmF2.8 + MC-14 @210mm . f/10 . 1/2500″ . ISO 200

I love to photograph details of the world around me, as an observer and not as an actor. I’m not comfortable leading people. I like to freeze the moments as they present themselves to me. It is a tribute to the sweet and nostalgic reality of things that happen, the one that habit hides from our eyes. I like to think of a Japanese aesthetic concept, the Mono no Aware, which could be translated as “sensitivity for the ephemeral”.

Masao Yamamoto is for me a limitless source of inspiration. That’s why subjects don’t matter in themselves as long as I feel an emotional connection. Portraits, landscapes, macros, architectures, still life, flowers, clouds, everything can be subject to developing this aesthetic. A nasturtium seed can become an erect cobra ready to attack. A bunch of tulips can become the scene of a dreamlike and sensual series. A sleeping child becomes a sleeping beauty.

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.40-150mmF2.8 + MC-14 @210mm . f/5.6 . 1/6″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.40-150mmF2.8 + MC-14 @210mm . f/4.0 . 1/250″ . ISO 640

I discovered the sumptuous world of black and white thanks to my trainer who keeps telling me that, except when necessary, colors should be prohibited. And then when I discovered Saul Leiter and Luigi Ghirri, I felt so humbled that I only use colors on very special occasions. Anyway, B&W suits me quite well, and my cameras are almost always set to monochrome with red filter and often a polarizing filter on the lens.

I like black skies and light skins. By the way, it’s another point in Olympus’ favor: the B&W jpegs that come straight out of the cameras are beautiful, and I’ve never been able to reproduce them with third-party software, except with the Olympus Workspace! Too bad the E-M1II doesn’t have the monochrome 2 of the Pen-f creative wheel….

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.45mmF1.8 @45mm . f/1.8 . 1/2500″ . ISO 64
Olympus Pen-F . Lumix G 20mmF1.7 @20mm . f/7.1 . 1/1000″ . ISO 200

As for the minimalist approach, it came slowly with the days. I have noticed that my eye is mainly attracted to minimalist photographs, so I try to find angles and compositions that follow these principles. One of my masters for these compositions is Fan Ho.

I also deeply love – I quote without order and without exhaustiveness: Josef Sudek, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gertrude Käsebier, Masao Yamamoto, Imogen Cunningham, George Hoyningen-Huene, Herbert List, Joel Peter Witkin, Christian Coigny, John Dugdale, Irving Penn… just to name a few. On the color side, my eyes are more inclined to turn to Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas, Franco Fontana or Luigi Ghirri. These are all the names that populate my mind and without which I will not be able to move forward.

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.75mmF1.8 @75mm . f/2.8 . 1/80″ . ISO 200
Olympus Pen-F . Lumix G 20mmF1.7 @20mm . f/10 . 1/50″ . ISO 800

I am rather reserved and introverted, and yet I spend a lot of time taking self-portraits. I don’t think it’s out of vanity. I find it a good exercise to learn lights, poses, focal effects, skin texture rendering, expressions, and all this without having to waste another person’s time.

And then when you usually take pictures, you’re behind the camera, so it allows you to switch roles from time to time! I would also like to mention the surprising work of Arno Rafael Minkkinen who makes his body his subject. He is in a way a cardinal reference: minimalism, graphic design, B&W and self-portraiture.

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.40-150mmF2.8 + MC-14 @210mm . f/4.0 . 1/5000″ . ISO 800
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.40-150mmF2.8 + MC-14 @95mm . f/4.0 . 1/6400″ . ISO 200

I only use my smartphone (an iPhone SE…) in case of an emergency, when I have nothing else at hand and the short focal length is usable (if I have to do a portrait, I avoid close shots like the plague!). I think smartphones can produce beautiful pictures; you just have to know how to use them. On the other hand, I can no longer stand the automatic filters that smooth the skin and offer a spectacle of faces that look like Barbie dolls! Personal opinion…

I am absolutely unable to categorize my pictures myself, so the cataloguing functions of a Lightroom are of little use to me. To find my photos, I rely on Google Photo’s AI. It allows you to find people and cross-reference with text searches. I find it amazing and frightening, but it works. As for processing the files, I now mainly use the Olympus Workplace. The new version is really great, and I get the pictures I would have gotten from the camera.

I’m not a specialist, but something tells me that Olympus jpeg engines are among the best on the market. DxO is also a very good product that is amazing when it comes to noise reduction. However, I try to use the best settings from the camera when I shoot in order not to spend to much time in retouching the pictures…

Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.60mmF2.8 Macro @60mm . f/22 . 8.0″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.60mmF2.8 Macro @60mm . f/3.2 . 1/80″ . ISO 200

Conclusion
If I was twenty years younger, I think I would have tried to make photography my profession, and now I’m happy to please myself, my family and friends. I’m now trying to develop the concept of series and style… We’ll see what the future holds for me, but for the moment, not a day has passed since the beginning of my adventure last year without me touching my cameras. I hope this love story doesn’t end…

Olympus Pen-F . Olympus M.75mmF1.8 @75mm . f/1.8 . 1/800″ . ISO 200
Olympus E-M1 MK II . Olympus M.12-100mmF4.0 @100mm . f/4.5 . 1/800″ . ISO 200

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