Photograph by Vasantha Yogananthan of a young person curled up in a ball with their head in their hands on an empty blue-grey half-pipe

Vasantha Yogananthan on capturing the purity of childhood

The French photographer and co-founder of Chose Commune talks to us about adapting to young people in his latest project, and the complexities of running a publishing house in today’s climate

The English language name given to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s landmark photo book, The Decisive Moment, veers away from the original French title, Images à la sauvette, which loosely translates to ‘Images on the Run’. The French name suggests less premeditation, no waiting for elements to line up precisely, and instead speaks to rawness and acting on the fly. The distinction sums up Vasantha Yogananthan’s previous work and his new, free-flowing project Mystery Street, which, alongside a book format, is currently on display at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“For the long-term project I did in India, I staged most of the portraits I was making with a large format camera, and this was great,” he says, “but as an artist and as a photographer, it makes you control things a lot. I wanted to go back to a form of photography that would be looser and more open to accidents and chance, maybe.” Mystery Street does that through the unpredictable frame of childhood, photographing young people playing, dreaming, developing a sense of themselves and each other under the piercing New Orleans sun. “They use their body in a way that we as adults don’t, and they do all sorts of things that are open to chance.”

The people in the images are all aged between eight and 12 years old, and as such, he says, they’re caught between phases of their lives: not quite children anymore, not quite teenagers. “They learn to behave in a micro society that’s building itself when the children are all together.”

Photograph by Vasantha Yogananthan of a young person wearing shorts and socks, sat on a metal staircase with colourful hula hoops surrounding them. The scene is shot through the metal bars of the staircase which are visible in the frame
All images from Mystery Street, 2022 © Vasantha Yogananthan / Chose Commune