From getting VIP treatment at a festival in Tajikistan to nearly dying in an avalanche in Nepal, Dutch photographer and filmmaker Marc Aziz Ressang uses photography as a medium to connect with those around him. Based in Shanghai, his work looks at the histories and cultures of different communities, exploring the diverse human experience by observing the movement of culture and society.
Growing up in the moderately monotonous suburbs, Ressang searched for a more enrapturing environment where he could meet individuals from various backgrounds and explore different cultures. Aiming to work within the constraints of the realities presented to him, Ressang refreshes his photography with his own interpretations of the subject as an outside observer.

Intrigued by the history of the places he encounters, the photographer captures the diversity of those around him, working to find the underlying connections within and between cultures. Through a combination of video and stills, his work is characterised by a thoughtful curiosity of people’s surroundings. In a world where social views are becoming more singularised by the Western perspective of identity, Ressang challenges the worldview and works to encapsulate societal differences by bringing them to the forefront of his photography.
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Could you tell us a bit about yourself? You received a Bachelor of Science from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, how did you end up in a career working as a photographer?
I grew up in fairly 'boring' suburbs, but was always interested in more exciting environments, living vicariously through magazines and movies. University provided the breeding ground to meet people from different backgrounds and explore other cultures. And, as an introvert, people photography was the right excuse to instantly connect with those around me.
After getting my degree, I realised academics and business school wasn't my thing. Instead, I wanted to move as far away as possible and be based somewhere I could see the world. I decided on Shanghai as a starting point. I started from scratch, working as a nightlife photographer, assisting on video shoots, editing and doing a lot of random gigs. After a few years of the hustle, I was able to save up some money to finance my own projects.
You have said before that you would “rather let pictures do the talking,” how do you use your photographs to narrate a story? What can’t be missing from the narrative?
A single good photo can encapsulate an entire story, or present enough mystery to make the viewer think about it long after they’ve seen it. If the visual is the story itself, then adding text to explain, support or justify the image takes away from its elemental power.
The 'truth' is always skewed to some extent in a photograph (through selective timing, framing, and explanation), I aim to work within the constraints of reality as presented to me.
Longer narrative projects can take years to solidify as a concept. I work slow on the subject matter and give myself room to reiterate my ideas. I hope that the result is still a reality, but refreshed with my interpretation of the subject as an outside observer.
In your own words, how would you describe your style as a photographer and cinematographer? What drives or inspires you to create?
Although I have drawn inspiration from an older generation of photographers, I think the current abundance of creative options is taking away from the essence of a well-produced story. The pressure of social media is driving trends that take away from creative aspects as well. For me, I’d rather dig into old techniques and apply them on a new subject. With photography and cinematography, I prefer narrowing things down to a simple form and execution.
As I work on both commercial and personal projects at the same time, there’s a challenge in finding a healthy mix of technical skills and creative artistry. Especially when a lot of people are solely focused on chasing paid gigs, I usually end up having to do most of the lifting myself. There are about half a dozen ideas I try to develop at the same time, of which maybe one can be brought to completion.
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You explore the diverse human experience by observing the movement of culture and society, how does your work reflect on different cultures and bring to the forefront the historic and social issues embedded in the lives of the individuals you photograph?
Sometimes the point to be made is not explicitly in the work itself. By presenting the background elements of a subject, there is more to be interpreted by the viewer than there is to spell it out for them.
What’s most important is approaching places and subjects with an open mind. Then I try to find the underlying connections within and between cultures.
Your work has a strong awareness and curiosity about people’s surroundings. How did you discover your aesthetic? What is your creative process like?
A large part is research, and understanding the history behind a place. How did these cultures arise out of their surroundings? For months before I go anywhere, I dig into academic journals to learn the history and find the right visual references. Then it will still probably take me a few trips to a location to get the story right.
On the road, I usually restrict myself to one photo and one film camera with a lens each, locking myself into one style and focusing on the subject.
Your 2019 short documentary film, Rebel Riders, explores the unique self-expression taking place in Indonesia’s extreme Vespa culture. Where did the initial inspiration for Rebel Riders come from?
The main inspiration came from a friend of mine, Muhammad Fadli, who made a photo series about the Indonesian extreme Vespa culture. When I first visited an extreme Vespa meetup, I was struck by the intense audiovisual chaos. The existing video coverage of the topic all seemed quite impersonal, and there wasn’t anything that came close to embodying the sense of being there in person.
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You said in an interview that when you pitched the idea of Rebel Riders to different outlets, no one was interested in developing a story around it. What was it about this story that you found so compelling that you had to pursue it?
In between commercial work in Shanghai, I made time to be in Indonesia, learn the language and make the right contacts. While failing to get interested in the pitch, I was touched by the warmth of each Vespa crew, and ultimately, making the story for someone else didn’t matter anymore. I got to make this piece for the community and myself, which meant I had the freedom to shape the story and visuals how I wanted to. All in all, it took about five trips to Indonesia in the course of 2 years to get what I wanted.
Because of the vulnerable nature of documentary photography and the importance of personal connection, how do you personally build a relationship with your subjects for them to appear authentic and natural on camera?
It just takes time. You need to be sincere as a person with and without a camera, be curious and show respect as an observer. There’s no shortcut to building authentic connections.
You explore human experiences through a combination of video and stills, what is it about these two mediums that you find unique from one another? What are the similarities and differences between your work with stills and film?
They are completely different. I prefer photography because it allows me to live in the moment and decide on one fleeting moment to capture a scene. Apart from some production logistics, the creative process is limited to me – a camera and the subject. I set out with some creative boundaries for photography projects but otherwise get to just see how things play out. I only bring one or two film cameras and a digital one for backup.
With film, it becomes a meticulous puzzle in terms of planning, production, execution and post-production. Every single shot becomes a team effort.
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Many of your shots are featured in the more southern parts of Asia, focusing on places like Tibet, India, Indonesia and Myanmar. Why do you choose those specific areas? What is it about those areas that resonate with you or inspire you to create?
Some of my favourite places are the ones where you can embrace being a complete outsider, which can make it more challenging and uncomfortable. There are stories here to be chased that might have gone unnoticed. Shaped by thousands of years of history, these areas are so incredibly diverse in every aspect, and if you take enough time to roam around, you’ll find something worth exploring.
Do you have any interesting stories from your time shooting in these places? Are there any memories that stick out for you as being unique?
The best moments I’ve had were all unpredictable scenarios. Setting out with no plans, being open to whatever the universe throws at you, and saying yes to everything. In the best case, getting VIP treatment at a festival in Tajikistan, in the worst case, nearly dying in an avalanche in Nepal.
On your website, with regards to your work, there’s a text that reads “Framing places and stories through connecting themes, questioning and re-framing popular cultural perceptions.” What are you hoping to evoke or uncover through your work?
A lot of our worldview is being simplified by a contemporary authoritarian – the Western perspective on identity (race, cultural identities, sexuality, religion) – without giving most people their own chance to express themselves in a similar fashion.
The world is a wonderful, wild and unexplored place, and we can learn a lot from humanity as a whole if we embrace our differences and focus less on arguing about what’s the 'right' way to be different in social echo chambers.
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What do you hope that people take from your work and the message that you’re trying to share with the world through your photographs and films?
The world is more than what is on our screens. To keep things open-ended, my work is still only an interpretation of what I have experienced, and I hope it fires up some inherent curiosity and will encourage people to explore the world with an open mind.
Are there any projects you’re currently working on? Where will your photography take you next?
I was working on a short documentary in Myanmar, but due to the travel and political situation, that will be postponed indefinitely. The last year I’ve mostly been working on archiving and backing up old material, learning Chinese and researching potential subjects to chase once borders open up again.
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