Mal Langsdon

Mal Langsdon

Paris, France
London, United Kingdom
“Your brain is the most important piece of equipment you have. Keep it in good working order.”


News and features.

One Shot

. PARIS, France. Reuters/Mal Langsdon
A formation of military planes fly over the Arc de Triomphe.
“I am a big fan of using very long lenses to isolate detail in a scene which might be pertinent to a story and otherwise missed. At France’s annual Bastille Day parade, I shot with a 1200-1700mm lens from the presidential podium in order to document the newly elected president Sarkozy riding in the open command car. Conditions were ideal for a very long focal length. There was strong light, but fortunately no heat to distort the light waves. After I had made the image of Sarkozy, I concentrated on a group of people on top of the Arc de Triomphe. At this moment the flyover started and a dark cloud suddenly made for a moody sky. I think the picture turned out to be a far more interesting than the original picture I had envisioned.”


My house, in remote Finistere, faces a very rough patch of Atlantic coast where spectacular winter storms and dramatic lighting conditions present superb subject matter, so I often illustrate environment and extreme weather stories. I did most of my news shooting in the 1970s and the 1980s.

I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders at the age of five in St. Peter’s square in the Vatican, snapping pictures with my first plastic camera during the funeral of Pope Pius XII in 1958. I have photographed every Pope since. Even though I am not Catholic, the ceremony and politics of the Vatican have always attracted me as a subject matter.

I grew up in Rome during the Dolce Vita period of the late 1950’s surrounded by photography, as my parents were both in news photo business. I was about ten or eleven years old when I convinced my father to let me turn our old coal cellar into a darkroom and started experimenting with processing film and making prints. My first ‘real’ camera was a 6x6 Yashica-Mat, which I bought when I was fourteen from money earned by washing cars.

In 1969 I shot the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park. I had no accreditation to access the official photo area and the Hells Angels who were ‘guarding’ the stage had no tolerance for a 16 year old with a camera. I received a couple of kicks on the backside from one particular biker. But I got my own back. The only picture I managed to sell that day was of group of long-haired, leather-clad bikers as they were gathered around an army recruitment stand joking with a somewhat intimidated, but smartly uniformed, young soldier.

I learned a great deal about remaining calm under pressure when I spent many months covering the Iranian revolution and U.S hostage drama in Tehran in 1979. Western media regularly had their offices raided by the revolutionary guards (Pasdars). Although it was probable they had been ordered to tolerate our presence, the heavily-armed young men were often excitable and one never knew how things would turn out each time they burst into our bureau.

I have a very open mind to subject matter and try to never pre-judge what any assignment may offer in terms of successful images.

Your brain is the most important piece of equipment you have. Keep it in good working order.

I respect many photographers, but hold in especially high regard those who are not always in the spotlight or sent to the top stories, but day in, day out produce really great pictures in unpromising situations.

Behind the Scenes

. Paris, France. Jean-Paul Pelissier
Mal Langsdon covers France’s annual Bastille Day.