“I found photography as a tool, out of an interest in history”. Patrick Robert is one of the witnesses of the daily life of our modern world. Some readers have already read his name under press articles and in magazines, without ever knowing his face. However, next to each caption or a photo credit, he tells us in pictures the story of the personalities he meets in the four corners of the world.
Photographer and reporter for 40 years, Patrick Robert talks about his beginnings for Planet. “I wanted to be where things are happening, to understand what’s going on. I like to be in the front row. I’ve always been driven by great curiosity,” he explains. he, recounting his memories of youth. “Since I was a teenager, I watch the television news, I read the newspapers and the daily press, I am interested in what is happening in the world”.
This news buff also discovered the art of photography during his childhood. “I have always done photography since I was a child in photo clubs. And, naturally, I associated the two”, assures the professional. Film, lens, film… Patrick Robert took his first shots with all the gear he needed. But the beginnings are difficult. “Especially when you’re independent,” he tells us. “Doing journalistic work when you don’t have a press card is very complicated. It’s a rigorous school, you have to show your talent and take photos all the time”.
In his early days, Patrick Robert covered subjects such as demonstrations and societal themes (migrants, homeless, etc.), then turned to artistic news (previews, evenings at the theater and social events). Then he entered this very closed circle in 1979 with the Sipa agency, before joining Sygma in 1986. During his career, this man covered several international conflicts at the risk of his life. In 2003, the photojournalist was in Liberia in Africa when he was seriously injured by bullets. But his work as close as possible to danger has also earned him the recognition of the profession by winning a dozen prizes.
When he is not on the front line covering the war, Patrick Robert continues to shoot films and draw portraits of personalities. A mixture of genres that the photoreporter appreciates. “I’ve always liked dispersion: coming back from a war and then covering a movie set. It was good for my balance, especially since war is psychologically hard,” he explains for Planet.
In the 2000s, Patrick Robert was working as a freelancer for the Sygma agency when a colleague working for the M6 photo department offered him another shoot. “She needed a photographer who knows how to work quickly, be discreet, with a good relationship with the teams, accustomed to degraded conditions, namely little sleep and do itinerant work”. It was then that the photojournalist embarked on an adventure like no other: Beijing Express. “I was introduced to the producers, we did a first season and it went well. Since then, they have systematically asked me”.
Present since the fourth edition of Beijing Express (La Route des dragons in 2009, Ed), Patrick Robert is today a full member of the adventure game. Between the photographer and Studio 89 production, it is a bond of trust that has been established for 13 years. Hired by the chain of Nicolas de Tavernost, Patrick Robert nevertheless explains to consider himself as “an intruder” during each shooting by justifying. “It’s complicated a photographer on a set. He’s the only one who is not essential to the realization of the program”.
If the public never sees the face of the photographer on the screen, his role is rather essential before the broadcast of each season. “He is mainly there to promote the show, so he pisses everyone on the set”, quips Patrick Robert. “It’s humanly delicate to impose yourself in a team like an intruder and finally to be accepted by all the members of the team. That’s what I managed to do”, confides the photojournalist recently filming On the Lands of the Golden Eagle (Central Asia, 2021) and Duos de choc (2022). But the news is never far away, even abroad, as the photographer slipped us by phone. “When the war started in Ukraine around February 2022, I was on the set of Beijing Express in Sri Lanka. I was engaged by a contract so I could not let go of the filming to go to Ukraine”.
From America to Africa, via Asia and Europe, Patrick Robert has swallowed up miles of road each Beijing Express season. From the pairs of candidates to the animator to the landscapes and local customs, nothing escapes the lens of the photographer, who has worked in turn with GTNCO (2010-2014) and Label Aventure (since 2018), producer show executive.
“I have very heavy specifications,” photojournalist Patrick Robert tells Planet, detailing his impressive work. “I have to do portraits of all the candidate duos before the race begins. With under no backpack, tight or loose portraits, foot plan, etc. This is used for promotion, but also for dressing up at the image of the small photos of the pairs that are under the screen”, before continuing. “I have to illustrate the race as much as possible even if I can’t be everywhere given the number of candidates. They go in all directions so it’s complicated to follow them”. However, apprentice hitchhikers have a beacon in their backpack and “we can permanently follow them remotely on a map and on smartphones”, admits our interlocutor.
While the pairs are in full competition, Patrick Robert also draws the portrait of Stéphane Rotenberg from all angles. As you can see in magazines and news articles. “I have to take photos of the host on the sets, in each setting, because it’s a traveling race”, assures the globetrotter. His mission is also to make viewers travel in front of their TV by taking illustrative photos. “Landscapes, customs, local inhabitants, illustrations on the games”, he explains to us. What to live the adventure and disorient the faithful of the M6 program.
However, the work of Patrick Robert is not limited only to what you see on television during each episode. “I work non-stop behind the scenes. When the shooting day is over, I return to the hotel after spending the evening with the locals around 10-11 p.m.” Once the camera is off, the work continues for the photographer with “two hours of post-production”. “I have to empty the camera cards on the computer, make backups on the hard drives. I deploy all the equipment and there, I still have two hours of work”. A long-term task that leaves little room for rest, two to three hours of sleep according to this great traveler. “In the morning, we sometimes get up at 4-5 a.m., to leave very early at 6 or 7 a.m.”.
During filming, Patrick Robert also explains that he is present during editorial meetings with the production teams for a daily update on the race. Between the alliances and rivalries among the duos (like Inès Reg and Valérie Trierweiler) and the problems within the pairs themselves (the couple of ex-Miss France Rachel Legrain-Trapani and her companion Valentin, for example), the photographer has the choice to follow candidates throughout the course. “Inevitably, there are more or less interesting pairs to follow at this or that moment. I have to be aware of what is happening in the race”, confides this discreet man.
From 2009 in Southeast Asia to Sri Lanka, Patrick Robert lived 13 years of adventures with Stéphane Rotenberg. For Planet, the show’s photographer confides exclusively in his professional relationship with the host. “He’s more than a friend. He’s someone who is so not headstrong, maniac, self-centered or navel-gazing. He trusts and that’s really nice.”
For the historical reporter of the program, the presenter and director of the race is “really a very charming boy, with whom it is easy to work”. The two men notably had the opportunity to collaborate on other programs on the channel such as The Island, Lost in the Middle of Nowhere (W9), Wild: The Survival Race and Who’s the Mole? Patrick Robert also explains how he works with the star of M6. “I am not his exclusive photographer. Stéphane Rotenberg works with all the photographers that the channel offers him”.
If the photographer tells us, for example, that he was never called for the filming of Top Chef, it was not Stéphane Rotenberg who joined him for the investigation game Who is the mole? “It’s the producer who calls you. The host doesn’t have the power to impose, maybe he can suggest a photographer,” he says over the phone. While waiting to leave for a new season of Beijing Express, Patrick Robert continues to comment on the news around the world with his camera, where his work is relayed in the press and on his website.