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From Theresa May to Tokyo: Award-winning press photographer exhibits love of Asia in Wanstead

PUBLISHED: 11:15 04 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:14 04 April 2018

From East Meets East by PA photographer Stefan Rousseau. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

From East Meets East by PA photographer Stefan Rousseau. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

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An award-winning Wanstead press photographer who has travelled the globe snapping prime ministers from Tony Blair to Theresa May is hosting his debut exhibition in his home town.

Stefan Rosseau, chief political photographer at Press Association, is running his exhibition called East Meets East at Eightyfour, in Nightingale Lane, until April 22.

The Recorder spoke with the two-time British Press Awards photographer of the year winner, a Wanstead resident of more than 23 years, to find out more about the exhibition and his work shadowing PMs past and present.

“I tried to get away from photographing politicians and dignitaries,” said the 52-year-old, explaining his approach to selecting photos for the exhibition.

“That would bore people to death,” he added, laughing.

Varanasi, India 2016. Photo: Stefan RousseauVaranasi, India 2016. Photo: Stefan Rousseau

Departing from his regular beat, East Meets East showcases Stefan’s travel photography in India and Japan.

He took the photos over a five-year period while travelling with prime minister David Cameron and, later, Theresa May.

“They are two of my favourite countries because you feel so welcome and comfortable there,” he said.

“They’re both Asian countries and aren’t that far apart geographically.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ahead of their talks in Tripoli. Mr Blair's visit follows Libya's agreement in December to dismantle its WMD programme and its acceptance of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher.British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ahead of their talks in Tripoli. Mr Blair's visit follows Libya's agreement in December to dismantle its WMD programme and its acceptance of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher.

“But they are so different in interesting ways.”

Stefan sometimes uses juxtaposition to highlight these differences - placing photos of similar subjects from the two countries next to each other.

The exhibition poster displays one of his favourite pictures from the series, a Japanese woman crossing the road carrying a red and gold umbrella, alongside an Indian woman doing the same.

The futuristic neon lighting of the Tokyo night contrasts with the vibrant colours of the Indian market stalls.

A yellow taxi driving into the distance of the Japanese cityscape mirrors a yellow rickshaw.

He added: “India is a developing country, whereas Japan is one of the most advanced countries in the world.

“In India there’s so much life out on the streets.

“In Japan it’s the opposite, life on the street is very different - everyone travels in cars or works in office blocks.

“It’s more of a challenge, you have to work harder to photograph it.”

Stefan has been taking photos for more than 30 years and has been on the road with different prime ministers since 2001.

“You build a form of relationship with them,” he said.

“To be prime minister you have got to be a big character.

“It is always a challenge with each one in terms of figuring out how close you can get to them and to earn their trust.”

Capturing Tony Blair’s handshake with late Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2007 is possibly the most memorable moment during Stefan’s career.

“I don’t want to give away too many secrets,” he said, adding: “[The handshake] didn’t quite happen when everyone expected it to happen.”

Stefan explained that the press were told the leaders would shake hands during a public meeting in a tent in the capital Tripoli.

Relations between the UK and Libya had been sour for decades since Gaddafi came into power in a 1969 military coup, adopting an anti-Western stance.

These sour relations were reinforced by the 1986 US bombing of Libya and by the involvement of Libyan nationals in the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing, which killed 273 people.

Stefan added: “I realised they had already shaken hands [in private] and weren’t planning on shaking hands again.

“You needed to get them shaking hands. To have both of them sitting next to each other in the tent wasn’t as interesting.

“In the middle of them sitting there I said ‘nobody has got a photo of you shaking hands’

“Sure enough, Tony Blair offered his hand to Gadaffi and he took it.”

Stefan’s career began on his local paper, in Bishop’s Stortford, and he advises aspiring photojournalists to work on their local paper.

He added: “Make sure you always have a camera with you.”

For his next project, he intends to go to Vietnam.

View his work at www.stefanrousseau.com/

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