5 Minutes With... /Jean-Michel Massey / The Forge

Jean-Michel works with LPA Photographer Iain Crockart, amongst others, on post production work. With his own company The Forge, and years of experience working in the industry, we thought we would ask him more about what is involved. Thanks very much for coming in Jean-Michel…




- Tell us a bit about yourself, and what’s involved in the post-production process…

My name is Jean-Michel Massey... I run a company called The Forge, based in a converted church near Camden. I'm half French, half English. Born in London, but moved to live near Bath until I was 14, my mother and I went further South West to Totnes in Devon. By the age of 19, I was back in the big city.

Post-Production is basically giving images a bit of polish, and rolling them in glitter. Each image we produce would combine all or some of the following; Focus comps and pulls, comps for additional elements, removing elements and for beauty images; intricate skin work. We'll remove anything unsightly or anything that detracts from what the image is focusing on. Then each image is colour corrected and if required, given a “look”...

We can achieve anything with post production, given enough time and elements to use. I've made mountains rise from the sea, bucking horses from hundreds of frames of water splashes, I've made apples explode and created stunning editorials with some of the great photographers working in the UK today.

- How did you enter a career in post-production?

I basically grew up in photographic studios. My father, Ray Massey,  is a well known photographer; in the 80's & 90’s he was shooting incredibly complicated multi-exposure images onto a single sheet of 10x8 film, which even to this day bemuse most as to how they were shot without using any kind of post-production.

My first job in London was at Primary Colour, a film processing lab – I worked on E6 & C41 a little, but mainly worked scanning film, spending hours a day “dust busting” – I loved that job, it was so therapeutic. The experience of working with, and learning from, Mark Foxwell & Steve Macleod, has been invaluable to me.

I then went on to work for the fashion label Maharishi, to work on their fantastic DPM book – which  involved a lot of scanning and furthered my knowledge of colour; we had to match swatches to images, some of which were from the early days of colour photography, this proved pretty tough and sometimes very time consuming.

At the age of 21  I went freelance; it was a huge decision but one I have never regretted- suddenly  I found myself working for  agencies such as  BBDO, McCann's, Saatchi & Saatchi to name a few, I also worked for great  design agencies such as Harrimannsteel.

- Do you work regularly with certain photographers, and do any of their styles particularly inspire you?

I work with numerous photographers from my generation & my father's generation, I love working and helping young photographers define a style and exploring the limits of what post-production can do with them. I really enjoy working with photographers that have come from the film era too – they generally get more things right in camera, and are usually less reliant on what we do in post.  I find their approach to an image very different and inspiring. I wouldn't say that any one of the photographer's styles inspire me per-se, but I love to learn and find that style so we can keep producing consistently great images.



© Matthew Beedle photography, The Forge retouching

- Are you able to put your own emphasis on the work you post produce?

Each brief that comes in will usually be fairly well defined by the art director & photographer, occasionally I'm asked to add some flare, my creative twist, the main challenge on more complicated images is to translate the Art director's concept, the photographer's idea of how to shoot that concept and supply something that they are both happy with.

- Do you have your own photography projects aside from post-production work?

My personal work is the antithesis of what I do as a retoucher; when I travel I shoot landscapes, simple, barren landscapes. I don't retouch them, I sometimes desaturate or contrast them, then print them 60x40 and mount in a simple frame. I'm also worryingly addicted to instagram.


© Iain Crockart photography

- Describe the high and low points of your job….

High points would include simply looking at where an image started and where it's ended up, it's always very rewarding. Seeing work in print, on billboards and on blogs is always pretty fantastic too.

Words of thanks from photographers I respect are always very nice, and even more so is receiving a phone call or email saying that they'd recommended me, there's no bigger compliment.

The lows are usually due to my own inability to supply anything I'm not happy with, or my willingness to help photographers with tight deadlines. – these two combined usually mean I'm working late or working weekends when I'd rather be out and about! I do however make up for it by taking long weekends and holidays....


© Chris Mosey photography, The Forge retouching

- What is the biggest challenge in post-production?

The biggest challenges I encounter are usually due to lack of foresight or impossible tasks in production or on shoot, but with good communication about the project before and during each shoot, this rarely happens anymore. Most things can be done, I've learnt how to deal with most situations and problems...

- Would you say technical prowess or creativity is most important in post-production?

I'd say it's a blend of both, along with patience and a keen eye. I certainly started out as a technical operator; I was very nerdy in the early days - having a firm grasp of the techinical side of things is very important and it in turn has allowed my creative side to grow. The creativity isn't just to do with the aesthetic of the image, it's the approach to problems on the route to achieve the finished article.

- What are your other interests outside of photography?

I'm an avid cyclist, Mountain biking and cycle touring are my two favourite activities,  my mother lives near Dartmoor, Devon, which is perfect for mountain biking. London based activities - I took up indoor climbing about two years ago, nothing quite gets your mind off a days work and stress like hanging 20 feet up by your finger tips.