How'd you get your start shooting film?
I've been around photography all my life, mainly because of my father. The first camera in my hand, along with a quick crash course on the how-to's of aperture and shutter speed came when I was around 15-16. It was the Pentax Spotmatic. I shot very sparsely in family gatherings and such and then I dropped the habit. It wasn't until 2010 that I got my own DSLR and started shooting again, only as a serious hobbyist. In 2012 I made a 365 project with that camera and just the sheer volume of photos versus just the one photo selected for the day got me thinking about slowing down.
By the end of that year, my father (who was a great photographer in his time) got in contact with his friends from my town's local press and managed to put his hands on a Canon AE1 and a Pentax Spotmatic and gave them to me as a Christmas gift. I was hooked right on the spot! The next year I spent it reading and shooting a lot with them and, for the last two years, I've shot almost exclusively on film. It was in this last two years that I started developing and scanning my own B&W film, which contributed to the ongoing film addiction.
How did growing up with a father who was a photographer shape your own photography? Was there a lot of guidance or very little? In what ways did it shape your vision?
There was very little guidance. By the time I came into the picture my dad's work as a photographer and camera man for the local TV station was a thing of the past. He got rid of most of the equipment and kept only two or three cameras (that got lost in several family migrations).
When I was old enough to understand that the cameras were not a toy my father worked very long days as a crop dusting pilot and had very little time to take care of the hobby beyond family meetings and the occasional photos he made of the airplanes he worked with. As I said before, It wasn't until my 15-16 years old that I asked him to teach me how to use the Spotmatic for a vacation.
He set me up with a couple of exposure parameters that I learned by heart and off I went, only to return home with a ton of crappy pictures. And that was the end of it for me back then... technically speaking. A few years later I picked up a thing or two about how to properly operate a camera when a friend of mine got a Rebel and lugged it around all day. He never took it out of Auto mode, though. He got bored of the camera, chucked it in his closet and that was the second end of it.
As for his influence in my photos, viewing thousands of photos of friends and family that I didn't even got to know, certainly had something to do. I loved peeking at the albums and asking about the stories of great grand parents, cousins, friends and distant relatives. When I eventually got to know them, I felt we were already close, as if we had grown together. It wasn't until about five or six years ago that I finally started to take photography seriously. Once I got past the basic rules of exposure and composition I started looking other people's work to try and develop a deeper sense of light. In this sense, I find myself constantly liking photos and photographers with a deep narrative, looking for something that resembles the family albums and that feeling of closeness. That's what I love about street photography and photojournalism. It's also what I aspire to.
You mentioned street photography and photojournalism. Can you tell me more about that? Why are you so passionate about it? What are some of the challenges you face?
I put them together because of the strong narrative they hold in their purest form. In the case of photojournalism, you can't mess around. The only purpose is to tell a story, no matter how crude or cute it might be. If you have no story you have no photo, that's that! On the other hand, street photography has more leeway to get into. You can be a simple tourist in your own city and document anything from quaint scene in a park to the busy life of a market or a downtown. Both genres involve people in a very profound way, either by being a direct character on the photo or by their day to day footprint in their surroundings.
My passion about it comes from the stories told in the photos. My first memories of awe from seeing an image come from the golden era of Mexican cinema. Not exactly photojournalism, but without doubt, great story telling and something I definitely look up to. More strictly talking about still photography I'm very intrigued about what makes the great photographers tic. What is it in their minds that motivates them. Take McMullen, for instance. What on earth made him still want to make pictures in spite of all he witnessed? How about Salgado or Vivian Maier?
Now, on the challenges... I think I can safely say without false modesty that I've got a fairly decent technical knowledge of photography. At least enough to make a good exposure in any situation. What I struggle with is a horrendous, painfully pathological shyness towards strangers. I don't even know how is it that I got married... he he.
In reality, it's not that I can't relate to people at all. It's just something I need to work on to get where I want to in photography. But, as challenges go, this is the biggest one I face whenever I hit the streets. I start very confident, but then somethings breaks and I end up avoiding people and concentrate on things, geometry, patterns, textures. I haven't given up on people, I have to say. That's where the stories are!
You mentioned when you hit the streets you're optimistic about capturing people, but that something breaks and you end up shooting other subjects, can you talk a little about that?
It's really a combination of two things. First, the shyness I mentioned. I'm good at having a conversation with a stranger, but I suck at starting them. I've been told that a compliment and a smile goes a long way, but my personal experience says otherwise when I have a camera on my hand. In spite of living in a very modern city, people are still too worried about being photographed by a stranger and they tend to walk or look away at the sight of the camera. It takes just a few bad responses to get me discouraged and move on to other things.
That is as far as consensual photos go. When it comes to candids, the second factor kicks in: I make too much of a deal about breaching other people's privacy. I think we live in complicated times were people is way too sensitive about this. It may sound a bit harsh, but if you account for the insecure environment we are going through in Mexico, you kinda understand that point of view.
About what I'm doing to overcome this... well, I try to not care about rejection and make small talk with strangers whenever I'm without a camera, as practice. I prefer to deal with my own issues and walk away with a consenting photo that upsetting someone to the point of confrontation.