Saturday, 16 February 2008

Spotlight... Brazil - by David Solomons

Today's spotlight is special due to many reasons. One of them, it's a questions and answers session. Another, that this very set of images was recently published as the first slideshow gallery in hardcore street photography. If you're interested in getting Brazil as a book, don't hesitate in contacting David.

Gareth Jelley: Why Brazil? What led you there? And where would you go tomorrow, if someone told you they could fund you to go anywhere in the world, on the proviso that you had to leave the very next day?

David Solomons: I had wanted to visit latin America for some time and I can speak a little Spanish so Brazil didn't make much sense in that respect. It was mostly on a whim as my father had recently died and I wanted to take more of a vacation than pursue a serious picture story, so I went there as a kind of testing ground to see how I'd cope taking the sort of pictures I was taking in London in another city. I felt Rio was a good choice as I thought I could also do something about its beach culture.

In answer to the second part of the question, I'd have to say Mumbai, simply because I've yet to go there and it's the kind of place I feel I could take pictures for days on end and still find something new and amazing.

GJ: Did you have any aesthetic ideas in your head when you went out shooting, in Brazil, or did certain aesthetic themes and patterns (like the blue, and the strong angles) emerge organically, revealing themselves in the edit?

DS: I had a friend who worked at Geo magazine, which is the UK version of National Geographic, and the beach culture idea was something I thought I could pitch to her if I brought back a good enough set of images. From that perspective I took tranparency film as opposed to colour neg. which is what I'd normally use for my personal use.

The light there was wonderful and I quickly recognized that the combination of that and the transparency film immediately lent itself to a different approach as I'd be exposing for the highlights and allowing the shadow detail to almost disappear. So yes my approach was slightly different in that regard but nothing that I'd consciously thought about, I was just excited to be photographing in a new environment.

GJ: Do you feel, personally, that your photos get under the skin of the place, looking into it rather than just documenting it? Are the shots in that collection shots you don't feel you could have "collected" elsewhere?

DS: I somehow doubt it, I would even go as far as to say I barely sctratched the surface of the place on a social level but that's not to say the pictures are any less valuable for that. It's difficult to say if I could have taken similar shots elsewhere, with some I could others maybe not so. Obviously where you have famous places like Copacabana beach or carnival celebrations, then I think people would recogize that that's where the shots were taken.

Joni Karanka: I've talked about this with you already, so it's like cheating. How did you fit your shooting style with Brazil? You don't show the same that you get out of London. But well, it isn't dull and rainy all the time either.

DS: London is my home town so I feel more like I belong there which maybe allows me to take more liberties as it were. I was a foreigner in Brazil and as such I felt more compelled to respect their cultural sensitivities. Many people there aren't so keen on having their picture taken as they feel they're being exploited by foreigners. Many of the poorer Brazilians are happy to pose for you if you pay them but I found doing the candid type of work I normally do problematic. So yes, I shied away a lot more from the 'in your face' type of shot and took a more wide angle environmental approach instead.

JK: On another note. These don't come through as holiday snapshots. How long you spent there?

DS:I originally only intended to stay for a month but ended up staying 10 weeks as I wanted to stay for the carnivals in Salvador.

JK: Do you feel influenced by any photographers in these images? There's such a large amount of people that have worked in similar conditions of light... Alan Harvey's Cuba or Alex Webb's Under a Grudging Sun pop into mind...

DS: Possibly, it's difficult not to see the similarities and I've certainly been familiar with those photographers' work for a long time. I never go out thinking I've got to do an Alex Webb shot here or a Winogrand shot there, I just see how situations evolve in front of me and I interpret that the best way I can. If they look similar that's okay with me, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

So, if anybody has more questions, just ask in the comments and I'll do my best to getting them to David.


Philip said...

street photography to me is great right because it leaves no excuse to the "I leave in a shitty place, ergo I can't shoot nice pics" argument that distinguishes snapshooters from photographers.
I'd like to ask David if the curiosity for the "exotic" renewed his eyes, or just gave him a different palette to work with (apart from the not-so-obvious context issues already addressed in the Q&A here above)

sometimes i'm angry at my lust for escape, and curiosity for the rest of the world that lies beyond my usual 500 meters, because that means i'm not shooting my surroundings with "clear, and new eyes" every morning...

Of course, one cannot remain untouched from a completely different array of experiences and cultural differences, that inevitably will alter the usual approach to one's way of seeing...

the other question:
after brazil, did london look (and was london shot) differently?

Waxy said...

This was a really enjoyable read. It isn't often that we get to hear from street photographers. Mostly they just like to take nice pictures and say that they're anarchist.

Seeing how David adapted from the urban gray of London to the sand and sun of Brazil is mesmerizing. It's an incredible project.

I appreciate his discussion on how he engaged his subjects, since next to photography, travel might be my favorite thing to do. And both of them together is even better. I say this because it can be a great challenge when visiting a new land and culture to find your place. I've never had any bad experiences but maybe some close calls, and any serious photographer might be driven to do something risky if given the opportunity. Furthermore, it's not always clear what is off-limits and it is easy to stand out like a tourist. Anyway... it was good to hear how David approached this.

I also enjoyed the technical aspects of the discussion. It isn't something that we do with hcsp since it often spirals down into a discussion about which lens should I use, though it is important to think about when visiting a new location or country.

David's photographs are fantastic and it is amazing to see how clear his head was even after his father had died. I must visit Brazil. :-)

Well done everyone....