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Posts from the ‘Inspiration’ Category

#20 NABEELA AKHTAR & OMAIR BARKATULLA Cairo (Egypt) Photographers

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Leica Liker is honored to have NABEELA AKHTAR & OMAIR BARKATULLA, Cairo (Egypt) Photographers as our #20 guests.

It’s hard to believe that you can achieve something when you’re expected to  shoot the ‘picture perfect’ and capture the ‘decisive moment’ that’s illusive 99.9% of the time. So I decided to start this year’s first post by exploring raw experimentation. The idea of picking up the camera and playing with it. Letting the desire to learn and be a part of something, lead you to where ever it may. Trying out ideas in your head and seeing how it plays out in reality. 

I came across Nabeela Akhtar’s and Omair Barkatulla’s photo collages, and saw that even in the center of the Egyptian revolution, learning and experimentation is alive and well. Media has dominated so much of our world opinion on life in the Middle East that it has distorted reality. So much so, that we forget that people still have to deal with the business of everyday living.

What drew me to Nabeela and Omair’s images are their playful experimentation with time, collage, humor or just movement . The same person or animal can be seen ‘walking or running’ through the frame. Or the hands can be in two different places at once.  Like a mini documentary film captured within a single frame.  They want us to see the magic of the entire experience and not just that fickle fraction of a ‘decisive moment’. They appropriately call their blog, A Cairo Minute. Implying that time is extrapolated. It’s different. Everything is seen filtered from their peculiar point of view. It’s clear they do not take everything so seriously and they have fun with photography and photoshop. 

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Their unabashed and sometimes wild photo collages recall a mixture of Eadweard Muybridge’s seminal stop-motion work on Animal and Human Locomotion  and David Hockney’s amazing photo collages of places and people. Omair pointed out that Hockney’s images are portraits and not photos.  They actually liken their work more to Martin Handford’s children’s classic, Where’s Waldo? (Where’s Wally? outside of USA and Canada)   Leica Liker readers will also remember Jan Meissner’s  beautiful fine art collages. 

What I also love about Nabeela and Omair’s experiments is that they broaden our photographic horizon. Particularly in the world of documentary photography. We should try different techniques and different processes. These collages are meant to be seen up close and larger than life-size. I see it analogous to the human desire to look outside of our galaxy for new worlds when all we have to do is look within our single frame called Earth. Our oceans and the human body are a universe in themselves. And within the single frame of a photo, we can experience with all our faculties of what it’s like to ‘live’ in Cairo.

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Here is my interview with NABEELA AKHTAR & OMAIR BARKATULLA:

THIS POST DOES NOT DO JUSTICE TO IMAGES. PLEASE CLICK ON COLLAGE PHOTOS TO VIEW IN LARGER FORMAT.

What is your relationship with each other?
O: Nabeela is my dear wife and gets me out on the streets to work when I’m feeling lazy.
N: Omair is my husband.

Nick Names:  None
Currently living in:  O: Maadi, a suburb in Cairo.  We both come from England. Stopped in Egypt for a holiday and decided to stay for a while.

Motto: O: A photographer should be charming.

Street Photographer since:
O: School days.
N: Ever since moving to Cairo in 2010

How did you get started in photography?
O: I was studying graphic design. I took a photography course and was challenged to use it in creative ways. We shot with negative film and printed ourselves. We often used the images in our designs. Photography to me, is graphic design. You are essentially selecting and choosing and putting together elements. That ‘s how I got into it seriously. When Nabeela and I got married we both shared a passion for it.  We found we could collaborate together.  Sometimes we do one or the other project together. We like to bounce ideas off each other.

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N: I guess it all started because my Dad was into photography. I could remember when I was 5, he would be filming video at every occasion. For him, it was a huge thing. He always had a Polaroid with him too. When I got older he let me be the one to use the video and Polaroid at all family events. From there, it was natural that I was drawn to street photography. When we moved to Cairo my interest in photography blossomed from interest in the amazing architecture. I moved to street photography because every where you go, life is happening. You can’t avoid it.

My interest in panoramic collages came after the Egyptian revolution, went to a part of Cairo to take pictures of graffiti. It was this really long wall. I slowly photographed along the wall. It wasn’t until I got back home and loaded the images into Photoshop, I realized the people and traffic were more interesting. So I went back to take the panorama. The second picture I took was of a mosque and 3 people on motorbike. It was quite fun. I realized it told a story of who was visiting the mosque and it captured a whole street life. It was from there the panorama developed by accident.

Profession/Job:
O: Graphic designer, lecturer of design at university
N: Personal Trainer

Websites:
O & N:  http://acairominute.wordpress.com
N: www.hugyourbackpack.wordpress.com

Organizations  or  Group:  None

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What was the first camera both of you started with?
O: Point and shoot Fujifilm when digital cameras were the new thing. Then I was very interested in medium format so I bought a seagull, a twin lens reflex. It ended up being very expensive with the film. Then we bought a Nikon 3100d. It is inexpensive, not bulky and not intrusive. We are not the most lavish spenders of equipment and kit. We spent more on decent lenses. You shouldn’t put off that project because of not having the killer camera because it might not happen.
N: My Dad’s Polaroid.

Favorite Street Camera & Lens:
O: Nikon 3100d, 24mm (not pro, but light enough)
N: Nikon D3100d with 18-55mm kit lens. It’s basic but we’ve had some good times with it.

Back-up Street Camera & Lens:
O: None
N: 50mm lens is perfect for those close ups. A small but versatile digital Canon SD1100 is perfect for taking discreet pictures without attracting too much attention. I also use my Samsung Note 1 GT N7000 phone. With the increase in better camera quality on your phone, its now possible to take high quality pictures.

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Favorite photography gadget: O & N: None
Favorite street food:
O: Pop corn
N: When I’m taking pictures I like to eat light and quick. In Cairo there’s plenty of street stalls selling small sandwiches consisting of fool beans and falafel stuffed in warm pita bread with fresh salad. I also drink plenty of water to stop myself from dehydrating, especially in the summer when temperatures reach as high as 39˚C.

Do you listen to music while shooting?
O: I listen to the sounds of the city.
N: No as I find it distracting. I love to hear the sound of the streets and use that to guide me towards my next picture

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: 
O: Anything mellow: Donovan, Paul Simon.
N: I’m not fixed on one genre. I like to listen to a wide variety from 50’s rock and roll to classical music

Favorite photo software:
O: Photoshop and Lightroom
N: Adobe Photoshop CS5.1

What software do you use to stitch the multiple shots into a panoramic collage?
O & N: Adobe Photoshop CS5.1

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Is there a lot of post processing done to the stitched images?
O: Yes, cutting out people, colour correction, sharpening, burning.
N: On my street photography no, but with the new collage project, A Cairo Minute, it takes more work. It’s like creating a whole new picture starting with a blank canvas. We need to spend longer time selecting the right pictures and then stitching the multiple shots together to create the unpredictable results you see.

3 Favorite Master Photographers:
O: Steve McCurry, Sebastiao Salgado, James Natchwey
N: Steve McCurry, James Natchwey, my husband

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers:
O: Andreas Gursky, Martin Schoeller, Joel Sternfeld
N: Andreas Gursky, Vivian Maier, Flickr groups

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own?
O & N: None at the moment.

Color or Black and White?
N: Mainly colour, but black and white does have a classic feel to it that makes certain pictures stand out.

Shoot Film or Digital ?
O: Digital because we need quantity. The display screen has changed everything.
N: I was given a Zorki-4k film camera that I’ve not had the chance to use yet. I’ve experimented before with Omair’s Seagull film camera and love the detailing of the pictures. But right now I would always go for digital as we live in a time of constant movement and haste and the need to take pictures and develop them quickly is greater.

If Film, what type of negative? Kodak

Omair-Calligrapher in India

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good?
O: Late afternoon when Cairo starts to get social. The light is a rich golden colour.

N: In Egypt the sun is too strong during the day so I tend to shoot early morning or mid afternoon. I love the lighting produced by the morning rays and by the late afternoon sun.

How do you define photographing the streets?
O: I’d say the photo should capture something of the reality of where you are. I don’t mean you shouldn’t construct the photo somehow.  I feel if the place that you choose does not translate the mood then it’s because they’re just pictures. You have to wait for the event that happens that exemplifies the nature or mood of the place. Or like we do, we unashamedly construct a whole picture from pictures in our collages. It’s not pointing and clicking and being honest. But honesty is relative and debatable.

We might stay somewhere for 15 minutes. A mother pushes a stroller and a child follows and drops something and picks it up. Or a car accident happens. On any given day things could be interesting or dull. It’s all about waiting for the thing to happen.

I studied anthropology and talked about how to represent a culture to other people through photos and film. You are already making editorial decision of where to point. Like film you might add music to enhance or bring out the mood. It’s the same when we wait to capture something. Sometimes I include myself in the shots on our collages for character. And of course where we choose to set up photos is already the first editorial decision.

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N: It’s observation of the subject first- that’s the main thing – and getting into position. For our panoramic collages, I often find the position and wait for 20 minutes. I don’t believe in shooting a bunch of pictures and hope that one turns out. Of course I do rely on a little luck.

Why did you choose shooting the streets and not another form of photography or stamp collecting?
O: Collecting people, places and environments is something you can’t really buy. We own the experience, and the fact that we came and saw and captured it. You can’t really sell that on, or collect that from others.

N: Actually when I was a teenager I was an avid stamp collector, with my favourite collection hailing from Russia. I appreciated the design, typography and texture of the stamps.

I did my degree in Psychology and so have always been interested in human emotions and the way our environment affects us. Since moving to Cairo I became interested in Street photography. It was a real challenge trying to take pictures, as people here tend to be more suspicious of anyone with a SLR. But I found that with street photography it’s about getting out there, assimilating yourself and overcoming your fears. You’re not going to get it right every time but it’s the excitement that keeps you going.

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What motivates you to photograph the streets?
O: The knowledge that they won’t always be the way they are. It’s the notion of real life and being a window for others into real life (even if we are warping it).

N: The moment when you capture a shot that makes the whole day worthwhile.

Is shooting the streets an obsession?
O: I wish I did more.
N: To me it’s an addiction. I can’t walk the streets now without scanning the scene for potential picture opportunities. Here in Cairo every moment is worth capturing.

You call your images collages. What do you mean by collage?
O: Sometimes we call it photo stitches of pictures arranged together. Like a spread in a magazine, the editor and designer organizes the pictures together. It is also a collage. They are meant to be seen together. Like ours is one of a series of shots made in a short period of time.

N: A collage is a collection of different stories to reveal the bigger picture of what was happening. Often we take pictures of a street scene over 20 minutes. But when we put it together, it appears to have occurred in a few seconds.

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Are these stitched images ‘unposed’ ? Are the shots superimposed on top of each other? What made you decide to use the panoramic format?
O: If you look at David Hockney’s photographs, they are seen as portraits rather than photographs.  A professor once told us: Stitched images are more filmic. No one experiences a person in a flash- we see frowns smiles, etc. You could look at it from any point in time or place. Film allows us to rewind and go back. And like a comic strip, you can always go back and that is what we are trying to achieve. Some collages of ours don’t show time from beginning to end. Instead, we let the viewer step into it and be part of it. We let them figure out the timeline based on their own experiences.

N: I enjoy filming and so it might be why I like the format of the panorama to capture a few minutes into a second of a frame.  I don’t know if you have this in America- It’s like Where’s Wally? Find the person within a busy picture. You can’t just glimpse you have to look at it in detail.

For instance, take our photo of Alexandria, by the sea. If you look carefully you can see the same people repeated several times. Some panoramas you have to see large. We only do small prints for ourselves. If we could blow them up 10 meters and with high resolution, it would be really cool.

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Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group?
O: I prefer to be alone to concentrate, but sometimes a partner helps you be more confident and less of a threat to people.
N:  I like the freedom that shooting alone gives you, so I mainly go out by myself. But I love the moments when Omair and I get to shoot together.

Favorite street photography city:
O: Sarajevo
N: India, but my current favourite has to be Cairo. Every road, every corner, every place is a photo opportunity waiting to be captured.

What inspires your photography?
O: Artists like David Hockney, ‘Where’s Wally’ (in the US you have ‘Where’s Waldo’)
Films by Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick. Literature about urban spaces, and anthropology. Noticing things about different cultures.

N: Many, many things- Other street photographers, books on design, architecture, psychology, creative documentaries on Vimeo, poetry, graffiti, art galleries, the countryside and cities, the environment around me and peoples’ stories.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others?
O: What are they trying to show me, and does it give me a shiver down my spine? Great composition and exposure.
N: Detail, humour and something that makes you think about the picture.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? 
O: Be a person who notices things, this can’t really be learnt from a book. In Cairo, it’s  too easy or a cop-out when you choose what is old, dirty, poverty-stricken to shoot. Try to be subtle I think. Get in with people.

N: Decide what I want to shoot and then go out and find it. Most times though I shoot anything that catches my eye.

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How do you compose a typical stitched shot?
O: Stand in one place, and start shooting about 45 degrees of peripheral vision, getting high, low. Wait for interesting people to come by, close to you and far away. You need the closer people to make the images interesting.

N: Stay in one place and begin shooting when something interesting comes in my view. I shoot people from far and close moving from right to left and I only leave when I am happy with the shots.

O: I was exploring the neighboring area next to mine. I saw it and came back the next day with our camera. I don’t think the people realized how interesting they were. The owner of the pool table was providing a service to the kids of the neighbourhood . We spent about 10 minutes from one angle and 10 minutes from another angle. That could have been a single shot in itself. Sometimes a scene is so wide we have to cover 180 degrees.

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We got close and snapped away about 100 shots. It’s a good exercise. If you like wide- angle photography, maybe you should snap away and make a collage.

People regurgitate photographs they’ve seen before. It appears to be true when you see lots of photos taken in poorer countries. There is a repeated image of a smiling poor kid. We as observers seem to like specific narratives of people: poor yet so happy.

Maybe a way I avoid this is to take lots of photos and not just one. That’s what we try to avoid. Like World Press photos: they are powerful. But it is unclear what people should think it means: the African woman with child touching her mouth, for instance. People travel to any country and they take images that they think they are supposed to take.

On shooting pictures of the poor: I don’t know what I believe about it. One of my students says he wants to do a project on poor people. I asked him what he meant. I asked him to ask a deeper question. The problem is the made up feelings that privileged people make up about the rest of the world. Be careful what you are trying to say. Try to show what it was like in that place.

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N: We were just walking along the promenade and at the top of the steps. I was admiring the castle in the background. A father was helping his little girl fly the kite. I liked the kite flying in different directions. The main subject is the child and father. They were living a carefree life for the day. It was fun to watch that and have the memory in the panaorma.

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N: Eid celebration is the equivalent of Christmas in Egypt. The teenagers were out at the local mall. The dogs seemed like a social status. I wanted to capture a different part of Egyptian life. There were a lot of kids with their cars. Some were dancing. A lot of people went up to them petting the dogs. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was something we came across just walking.

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: 
O: Be polite, don’t intrude. Learn the language a bit.
N:1)Take plenty of water if shooting in hot weather and travel lightly
2) Be patient and alert and wait for the right moment before you shoot
3) Try to blend in so you can capture people in their element

Best single advice on how to improve your work:
O: Don’t just make photography that speaks to you, others have to dig it. Share the photos.
N: Practice, practice, practice. Get out on the streets for hands on experience. Also look at other photographers work to get inspiration.

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Best single advice on how to edit your work.
O: Don’t over do it. But realize that you are not cheating, because the whole idea of photography is construct. Images are pretending to be a window to a real place. Make the colour and the feeling like it was, or how you remember it was.

N: Learn how to use the software first before attempting to edit your work. Follow free tutorials online and keep practicing. Don’t overdo on the editing, let your pictures have a raw quality to them. I love the burn and dodge tool, which allows you to bring out the detail in the image. You also have greater flexibility with using this tool by editing part of the picture rather than the whole image.

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography:
O: Read about cities and city culture. How do they come about; how is life affected by the design of the city and the people that are in the mix.

N: Look at other photographers for inspiration and advice. Take a workshop on photography. Go on a trip to somewhere new and exciting and capture it.

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What’s the best moment in your photography career?
O: Capturing a kids’ football match near a mosque in Cairo.
N: Composing the collages in A Cairo Minute

What’s the worst moment in your  photography career?
O: The Police in Cairo, grabbing my camera and deleting a load of images during a protest.
N: Being approached by plain clothed officers in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on the start of the Egyptian revolution, and made to erase all of my pictures.

Tell us about the political unrest you are experiencing now. Does it affect you now directly or not?
O: I had a point and shoot. The police was preoccupied with the protest. Before the revolution in Tarir Square (in Cairo) in 2011, protests were not common events. Nabeela and I were naïve at what we were doing. We went to see what was happening. As soon as I photographed a policeman holding a shotgun, they came over and asked why I was photographing. He took my camera and started deleting pictures. He could have easily smashed camera and no one would have known or cared. I had photographed the police not for police but to have a record of the memory for ourselves. The police looked nervous. They were bewilderd that they were standing over the protestors. I was lucky, by mistake he didn’t delete all of the photos.

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N: We were at Tarir Square a day before the revolution. We noticed the police taking out riot equipment. The police told us to delete the photographs. I got quite angry. But looing back, we realized you can’t go around just taking photographs as if nothing is happening. Probably a better response would be to shoot from the hip or simply be clever about how we shoot.

After the protest, as life got back to normal, most of the places we took pictures of already had a lot of people who were also taking pictures. So I don’t think the unrest has affected dramatically the way I shoot. Perhaps disguising the way we shoot is the change.

I would say, because of the culture, I don’t feel comfortable shooting specific scenes. For instance, the boys at the mosque playing football: I felt more comfortable with Omair taking photographs. I do find if you ask people before hand, then they have no problem. But if they say no, then I walk away. But that’s street portraiture. If I feel the person knows then I will ask. But most of the time we look away. Most people don’t realize what I’m doing. Sometimes, I would shoot with the camera on my knee.

Is there a difference between the time you took pictures before unrest and after?
O: It’s always been suspicious but its easier now to take pictures. 10 years ago only professionals had cameras. After the revolution, people became less afraid of the police. It’s easier because there are more opportunities. The police are not as well respected so people stand up to them more. Mobile phones are completely accepted. More young people are taking pictures and sharing pictures. More people can afford cameras. It’s become more common.

N: It is not as open to take pictures anymore in areas of protest. The people are more on edge. But other areas I would have no problem.

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Are you more  motivated to shoot the protests now that the police did take your camera? What advice would you give to photographers in an unrest situation?
O: We were quite naïve to take pictures of the police. Police don’t appreciate being photographed in countries where they are brutal. Keep your distance.

Make sure you have a way to back-up the images. For instance, wirelessly.  If they delete your images you’ve still got it. If you are a journalist you are more informed about this. Don’t go for the big camera. Master the technique of looking in one direction and taking a picture in another direction.

What we face here is probably more rioting. Not really civil war. The army is very well armed. The protesters not.  Syria and Lybia are different cases. I asked my neighbors here if they noticed anything different since the protests. And they noticed nothing. Violence always makes the news. But it’s in one part of town. People naturally think the whole country is that way. I remember the armed police went to Disneyland. It was heavy handed. You can spin it anyway. Here it’s bad, they killed a lot of people. The country is in a depressed state. Their own army is killing their citizens. The value of human life in the Middle East is running quite low these days. People are killing and being killed. Brutality does not register as much as it should. In the UK and America, we are quite distant. It’s reported but in Middle East, the people are stoic. They accept it and move on.  You talk to most people- they don’t have a spring in their step. They ignore it. They switch it off. In general, they don’t get involved in politics. It doesn’t affect us physically but the mentally is there. They do get on with daily life.  Fine art and contemporary art is different here. Harder for creativity. Graphic design is more commercial like publishing, typography, branding, things that people will always need. Here, fine artists do get into politics. And we in graphics do get them to think about.

You can’t always be revolutionary or experimental. There’s a job to be done.

N: I would say freedom is not really there to take just any picture. Although In some ways I feel more free in Cairo than in the UK. Because they are more laid back here in Cairo. People are more free to experiment than it was a few years ago. Before the revolution there was no graffiti- now there are more people expressing themselves – more graffitti. There is a big art scene that’s coming. People are more open to expressing themselves. Before you would be locked up. Now I think it has gone back to before the revolution. Now people talk more about politics than before.  Although, many friends left Egypt after the revolution.

The political climate keeps changing in Egypt, and now some say it has gone back to the brutal regime of Mubarak (possibly worse) and freedom of expression, press and choice is being oppressed.

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Do you feel you need to document the unrest? Or is it better left to professionals?
O: The police now are quite suspicious if you carry a big camera. Documentary news should be left to those who are who are good at it. We are not putting our lives on the line. People here don’t like journalists in general. They have a fear that you will make them look bad. They think maybe this is government propaganda. That journalist exposes the bad in our society.

If you have a camera pointed to a family it is God-given right not to be photographed. People shout at you. You have to be street wise to navigate that and not get into trouble. Forget buildings like banks, airports and government buildings. They are sensitive to that.  It’s not dangerous but it’s not easy. Security guards are told not to let people take photos. I once photo of a building near a market place, Nabeela was looking for hair accessories. She didn’t buy anything and walked away. The vendor then accused us of photographing her without her permission. She called other people around and we had to diffuse the situation. She wanted to pick a fight. It’s an art to photograph people without them knowing. It’s your right as long as you don’t make them look undeservedly bad. This is important and specific to Cairo.

N: I don’t need shoot unrest because the professionals are doing that. I want to focus on the different side. I don’t want to focus on the negative. I want to show the carefree life. We didn’t see that until we stumbled on it while walking the streets. In the city of the dead, people live amongst graves. It reminds me of my childhood – carefree but they play amongst rubble - carefree regardless of your situation and environment .

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What projects are you working on?
O: I am documenting good shop sign typography and hand lettering in Cairo before they disappear to computer-designed cheapness.

N: A Cairo Minute which consists of a series of pictures, stitched together to create unpredictable and often humorous results. Also working on capturing the vintage VW Beetle car that is aplenty in Cairo. Capturing them in their environment, in their well cared for or battered state.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to  photography?
O: We want to have made more collages and be able to exhibit them really big, in high detail.
N: Hold an exhibition with our work. Working on other new and experimental projects

Are there exhibitions planned in the future?
O: Soon at the American University in Cairo, and maybe elsewhere.
N: Hopefully in Cairo and London.

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Leica Liker thanks Nabeela and Omair for sharing their experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in with them in the future.

You can check out Nabeela and Omair’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

Their self portraits are here.

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#19 PIETER TEN HOOPEN, Stockholm (Sweden) Photographer

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Leica Liker is honored to have PIETER TEN HOOPEN, a Stockholm (Sweden) Photographer as our #19 guest. He is also our very first WORLD PRESS PHOTO Prize Recipient!!!

When I first saw Pieter Ten Hoopen’s photographs a year ago, I couldn’t get them out of my mind. The haunting images drove me to seek out the man; the persona; the eye, behind them.

haunt·ing [hawn-ting, hahn-] adjective 1. remaining in the consciousness; not quickly forgotten

Pieter’s images linger, like a drifting fog. But it’s not a blinding experience, not at all. Instead, he pulls us into his subject’s mysterious and private world, giving us an intimate view of a certain ‘state of grace’ in the human condition.

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Pieter talks of the importance of stories. And is committed to telling them. It’s what quantifies human existence in a way that validates who we are. When you look into his photographs, you can’t help but feel the depth of a life lived in his subjects –  old or young.

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Pieter rarely shoots to capture a moment in time, like many street photographers do. He’s not looking for the ‘decisive’ moment. Instead he works hard to give you a complex story of life. The characters he meets and photographs are introduced to us like old friends whether they are news photos or stories he worked on for months.

Through Pieter’s images, we are afforded a rare look into the fragility of humanity. He’s able to present vulnerabilities as a strength, rather than a weakness of the human spirit. And it takes a seasoned and caring eye to capture human dignity and hold it close to the subject’s heart.

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Here is my interview with PIETER TEN HOOPEN:

Nick Name: None that I am aware of. I am curious what it could be.
Currently living in: I split it between outside Stockholm- in the countryside and in the city of Stockholm.
Motto:  I never really thought about a motto to be honest.
Photographer since: Since 2002- 11 years.

Fargana valley, Uzbekistan/0508. Margilan

How did you get started in photojournalism? Did you start off in photojournalism first? First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a photojournalist. However, I studied photojournalism in Stockholm. I would consider myself a photographer or storyteller. Those are better labels. I do all kinds of photography. It’s a great challenge I enjoy.  I shoot different assignments from commercial to news. I never say no to any photography job. For me, the goal is to finance my books and projects, which are about storytelling.

Fargana valley, Uzbekistan/0508. The city of Fergana.

In the past, I worked for New York Times magazine, Time and some European media. Although, I like to work for Swedish clients as they pay better. Sadly, Swedish print media such as newspapers and magazines are  quitting much of the struggle. It’s a dying outlet for news and stories. Because of this, I had to find other ways to make money to supplement my goal. So I teach workshops, in all parts of the world and Sweden. I also shoot more commercial work for companies these days. As you see,  all different forms of photography. I’ve also been providing visual solutions for clients in both film (moving) as well as stills. At the moment I’ve been filming a lot, which I really enjoy.

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I am also a full member with Agence Vu in Paris. They represent me and resell my journalistic photo stories. They also sell my books but not my art prints. Those are sold through my homepage and some galleries in Sweden.

Profession/Job: Professional photographer

Websites: www.pietertenhoopen.com 

Organizations  or  Group:  Agence Vu

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What was the first camera you started with? I started with a compact camera whch a friend gave as a gift.

Favorite Camera & Lens: Nikon D800E, DX3. I tried all their cameras and lens models and my favorite lens is 35mm these days. Although before it was 28mm. I always work with prime lenses – no zooms. I’m one of the photographers Nikon is sponsoring. I also often use Yashica box cameras as well as the Widelux- which is very sensitive.

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Back-up Camera & Lens: Nikon D800E is also my back-up with the 35mm lens. I always work simple. I work with one set of cameras with back-up in hotel room.

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Favorite photography gadget: I am the most boring photographer. I only use whatever is necessary to get the job done. No more and no less.

In general, I am not interested in cameras.  Being a camera geek was always for the techno insane. But I am slowly appreciating the technology and camera equipment, thanks to Nikon’s sponsoring.

I want to say, photography is about a feeling in my body. That’s why I like to test shoot with many cameras to find that feeling.

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Favorite street food: We don’t have that much in Sweden. I avoid street food because I am picky. I prefer a good restaurant in the evening.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: Never when shooting. When editing- I listen to quite a lot of radio in the background – like public radio, news programs, music as well. A lot of trance- like quiet trancey music playing continually in the background all the time to create the right atmosphere.

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Favorite photo software: Photoshop C6. I work with RAW files. I generally don’t do much post work – just dodge and burn and correction of colors. We’re not allowed to do any post work when it comes to news and journalistic work. I work the same way on my own work. I am quite consequent that way. 

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3 Favorite Master Photographers: I am a big fan of Eugene Richards. He’s my all time darling. His story telling is fantastic. Otherwise, I don’t look that much to photographers anymore. I am more a movie guy. Movies are about effective storytelling. I watch a lot of slice-of-life movies. Not spectacular fantasy, just small little stories. I love to experience the feeling of small things.

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Deliverance was the last movie I watched recently. I have seen it time and time again. I think it is a fantastic movie. The tension is insane and horrible. I love to dig through archives and DVDs and watch them many times. They are super inspiring for my photography.

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3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers:  I have no specific persons whom I follow or see as favorite. I think I’m more interested in film and there I have plenty of favorites, too many to mention I guess.

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Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? I collect a few and exchange with fellow photographers. For instance, I have a print from Erika Larson, an American. I have a bad conscience, I still owe her a print of one of my images. She will get it. I also own a great print of the dead Swedish master of social photography, Christer Strömholm. Another print I have is by Erik Refner a Dane. I also have prints from a lot of Russian photographers. Russia has some exciting photographers. When I do my workshops there I swap with them.

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Color or Black and White? Nowadays I work 99% in color. I enjoy color way more. Just gives me more inspiration, more options to visualize – I love the relationship to the story. Black and white doesn’t inspire me anymore. If I do something nowadays in black and white then it is an emergency scenario because I can’t fix it in color. Color is more complex and challenging.

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Shoot Film or Digital ? I love to shoot both. When it comes to commercial clients it is digital. But my new book next year is all film. My Tokyo series was shot 50/50.  I would like to have all the options open. I enjoy film a lot. It still gives such a beautiful warm, imperfect feeling while the sharpness in the digital files has its own qualities.

If Film, what type of negative?  I always use Kodak Portra 400 or 120 iso Professional.

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Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? If I have the possibility to choose, then late afternoon when the light is soft. Although, I can work in all kinds of light. You’re not always able to choose.

How do you define photojournalism? It doesn’t matter how it is defined. I think the term was born in the US. It is very American.

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Why did you choose photojournalism and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? Storytelling. Simple as that. I chose this line of work because I enjoy communicating with my stories. It is like movies: there are so many ways of telling and making perfect stories. If you look at my “Tokyo stories” series you’ll see I love to work closely and intimately with people.  I like to tell the poetry of daily life.

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How do you choose a journalistic subject? Depends on the story. For instance in Tokyo, Jay is a friend of mine. So it was a natural. In the story, the others are friends of his. In other stories you might use ‘fixers’: people who are on the ground who can help arrange the meeting of people for you. In Montana, I just did a lot of door knocking. So it all depends. You have to seek out any opportunity that works with the situation. You have to be flexible.

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What motivates you to photograph in general? Pure storytelling and to pay my bills. I do my specific things, but I have to pay bills like anyone else. Sometimes it’s poetry and sometimes it is just a job.

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What motivates you to photograph difficult subjects? They may be difficult topics but they are important issues ‘of our time’ and important to communicate. We need to cover them because we need to make the atrocities against humanity or to nature official.

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Is Photography an obsession? It is not. I think if it is an obsession it tires you out. It has a strange vibe that makes it difficult to deliver high quality images. You have to be sharp and strong to work the material. If you work in top form, you are really focused. I enjoy it a lot. I am good at it. You have to be so good in the field in the thing you are doing. It would be like a soccer player walking with a soccer ball all the time. I need to be able to focus and relax. So I never carry a camera around when I am not working.

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Do you always develop a relationship with your subjects? By developing a relationship, are you trying to make yourself invisible to your subjects? In my line of work, you are very close to the subjects because you work in the same space. You photograph everything they do. It depends on the story you are working on but it’s clear you are part of their life during the period of day, week, or month. I am not invisible, but the aim of my presence is to make myself non-intrusive and not distracting to the subject.

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How do you approach a subject to develop such a relationship? You explain who you are.  In Montana, I spent over 10 years documenting. You must be very straight forward as to who you are and what you want to do. You tell them you want to tag along. If they don’t like it in the beginning then they won’t like it in the end.

Favorite city to shoot in: I love Tokyo – it is one of my favorite places to be. I love the Japanese people. It may sound strange but I feel relaxed in that city. I love to walk there. I love Istanbul too.

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What inspires your photography? I like paintings. It’s very important for what I do. I studied other photographers but I find studying paintings gives me much more. I always look at the Dutch maters because of the light, even if you don’t like the subject but the light is fantastic. I also love Egon Schiele’s work.

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Is there a philosophy, concept  or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? The aesthetic changes based on the mood and atmosphere of the story. Every story has its own character, temperament and feeling that determines what it will be. It is not a philosophy but a fact.

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When you shoot, do you come with preconceived ideas or a specific point of view of the subject, or do you let events unfold? When it comes to stories, I need a clear picture of what I am going to do there. It costs too much money to do these projects, so I can’t afford to have it not pay out. You can pitch it to a newspaper and magazine; you contact people; you have to do a lot of research; and the most important part of the story – you have to research the ins and outs of the topic you are working with. Once you’re on the ground you continue researching. This is where you have to let things unfold before you. You’ll often find that your previous research might have given you a specific view. But when you get there it is not what you envisioned and it turns out to be nothing like you expect it. You have to be able to recognize that and go with the flow and not stick to your initial point of view. Positive or negative.

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The magic thing about doing stories is you constantly have to adapt to a new situation. If you go into the story with a specific vision and force it, you will be bored. That’s not saying it’s not frustrating when it first happens when things don’t go the way you envision it to go. But it’s liberating when it happens because you have to adapt. It is part of the fun.

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Can you elaborate how you develop a complete series for the media like New York Times? Is it any different when you develop a book? The two are distinctly different. The photographic material for news must fit to the text the reporter is writing. There are specific details you have to communicate. When it comes to a book, then it is a personal choice and very emotional.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others? I don’t look that much for aesthetics. I look for emotions in other people’s work, a good body of work. I want to be touched, either positive or negative. Most importantly, it must communicate it successfully.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by you? I don’t think that much in single images, I think in a series. A series is difficult when it comes to my feelings. It has to do something to me. It has to trigger me in some way. It has to create curiosity, awareness, beauty and poetry. It must be emotionally compelling. I see movies in the same way as my photos – you take the viewer into this little trip. The art is to keep people involved in the whole trip – otherwise they are not good enough.

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How do you go about shooting a photograph?  I tried for many years to blend in and it doesn’t work. I have a big camera and I am quite tall. I gave up that game. Now I just work. I don’t care about other things, I just focus on what I have to do.

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Can you describe the entire process of photographing these photos, from preparation to when you pressed the shutter button?

From the series: Kitezh in Russia. This is a story about my search of the invisible city of Kitezh from an old Russian myth about sacred waters. I never found it so I decided to take pictures of the people I came upon in my search in Vladimirskoe. I used only the late afternoon and evening light during the work on this series. I love to continue working this way. The light becomes like silk helping to create a lovely atmosphere in which to shoot. The story won the First Prize in the 2007 World Press Photo Daily Life Stories.

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From the series: Stockholm- Book. This picture was taken during the time I worked on my Stockholm book. A dear friend called me and told me his father had died of cancer and wondered if I could photograph them saying their farewell. I remember this moment clearly as it was very peaceful.  The family was close as they gathered during this moment of grief. Before it was normal in our culture to photograph family members who had died. But I think this has changed in the modern society where we don’t want to be reminded. For me personally, this was a very intimate situation and moment to be part of.

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From the series for New York Times Magazine: ER Kabul This is a picture taken in a war hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was doing a story for the New York Times Magazine about this hospital. I spent a long time in Afghansitan working on different stories but this one in particular was important to me. We worked most of the time in the emergency room and did follow-ups once the patients were doing there rehabilitation. Most of the men and women who come here are injured by mines or bullets. (see photos below) This young man was badly injured and he died some days after this image was taken because of complications. Before he came to the Emergency war hospital he was mistreated and wrongly diagnosed in other hospitals. So the damage was to very bad when he arrived.

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ER Kabul: Man with pink gloves I shot this during the same assignment for the New York Times Magazine as mentioned above. The man works for the Italian war hospital emergency. One of the biggest suicide attacks in Kabul in years killed 80 and injured hundreds of people. The injured and the dead were all driven to this entrance at the hospital. There were literally lots of body parts coming in.  The man in the gloves is gathering the body parts which were laying on the street.

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I cannot remember really what I was thinking during this shoot. When you come upon a day like this you work and work harder just so you can cover (shoot) it all. This goes for mentally and physically too. The only thing I remember was a brain laying on the street,  an image I shot after this one. It was a child’s brain which was laying in perfect shape on the street. The moment I saw this, it hit me how horrible it was. I could not really let go of the image and thought of it for quite some time. Still today I think back to this moment often. Many children died this day after this big explosion resulting in many lost body parts. Most are injured for the rest of there lives.

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Prostitutes in Damascus The story is about Iraki women being forced into prostitution in order to earn money to support their children. It was a longer reportage and all these women had lost their husbands during the war in Irak. And because of the fact they can’t show a death certificate they are not entitled to get any financial support from the government.

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The story was mostly shot in the area where Irakis were displaced during the war. Most of the women suffered from physical and mental problems because of the work they do. Most of them had been badly beaten up by their customers… I had problems to photograph the women but it was made more problematic because it was a big project to gather all the women to be able to make it work.

Prostitution of Iraqi women in Syria

The story was published in Swedish media and was shot for a TV show which was assigned by the EU. After the publication I was called both from Damascus and from the Syrian Embassy in Stockholm. I was told that I’m not welcome in Syria anymore. The reason for this was not that I had shown a sensitive or forbidden topic but the fact that the newspaper which published the work was pro Israel –  so they told me. This is not true. It was published in one of Sweden’s most respected and best newspapers.

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How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? You have to ask what is the story about. You come home to 1000’s of raw files. You reduce it to 200, 100. When you are done, you start over again to see if you made the right decision. Books take weeks or months for me.

Prostitution of Iraqi women in Syria

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: 1) Everything is about the light- choose your light. It is extremely important. 2) Feel the place, feel the topic. 3) You need a full stomach. It’s hard to work with an empty stomach.

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Best single advice on how to improve your work: Just shoot. Like any other sport, if you want to be good, you have to practice. It will come – you need to spend time with raw material- you need to know what you are shooting. Spend time with your images, in a meditative way. Go through your work in order to understand your work to see what you are doing right or wrong. I do a lot of workshops and teaching. So many students spend a half day with their work and think that’s enough. You have to show respect to the week or month of photography.

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Best single advice on how to edit your work: You have to spend time with your raw material to be able to undertand what is in front of you. Selection is about making large edits. It becomes smaller every time until you reach the storyline.

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Best single advice for someone who wants to get into photojournalism: Well, you have to enjoy what you are doing. You don’t have to be a professional. The joy of the work is extremely important. Don’t go for the quick fix. It is a marathon. Breathe. Having a long breath is what counts.

What’s the best moment in your photography career? I have no idea. Yet to come I hope!

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What’s the worst moment in your photography career? Shooting in misery about misery. It doesn’t make you happy- it has its impact on you. It makes you grow old so you have to be aware.

Once, I had an assignment in Cairo after a man in California made a movie that was seen as against the Prophet Mohammed. I was shooting people on the streets protesting. Some guys took my iPhone which can happen. They were hooligans going crazy and attacking journalists. Religious demonstrations are normally peaceful, but it’s stuff like hooligans that create the large headlines dominating the protests at Tahrir Square. I have to say, journalists are experiencing more and more problems there.  It’s not a good thing for freedom of press in Egypt.  But a job is a job. I rarely do short news assignments anymore. I normally do long projects, so there is a balance between the stories.

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What projects are you working on? A book on Hungry Horse, Montana  titled “Hungry Horse”- next year. I have been working on it for 10 years with 1-2 trips a year.

What’s your next assignment? Will be working in northern Kaukasus this autum but a short trip will include Stockholm. It’s been a busy year. But I would love to work more at home.

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Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to photography? I am already where I want to be – I do my books and projects. I would love to produce more books. – you can’t make a living on photo books, you need commercial assignments. They normally cost you money. It’s a love.

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? I will show my Hungry Horse book in New York and also the multimedia work produced in cooperation with Mediastorm in NY.

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You can view Pieter’s WORLD PRESS PHOTO prize winning entries below:

WPP 2007

WPP 2009 -1

WPP 2009 -2

Pieter teaches workshops. You can check them out here from time to time.

As of posting, Pieter’s short film KITEZH – VLADIMIRSKOE, was accepted into competition at the Stockholm Film Festival. Congratulations Pieter!

Leica Liker thanks Pieter for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in with him in the future.

You can check out Pieter’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

This is Pieter’s self portrait.

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#18 RUI PALHA, Lisbon (Portugal) Street Photographer

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Leica Liker is honored to have RUI PALHA, a Lisbon (Portugal) Street Photographer as our #18 guest.

As you might guess, I often scour the web in search of images that touch my heart. I will drop whatever I am doing to find out more. I distinctly remember seeing the image below on Flickr. It instantly drew my attention. It was like a movie still.

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The director couldn’t have done a better job, starting with the window frame and the scratched and worn glass from which we look through. The actor’s hand in pocket, the other holding a newspaper, keeping it close to himself; The hunch – something weighing heavy on his mind; The backlight putting him in silhouette giving him an anonymous feel – perhaps it’s what he’s feeling;  People ignoring him – what life often is about – you’re on your own… I was moved by its simplicity and its complex emotion of loneliness.

So I was thrilled to find that it wasn’t just a one hit wonder but part of a whole body of work from a true humanist.

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Rui’s images seem to be devoted to that independent soul. He is drawn to the loner, the one who stands out from the crowd. Man or woman against the environment; against the world.  The underdog. Rui has a connection to them. It’s deep in his Portuguese soul.  And he wants us to share the humanity of his “people”- the way they conduct their lives.

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When I spoke with Rui, I asked him about this recurring theme. He told me indeed it is something he yearns for. He believes solitude is a prevalent condition not only in Portugal but throughout society. People are generally lonely in crowds. It’s a sad fact of life. A state of affairs that we must live with. There’s even a Portugese term for it – “Fado” which literally means ‘fate’. It’s a Portuguese national symbol really.

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FADO: a type of Portuguese singing, traditionally associated with pubs and cafés, that is renowned for its expressive and profoundly melancholic character.

The singer of fado… speaks to the often harsh realities of everyday life, sometimes with a sense of resignation, sometimes with the hope of resolution. - Encyclopedia Britannica

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What I admire is Rui’s ability to juggle between street photography and street portraiture.  He’s able to give us the beautifully lit and composed master shot- the overall observation and then come in for the close-up – to catch the quiet humanity of a person.

Most street photographs and portraits convey something of strangers in the moment. But many of Rui’s images come from deep empathy and sharing of an unforgettable life. I love to see them as a collection because together, they tell us a story that transcend the photographic medium and gives us a glimpse into precious souls.

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Here is my interview with RUI PALHA:

Nick Name: None
Currently living in: Lisbon, Portugal
Motto: Live the day like it was the last day.
Street Photographer since: Photography has been a hobby from 13 years of age, with great interruptions up to 2001.  Since then, I have devoted myself to street photography almost all the time.

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How did you get into photography in the first place? I loved photographing since I was 13 years old. I even had my own dark room. Many, many years ago I invited all of my colleagues to photograph with me in the streets. Over the years working, I saw my friends become mad, become crazy. I ran away to escape. Instead of watching tv or going to the movies, I photographed the streets. I always worked with multi-disciplinary teams in my main job (mainframe computer technology advisor). I created a union between us via photography. I organized the groups to walk the streets during the weekends or breaks from hard work using the same type of film – after we developed the film we met to see the results of the images of the same place – small places. It is always amazing to see the results of shooting in the same place. It’s different from each person.

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Profession/Job: Retired data processing and technology adviser

Websites:
http://www.ruipalha.com/
http://1x.com/member/ruipalha
http://www.fineart-portugal.com/author/1405
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruipalha/
Book: “Street Photography”

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What was your first camera? I remember very well… a small Minolta 16mm. The negative was small and very thin. I was 13 years old and I loved that camera. I learned a lot using it. I wrote down every shot, time, hour, sunny or not, the exposure and afterwards I developed and saw the errors I made- lots of errors. We only learn from errors. I make them still. It’s awful. You spend a whole day in the streets. You think you can’t fail and when you put up the photos in the computer they all look terrible. You can’t fix every shot or moment that was important for you. As a result, very often I would delete the whole card because all I wanted was that moment, which I didn’t get. Fortunately we are not perfect. Otherwise life would be too boring.

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Favorite Street Camera & Lens: I don’t have a favorite street camera. I use several cameras in the streets depending on what I pretend to do each day. Lately I have been using a Sony RX1, I am testing it. Sometimes I use a Nikon D800 with a 20mm or a 35mm, other times I use a Fuji X100 (with a 35mm) or a Fuji XPRO1 with a 27mm or a Leica DLUX 5.

I want to say, any camera is fine. I test cameras a lot. What matters is to use very good lenses. The most important thing is your eye. Because, in the end, all gear have the same qualities. And most people, me in particular, don’t use the digital camera’s full abilities. To be honest, I don’t know 90% of the menu on my Nikon D800. I tend to use the camera the same way every day.

I have a big passion for rain: My favorite weather for photography. Every one goes home but I go to the streets. I’ve lost many cameras in the rain. I think there is always special lighting on raining days. It provides me reflections and refractions on every surface. Some people call me the “rain photographer”.

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Back-up Street Camera & Lens: When I use the D800 usually I take with me a Fuji camera (X100 or XPRO1) or a Leica DLUX5 or the Sony RX-1. If I don’t use the D800 I don’t have a backup camera. I take just one with me… the Fuji XPRO1 or the Sony RX-1

Favorite photography gadget: I don’t have any gadget.
Favorite street food: Black coffee and water.

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Do you listen to music while shooting? Never. In street photography concentration is fundamental. It is necessary to “see” every moment and to “listen” for every street sound. Sometimes listening the sound allows us to anticipate a moment. This is fundamental.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing photos: When editing… always jazz.

Favorite photo software: FastStone Viewer and Paint Shop Pro with b/w Styler as a plugin.

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3 Favorite Master Photographers: Henry Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand and James Nachtway

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: James Nachtway and Sebastião Salgado…

As well as Henry Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand , they will be my favorite eternal contemporaries…They never die…

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? None, unfortunately.

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Color or Black and White? Black & white… always.

Shoot Film or Digital ? I love film, I belong to the “old school”. I used film for many years and of course, I had my own darkroom. Now I only use digital. It’s cheaper, faster and as I don’t have darkroom anymore… I think whether digital or analogue, it is mandatory to develop the films ourselves. I don’t like to send them to the commercial labs. To be honest I never liked the darkroom work, I always prefer to be in the streets “pressing the shutter” …

Also, I only work with jpeg and never use raw. As mentioned earlier, I can fail with lighting measurements. When I fail, the photo is basically garbage. I don’t like raw because I don’t like to post process. I have thousands of photos. Had I shot them in raw, I would have no room in my small house to store it. I prefer to work the lighting in-camera. I then convert to grey scale and the photos turn out pretty nice if I shot it right.

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Do you remember the first sensation you had when you took photographs and then saw them after you printed them? Yes- it’s fantastic- I remember that time. I use to spend many hours in dark room developing and print my own film. I never liked the work but when I saw the image appearing in the tray was simply magical, developing and printing, It’s hard work but fascinating too. I haven’t developed my films for many years now. I prefer to walk in streets and capture the moment.

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How has digital changed your way of seeing compare to film? It’s curious, because in the beginning I was very disappointed in digital. In film you must be disciplined. 36 fotos take 2-3 days to shoot. Now 36 take ½ hour to 1 hour. But when this sensation goes away, you become disciplined again. I am more worried about controlling the light than to press the button. I can see with digital, how some people can make 100 clicks in one second. It doesn’t cost more to click more. But you lose sight of the composition and content.

I use film philosophy to guide my photography. Now I take around 60-100 photos per day. Of course there are exceptions. For instance, one time I was surprised by a street performance by a group of rappers. In 1 hour I took 150 photos. I shot for them and for me. I sent them the photos afterwards. When you photograph the streets, you are photographing for yourself as well as for your subject. Often I come back to the same place with copies of photos to give to the people I took pictures of. You’ll be surprised it’s like a door opener.

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Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? When I can choose the time, I always prefer early morning and the end of the day.
But, since I can’t choose all the time, I have to shoot under any conditions.

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How do you define street photography? I think there isn’t a “formal” definition for Street Photography. I agree completely with Eric Kim when he says:

“There is not one definition which defines street photography. Depending on who you ask or where you find your information, you will come upon conflicting responses. Some street photographers will say that it is about capturing the emotion and expressions of people, while others may put a higher emphasis on the urban environment. However I believe that the most effective street photographs are the ones that synthesize both the human element as well as the urban environment. To capture a moment in which a person is interacting with the environment or in which the environment is interacting with the person is a true mark of a skilled street photographer.

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But when it comes down to it, it is basically taking photos on the streets. So instead of chasing sunsets and exotic creatures, you look for ordinary places and ordinary people and creatively compose them in a clever way. Anybody can take a good picture of a sunset. Although there are many technical details, which go into capturing a perfect sunset, anybody can simply point their camera and capture a sunset, which is inspiring. But when it comes to street photography, you must constantly be looking for contrasting elements in the environment, which make a photograph interesting.

Simply put, the main focus of street photography is taking the everyday and the mundane and making it into something unique and beautiful.”

It’s the way I “see” it…

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Henri Cartier-Bresson said photography is like “…putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”.

We have to be able to anticipate, to understand, to “see”, to “feel” a street scene in a fraction of time and we must capture that moment in a meaningful frame. The composition is also fundamental. Not only is it about the capture of the moment. It’s also the perfect combination of having your head, eye, heart…and your finger in the same axis. I think this “axis”, this characteristic, is indispensable to be a street photographer and not an ordinary “street shooter”.

Here is a very special Robert Capa quote that I try to follow in my photography work: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

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Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? Street is Life. Street is always different every day. It is always surprising. I never know what I will find and that attracts me. I love to walk; I love people; I love life. I need the street & people to live.

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What motivates you to photograph the streets? First of all I like People: real People. Second, I am always looking for THE moment, I never captured and, probably, I will never find. Third, I like low light conditions – rainy days and problematic places.

Usually I walk on foot about 10, 15 to 20 kms a day… walking, talking with strangers, photographing what I can and what I feel. Sometimes it’s easy, other times not.

Many times I repeat the route. It is always different in-spite of being the same…the people always change as well as situations, lighting, sounds … It is and it will always be a challenge to try to make something different when exploring the same places. It’s fundamental to be innovative in the same spots. The “glance” the “way to see” must be creative every day. It’s a challenge, not only for me, but for everybody who also shoot at “my” favorite places… I am always hoping that someone can see something I never saw in my usual spots. Creativity is so important, isn’t it?

My type of photography is a little bit solitary. But I always feel accompanied by the world that surrounds me.

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Is Street Photography an obsession? Completely. It’s a way of life… my way…

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? For me street photography is a solitary task. I can’t do it in groups. I always do it alone.

I am often invited to be with more people. When we talk, they are surprised to find out I don’t have my camera. I tell them I have to concentrate and not talk when I photograph. So when I am with them I am also equally as concentrated to talk to them.

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I also like to walk into dangerous places. If I go with other people I can’t predict how others will react in situations. I had experiences with foreigners who want to walk with me and things became complicated. I recall one interesting visit from a guy who lives in England. He came to Lisbon to meet me. He asked if I liked dangerous places and if I could take him there. So I took him there .. to a “not very dangerous place”… He was scared and shaking all the time…

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Are you an invisible photographer or visible? Many times you must be invisible. Be part of the scenery…this will allow you to be more aware of what’s going on. It allows you to recognize any kind of problematic situations. Hopefully none. But you never know. Other times you have to establish a fantastic connection with “street People”, talking with them, hearing them, respecting them.

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I just want to say, we are here to learn and you have to share what you learn – it is the way. It is the only way to grow up. If people are too confident then they never grow as a person. It happens with everyone everywhere. In my data processing days I talked IBM, UNIVAC (Unisys), ICL languages. In order for others to learn this new language from me, I had to write down my experiences. I had to in order to share. People who left my company would leave no instructions. So it was difficult to correct errors. Just like in life- you have to share, analyze the experience. Compare notes. And you have to love people. I can’t accept those who don’t like people on the streets. It’s impossible! You can’t be a street photographer for more than one or 2 hours max. I know some of these people. I call them street shooters. They shoot everything that moves- they don’t think about the emotions.

Favorite street photography city: Lisbon and Paris.

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What inspires your photography? The work of photographers I admire and the People.

Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? Of course! Everybody reflects his own personality in the Art they can produce. Photography is a reflection of our souls, of our way of being in this world and our own individual aesthetic sense.

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Can you describe your style? Your aesthetic? I don’t know if I can describe it. I think others can describe better than me. Only thing I can say, I’m always searching for the special moment. I don’t like to shoot just to shoot. Sometimes in my sleep, I dream about a special framing of a place where I go many times. I see a composition I never saw before. Then I go to the spot of my dream the following day. It turns out weird and surreal.

Lisbon is a very beautiful and small town with a special light. It’s challenging to see something new when you walk the same places all the time. I repeat the same route day after day. But it always looks different.

I do think when it comes down to it, photography is a challenge to yourself. It is self portraiture.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others? As in any piece of Art: emotion. I don’t have to explain why I like some photograph. For me it is enough to be emotionally affected, to feel all my senses revving up… and chills in the body.

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Can you describe the entire process of photographing these photos, from preparation to when you pressed the shutter button? For me, this is a very emotional photograph (below). I do not know the old man. He is a very poor man who collects pieces of paper to sell afterwards. He is rather famous in this particular area, because everyone would say he is a bad man. At first I was a afraid to photograph him, but I could not resist. Then I saw how the dog loved him and vice versa. I took 3 shots even though I thought maybe it would be my last photograph. At the time I was thankful he didn’t see me.

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This area is called Cacilhas where the river is in the middle. I went back with a print for him and discovered he had died. I found the family and gave them photograph. They cried. This kind of situation happened to me many times, especially when I photograph old people.

As for the composition, I can tell you the area in itself is not beautiful. It’s difficult to shoot as here is only the wall. At the time I instinctively knew how to frame it and shoot it. I have never thought about it until you asked me. Now that we are talking about it, the man on the right made the composition although the emotion speaks for itself. Up until now, something made me push the button.

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How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I have my favorite spots, as everybody has, I am sure. The composition is very important as well as to get “THE” moment framed in a composition that attracts me.

I try to present myself the little scenes of the streets in which the people and the typically southern urban environment built by the people, form a perfect unity. Cobbles, walls made of stone, graffiti, children playing carelessly, old people reading newspapers or playing cards, etc.. In my photographs I present all people as unique and the most important part of my photographs. I try to gain an insight into their feelings, and thoughts with the help of their gestures, motions…

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How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? First the image must attract me provided it has achieved the following aspects: It has to be emotional, the lighting has to be just right, the composition is perfect and there is a story behind it. I usually shoot during the day. While at night, I look over the photographs. I give a quick look and try to choose one or two that I like more over the others. To be honest I have some thousands of photos I have never seen.

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Best 3 tips for shooting the streets:

Always be alone.

Always be concentrated.

Always try to anticipate the moment.

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Best single advice on how to improve your work: Always carry the camera and use it. Always be very critical with yourself.

Best single advice on how to edit your work: Less is more…

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Choose a project and never forget: Love and respect People.

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What’s the best moment in your street photography career? The most important is the friendship and respect I feel everyday from the occasional “street models”. Usually I try to give the photographs I made before to the people I photograph.

Besides this I think it was very important here in Portugal that my first and only book “Street Photography” book was the winner of the award of Authors 2011, sponsored by the Portuguese Society of Authors in audio-visual category, for the “Best Work of Photography”.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? When I arrive home and I don’t like any photograph made during the day.

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What projects are you working on? I have always a sociological interest on my street “work”. I am involved in some social projects in problematic neighborhoods of Lisbon. I always look for real People and I learn a lot everyday with the anonymous people in the streets.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? In this world, doing exactly the same I am doing now, so help me my legs…

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Maybe, if my sons and my girlfriend will oblige me…

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Leica Liker thanks Rui for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in with him in the future.

You can check out Rui’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

This is Rui’s self portrait.

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