The Moment Catcher
Street photography has always been one of my favorite genres. So today I’m excited to present on PhotoInterview street photography debut of the talented photographer from Spain Martin Molinero. ‘Moment Catcher’ — this is how I refer to Martin. There’s something magical in his photographs. What’s the magic in the shots of daily street routine, you ask? Well, just take a closer look and you will notice a lot of totally unique things in his shots, which are left unnoticed most of the time. Funny coincidense, a glance that was not supposed to be seen, characters and episodes that we don’t see in the stream of passers-by — all this is revealed to us in the picture. Brief moments captured by the alert eye of the photographer once again prove that there’s magic in every single day, even in the most gray one. Isn’t it inspiring?
In his interview Martin shares his experience and gives some valuable tips to beginning street photographers. Enjoy the interview and leave your questions and impressions in the comments!
Who or what sparkled your interest in photography and what was the decisive moment when you understood that it’s what you are going to devote a big part of your life to?
My uncle, in Argentina, introduced me in photography when I was 17. He sparkled my interest in photography and taught me the technical principles.
There was no decisive moment. It was more a sort of sedimentary accumulation. First, the period with my uncle, interrupted by the crescent responsibilities of work and study. Then, during a period of disconcert and confusion about my career, I thought that photography could be a way of ordering the chaos and remedy the uncertainty that overwhelmed me. I dropped out my studies for two years and attended a course of photography, took a second job to buy a Meopta and build my darkroom, etc. Then, again the flux of the working life took me away from photography for ten years. Two years ago my wife gave me a digital reflex as a birthday gift. I always enjoyed walking. Now, I could walk with a camera again. It’s only nowadays when I indeed realize that photography has been and, in fact, still is, a very important part of my life.
How would you describe the state of the modern street photography? What challenges does it face?
Street photography has experienced a great revival in the last years, although mainly in the Internet community, not in the “real” world of publications, galleries and exhibitions. Perhaps this indifference of the magazines and galleries makes street photography a more idyllic and romantic discipline. It’s hard to imagine how street photography could have an exchange value.
The amazing collective In-Public and groups like HCSP have made a great contribution to the recent attention to the genre. But there are a huge gamut of photography gathered under the versatile tag of “street photography”. Street portraits, puns and funny juxtapositions, fashion style bokeh, flash in your face à la Gilden, melancholic B/W, etc. Maybe there is a confusion about what indeed is street photography. I think Nick Turpin’s “Undefining Street Photography” is a very lucid and inspiring approach to that subject.
Maybe an obvious challenge faced by this kind of photography is the crescent paranoid about being photographed in public places. But I don’t know if it is an actual issue.
It feels like there’s a special role you give to shadows in your photography. What is light and shadow for you?
Yes, probably they play a certain role. When you shoot here in the Mediterranean coast, you have this light and shadow conditions, so, you must deal with that. I usually expose for highlights, so the shadows don’t have details. In that way shadows may frame certain scenes or contribute to complete the composition.
One of our interviewees, Sam Javanrouh, said that the attitude towards street photography has changed dramatically after 9/11, and not only in the United States. Do you agree with this statement? If so, how did you notice that in your experience?
I agree with that statement. Nevertheless, the little incidents I’ve experienced weren’t related with this kind of concern but with the claim of the right of publicity, which here in Spain is called the right to one’s own image. People sometimes think that their personal image may be damaged or their actions miscontrued. But I presume people really don’t think their personal image has the same consideration that personal image of public and well-known figures and celebrities because such idea is clearly ridiculous. Sontag said many people are anxious about being photographed “not because they fear, as primitive do, being violated but because they fear the camera’s disapproval. People want the idealized image: a photograph of themselves looking their best”. Maybe this is actually the real concern about being photographed in public by a stranger whose intentions are not clear. I don’t blame they.
What’s the influence of the digital era on photography, in your opinion?
Perhaps digital photography encourages people to try another kind of pictures, a more risky one, and not only family and touristic snapshots. Each shot isn’t directly attached to an economic cost, so the temptation to try shooting pictures with a less “functional” approach is strongest. Moreover, the learning curve in digital photography is much more steep. The technologic innovations encapsulated in the motto: “You press the button, we do the rest” resulted in a rapid increase of the image production, similarly, it seems that the digital era is leading us to a sort of eschatological, millenarianist apotheosis in the image production.
What, in your opinion, is the mission of street photography? Why does society need (or maybe doesn’t) more of it in print and online media?
I would speak of the functions of street photography, rather than of its mission. I would even speak, with Barthes, of its alibi, rather than of its function. What’s the alibi of street photography? I think there is some consensus: to catch the freshness of life, to unveil the surreal that underlies beneath the everyday life, and the like.
How often do you travel? Have you ever shot in Russia or any post-Soviet country? They say, our countries are among the hardest to deal with when it comes to street photography. And what was the most un-friendly place you have visited and photographed at?
Unfortunately, I don’t travel much. I have never been in Russia and I didn’t know about its unfriendly mood about street photography. But I know some Russian photographers that share their work in Flickr and it seems they can manage that handicap.
Could you remember the most exciting/shocking/dangerous/funny accident which happened to you during a photo shoot? Just anything that you will never forget.
I don’t remember any incident that could constitute a memorable anecdote, anything worth been mentioned. Occasionally someone asks me about what I’m doing, because of the nonsense of shooting some shadows or what seems to be blank spaces, one day a lady asked me to take a picture of her dog, that kind of things.
From your experience, what’s the ideal gear kit to take for a street photo shoot? Did you ever use any sort of camouflage?
I use a digital reflex, which is big and noisy, but quick. I think you need a quick camera that takes the photo when you press the shutter, a camera without shutter lag. Also you need wide angle lens, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, which force you to be close to the subject and get context. And a good pair of shoes.
I think taking photos with camouflage is not good street photography (okay, Evans’ “Many are called” could be a good subject to argue about that). Of course, you must to be discreet and inconspicuous, the idea is don’t disturb, don’t interfere with the natural flux of things (which is impossible), but you don’t have to hide that you are there, taking photos. Just see how Winogrand or Meyerowitz work. Or see how Jeff Mermelstein does his work. No hide, for sure.
What would you advise to those who are just at the start of their photographic journey?
See the great masters’ work, enjoy their work, and shoot, keep shooting. As Trent Parke had said: “You shoot a lot of shit and you are bound to come up with a few good ones”. Alex Webb said that street photography is 99.9% about failure. Luck is decisive in this kind of photography. I think is crucial to have some kind of optimism, a sort of hopefulness when you go out to shoot, and you must accept the fact that after a whole day shooting you will probably go home with nothing, not a single picture. So, I think is very important to enjoy the walk.