The beautiful pictures that catch you right away have nothing more to offer, but those that still keep making you look are the ones who stay longer in your mind.
Q1: Please state your name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
A: My name is Vasco Leao and I am based in Lisbon.
Q2: Welcome to The One Photo Interview, by the way. It is the TOP Interview. Do you know what that means? It means that you will only have the opportunity to show one single photograph and you will refer to that for the rest of this interview, right? Would that be ok with you?
A: Sure , no problem !
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Vasco ?
A: Most of the times the reason is always the same, something calls my attention, either it was the geometry, the light, or the subject itself.
Q4: Is this you style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, what is it?
A: I go for a walk with my camera and I try to get out of my head. The intention is to mix in the crowd without being there. I love the feeling of loneliness you can get with a bunch of people around you. So I go where the crowd is and then i start to read stories , start to imagine things , trying to see busy life of others in frames, sketch by sketch. I love the title of the film about Bob Dylan, I’ll use it to describe my style: I’m not there !
Q5. Tell me what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A:. This is the 1 million question everyone runs around nowadays! Pufff ! Even I sometimes find myself struggling with stupid considerations about it. The best way to move forward is to shoot what you see as you wish. Then you can please others or you may not, but at least you had your own soul when you shot it. From Wikipedia you get that “Street photography is a non-formalised genre of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other associated settings.” I agree with the candid situations but would’t this leave out infinite good uncandid pictures? I’ll stick with the public places definition, iIthink is the most embracing one !
Q6: Give me some basics. How long have you had an interest in street photography? Do you have any mentors that you have learned from?
A: Well, according to the above statement, since I started shooting when I was 16/17 years old. Although it was one year later i really started taking photography more seriously. So I started enjoying “street” photography 15 years ago. Back then it was very hard to have the albums from the masters, the water to drink from, you could at best get a Bresson or a Doisneau from a local bookshop, so when I started I had few but very intense influences: Henri Bresson, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Man Ray, Sebastiao Salgado, Steve McCurry, Eugene Atget and one portuguese photojournalist Eduardo Gageiro. And these were the names which I can recall having books and knowing very well. With the internet you don’t have photography culture if you don’t have interest in it. It is so easy to get to know 50 photographers in a week! On a photography school I attended to I had photography history and this helped me a lot to know more! Have to mention another great portuguese photographer, Rui Palha, who I have met personally and I’m a big fan, not only because he’s a great visual composer but because of the management of natural light. Meeting and knowing Rui´s work is a good example of what I said before about the internet. Sorry if I extended my answer a bit, but I love photography books.
Q7: Let’s talk about equipment. Some have an almost religious addiction to it. Long lenses, short lenses, rangefinders, non rangefinders, compacts, Leicas, Canons, Nikons, analog or digital. What is your opinion of this? What is your preferred gear? Don’t be boring when you answer this, please.
A: I had that addiction too, for some brands and for the new equipment that was about to be released, not anymore. I prefer small cameras, I avoid carrying bags of equipment as i did. I prefer a smaller camera with 2 extra batterys and I am ready to go. I use either 35mm or 50mm lenses, I try to be the closest I can to my subject. I do digital (regretfully) still I have these 2 Canonets at home smiling at me, and a M6 which I’m after, but I have to admit that digital comes cheaper and faster (which usually is not better,right?)!
Q8: Are there any particular reason why you call yourself a street photographer?
Many people picture landscapes, seascapes, birds caved in. Do you take such pictures as well? What I mean to ask is, do you in fact do much parrot shooting in the zoo. Or similar non street themes. Do you?
A: My wife complains that with so many cameras at our home she has to be the one using a very old cybershot to make photographs of our family and our daughter’s growth, so you see I am not a family shooter. However I always bring a camera, and if I see something out of the ordinary or that i like I “shoot” .
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: Another good question ! Where do you come out with these ? Thing is I have my own theory, but the difference about photography and plain picture taking is on the photographer’s behaviour and feelings and so it will be impressed on the photograph, either you are committed to what you are doing or you´re not. Anyone who gets out there and do their best with passion, if they are suceeded, if they have the luck of moment, and the enough skill to capture it, it will show, that passion, that love will be there on the photograph. If you go and take your camera for a walk, and shoot anything with no discipline or taste, that will also show, but I don´t think you want me to describe it one word, can I ?
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photos are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: Nope , I don´t think this. Not at all. I am a black and white photographer, but even this can change. I like Black and White for its aggression. I try to put on my photographs the raw and crude feeling. I try to show things as they are, with all their imperfections, and in this Black and White suits me well. But I like coloured photographs. Martin Parr for instance, is a must see to every photographer. But when you are on the streets you can’t be both. You cannot shoot anything and think when you get home you put it in colour or in bw, you have to be focused in what you’re doing. I think the best answer to this question is based on the fact that the great influences we have are mostly black and white. But it comes to my mind Bruce Davidson’s Subway , a bw photographer who made excellent series in colour.
Q11: Do you think that street photography is a serious type of photography? Can anything good come of it? How do you see this?
A: I think everything you do seriously is serious! But yes no one gets money out of street photography, unless you teach workshops. But I think every photographer has his own role, and that is to document life as it is shown and how they see it. I think eventually the “street photography” will be recognized as documentation. And some photographs will remain eternal.
Q12: Are there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: To me as a photographer all my work is only made for personal purposes. But the viewer with the love for photography will take a pleasure from it too.
Q13: Your vision? What is your vision for European street photography? What is the vision for your own photography? I am not going to ask how you see the future, but tell me anyway.
A: My vision is a very simple one. The European street photography is much more “gray” than the American one for example. We europeans are normally a bit more dramatic, a bit more serious and that shows in any international contest. My photography is embedded with the rough side of life. I can’t stop seeing the dull side of life, and I can only go from there to irony or bizarre. That is my European soul speaking.
For the future, obviously I pretend to have my own spot some day. I would be lying if I told you otherwise. Any photographer dreams of having that one photograph. The one we all seek for.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: Since I am music lover I constantly compare photography to music. There are those who grab you from the first sight and those you have so much to learn from, and normally these are the ones who last longer. The beautiful pictures that catch you right away have nothing more to offer, but those that still keep making you look are the ones who stay longer in your mind. As a photographer the thing I care most is the moment, the subject. Without a good subject you have nothing.
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A: Curious thing. The first so called street photographer was Eugene Atget, which main interest was the emptyness of the city. I like the feeling you get from seeing the city naked. However, I always wondered how can the first one be the one who didn’t fancy the soul of the city, the human side. However, fact is that any other name you hear referred as the first one, is European.
Thank you very much, Vasco. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
Thank you for the time, it was a pleasure. And congrats on your work and efforts for putting the Europeans project up and running.
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
First published April 15, 2013.