On Facebook when I asked for a recommendation for my next interview, many of you directed me to the work of Rui Palha. His images are full of soul and transport his viewers into a new world. Not only that, but I have never seen black and white street photography nearly as inspirational as his. Continue reading and see his inspirational images and words.
1. Rui, you have phenomenal black and white street photography. Can you tell us the story of how you first got started in street photography?
First of all, I need to “say” that I am not so good expressing my feelings nor my thoughts through words. I prefer try to do that through images, but I will try to put in words what you want to know about me. Photography is a hobby since the 14 years of age. I had my own darkroom, but to be honest, I only liked, since I was a kid, to “press the button” in the streets. I felt always amazed, hypnotized even, with the movement of people, with their expressions, their reactions… I felt it was a fantastic challenge trying to capture all the bustle of everyday life and a way to learn a lot about the surrounding world. In my photographic world all people are unique and the most important part of my photographs. This sentence defines my way to be in photography: “Photography is a very important part of my space… it is to discover, it is to capture giving flow to what the heart feels and sees in a certain moment, it is being in the street, trying, knowing, learning and, essentially, practicing the freedom of being, of living, of thinking…”
2. How long have you been shooting street photography and what were some obstacles or difficulties that you encountered?
Photography is a hobby since the 14 years of age (as I wrote before), with great interruptions up to 2001, since then almost all the time is devoted to street photography and to long term sociological projects in problematic neighborhoods of Lisbon. Here, in Portugal, to be a street photographer isn’t very easy. There are many “forbidden places”… underground, shopping centers, problematic neighborhoods, etc. but, probably, it’s the danger that somehow attracts me, tease me and drive me up the adrenaline. Sometimes I have problems with security staff or with people that don’t want to be photographed, but everything can be solved with frontality and an honest conversation. Anyway I can tell that per times I had some problems with very aggressive people and after some words (sometimes a long talk) we became a kind of friends and, since that moment, any problem in that specific place is finished for me and I become a type of “over protected” person. I have lots of memorable experiences and stories while doing street photography and I don’t have time or space enough to tell this now. I think… in fact, I am sure, that the street is a school, so a big percentage of me was build with what I had learned in the streets.
3. What do you wish to convey to your viewers through your photography?
I don’t know, but I think I try to be a story teller using images, telling to the others what I “see” everyday during my “street walks”. My photographic “world” is in Lisbon, 90% of my photos are made in my own town, where the anonymous people are the main actors of my photographs. I try to gain an insight into their feelings, thoughts with the help of their gestures, motions… I always try to show, among the real life scenes of the everyday life, the beauty that always exists inside the unknown People, my “street models”, the beauty of the human race independently of the color, the religion and the politics. As you know I am an amateur and I will have this status until the end of my life. It’s the only way to do what I want and not what the others want I do. Everybody has to be (and feel) free to create, to reflect what is inside themselves.
4. When you are out on the streets taking photos, what inspires you to capture a certain scene or image?
So many factors… the moment itself framed as better as possible, the magic of lighting, a framing that pushes my eye, a scene I construct inside my head, the graphism that people “design” while they are moving… Henri Cartier Bresson said about Photography “It is 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 framing. The composition is fundamental, too. Not only the moment capture. So you must have the head, the eye, the heart…and the finger in the same axis. And I think this “axis”, this characteristic, is indispensable to be a street photographer and not an ordinary “street shooter”. Many times you must be invisible, make part of the scenery…this will allow you to be closer of some kind of problematic situations. Other times you have to establish a fantastic connection with “street people”, talking with them, hearing them, respecting them. We have to enable our capacity to “look” and “see” interesting moments…funny moments, different moments, creative framings… we have to understand the “lighting” and try to use it the best way as possible. We have to pick up all the beauty and personality of a “street model” talking with him/her, listening to him/her, respecting him/her… this way we are going to learn a lot every day. You must love people… and respect them. Street photography is not an easy way to make photography… we have to be brave, astute. We must have the capacity to anticipate the moment before it happens.
5. Who are some photographers that you look up to, and how have they affected your work?
Henri Cartier Bresson, indeed, and Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, among others are my “inspiration”. I learnt a lot observing their work.
6. Describe the favorite street photograph you’ve taken. When and where did you take the photo, and why is it special to you?
I haven’t a favorite street photograph, to be honest… I am always looking for “THE” moment, I feel I never captured it, and I will look for it forever. But… all my street photographs are important for me because they always have a human story behind them.
7. What type of camera and which lenses do you use for your street photography? How do you use your equipment to capture your amazing images?
I use several types of equipment, depending on what I want to produce as a final result and the places I go. I always carry in my pocket a point and shoot camera for “forbidden places” like underground, big shopping centers and “problematic places”. Lately I am using a Leica Dlux 4 (with a 24-60 lenses) With SLR/DSLR cameras I only use a 20, 35 and a 50mm lenses. Sometimes, a very few times, with my Nikon D700 I use a Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 zoom I agree completely and I try to follow the quote of Robert Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
8. On flickr you have a wonderful community of other photographers who support and comment on your work. How did you build such a strong following?
The internet is very important to me, but not to “spread” my work. I learn a lot seeing lots of photographs of many photographers all over the world. It’s a way to see how the world is going on, too. Probably that community you are talking about thinks the same way I think…I don’t know. I think you should ask to them why they comment my work. I don’t know exactly.
9. What tips would you give to aspiring street photographers in the community?
In my humble opinion, I think it’s not possible to “teach” street photography, at least for me, as you know (I always said that), I am and I will be an eternal apprentice…every day I learn something new in the streets, with people, with life. The way I use to learn “street photography” is the way they can use to learn, too. Some tips I read somewhere, but with which I agree:
1. Get close to the subject, make them the primary object in your frame.
Street photography is all about observing people, their actions and juxtapositions. Keep your eyes open, look for interesting connections. You’re more likely to get a memorable photograph when you’re part of the scene and reacting to the emotions and drama that is being acted out around you.
2. Be casual about the camera and keep it away from your face as far as possible.
Try to avoid looking like a “photographer.” As a side effect, trying to hide your camera and sneaking a photograph in when possible may make you look suspicious. Like I said, be casual about the camera.
3. Don’t take too much equipment and travel light.
It’ll make you less obtrusive and you will be able to move around for the best shot quickly. Anticipate moments between people before they happen. Have your camera out and ready to shoot at all times. Things can move quickly on the street so if you’re not ready you’ll miss lots of opportunities. In conclusion:
- Love People
- Respect People
- Have always the ability to listen People, they are true lessons of life
- Try to understand People, their thoughts, their movement, their feelings, their soul
- Be brave and courageous
- Try to be as close as possible to the People you photograph. This way you will know and feel their soul and vice-versa.
10. Thank you for this fantastic interview. Are there any final comments that you would like to give?
Always be happy with your own street work before spreading it everywhere. Be very critical and demanding with yourself. Enjoy People, Life and Street. This way you are enjoying the entire world and it’s a way to grow up under all the aspects.
See more of Rui’s amazing work below.
Make sure to show Rui some love and leave him a comment below!