Capturing the Melancholy of New York City: “NY Diary” by Federico Chiesa

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Eric’s Note: Federico Chiesa was born in a small town in Tuscany, Italy, in 1979. He studied commercial photography at “I.E.D” in 2005 and now works as a professional advertising photographer and retoucher. Street photography is one of his favorite vocations. See his “New York Diary” project and his thoughts on street photography below.

1. Can you share how you first got interested in street photography?


I guess I’ve always been interested in street photography. Ever since my childhood, I was amazed by dark rooms. Later in my twenties, I started to print my film myself. I wanted to be an illustrator, but I never learned how to draw. Therefore I thought photography was an easier way to express myself.

2. Who were some street photographers who first inspired you?


I met Francesco Zizola, a former Magnum member, during a workshop when I was 20 years old. This gave me a chance to work for sometime close to him which inspired me.

I also started to collect photography books. I’m interested in many kinds of photography. I don’t just focus on street photography. Even movies inspired inspire me to see in a different way.

At the end of the day, I am still inspired by the masters such as Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka, and Basilico.

3. When you started street photography, what were some initial difficulties you had?


I grew in a small town in the Italian country, without any chances to find creative jobs. My parents were concerned about my ideas of becoming a photographer at first. But after moving to Rome and studying commercial photography, I’ve been lucky enough to start working as soon as school ended.

Now my main occupation is working in advertising, but street photography is what I love to do. I remember that my love for photography makes every difficulty less hard to surpass.

4. When it comes to your street photography work in NYC, it shows a very dark and grim version of the city. How much of this is your own feelings about the city versus what you saw?


Reviewing all of my street pictures I see that my point of view is always a little sorrowful. While I love the city and I was really happy to be there, I was attracted by people who looked lonely and full of despair.

When I’m shooting, I’m looking for a certain feeling to come out. I try to spot people who are waiting or heavy thinking. My B&W is a little dark, I love this noir look. I prefer a “serious” kind of image.

I guess that all of this is my natural way of seeing things, it’s not something i impose me to do. I’m a melancholic person, and my pictures reflect that.

5. Can you share how you shoot on the streets and some insights on the technical settings you use?


For “NY Diary” I used a Leica M9 with a Voigtlander 25mm f/4 lens. I try to use f8 and above, setting my focus to 2meters. I try to use the fastest shutter speed possible.

I try to be unnoticed by people, sometimes I shoot without looking in the viewfinder because I started to learn how to frame with my mind (this is what I learnt from Francesco Zizola).

I’m a big boy, very tall and very heavy, so i need to act quick and don’t hesitate, because other people can “smell” your fear and become suspicious.

6. Can you share your three most memorable images and tell us why they are special to you?

this first image is my favorite one.  It reflects my thinking about living in a big city.  Many people walking their path, without any chance to collide. I love this because it's like a portrait of myself too.
This first image is my favorite one. It reflects my thinking about living in a big city. Many people walking their path, without any chance to collide. I love this because it’s like a portrait of myself too.
Love this one because I’ve been able for a second to really see this woman’s thoughts.
This make me think of "No Country for Old Men." I always take photography of older people. I'm fascinated by their way to approach this fast paced world.
This make me think of “No Country for Old Men.” I always take photography of older people. I’m fascinated by their way to approach this fast paced world.

7. What are some projects you are currently working on, and what can people look forward to?


This year I’m moving to Toronto, and I can’t wait to start shooting there. I’ll be back in NY too, and hope to visit California during summer.

Meanwhile I’m working on many “advertising style” project. One of this, for example, is called “Reality Revisited.” I started compositing things i shoot compulsively to create “movie frames” I had in my mind. You can check that on my Behance page.

8. Who are your favorite contemporary street photographers you recommend people to check out?


I really dig the work of Trent Parke and Elliot Erwitt. I like the approach of Bruce Gilden, while i’ll be never able to shoot like him. As for photography in general, I love the works of Gregory Crewdson, Erwin Olaf and Eugenio Recuenco.

9. What is some advice you would give to  street photographers starting out?


Just take your camera everywhere . Try to focus on the things you like. Don’t be mad about having the best camera around, because you can take brilliant pictures just with an iPhone.

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