Interview with Txema Salvans
interview by Giulia Thinnes
“The most intense way of observing everyday life”
Txema Salvans is a Catalan photographer born in 1971. He chose photography because “it is the most intense way of observing and experiencing everyday life”. Txema began studying biology at the University of Barcelona before joining the International Center of Photography in New York. read more…
– Hello Txema, on behalf of Street photography Luxembourg, thank you for responding to our questions. First of all, what is the role of photography in general?
Photography is a language as universal as music, and as music it has the characteristics that it does not require a translator. Photography is used indiscriminately and requires a certain visual culture to understand or to be able to enjoy it. Without this acquired culture we become compulsive consumers, as we are of “fast food”. Consumers of a photo of easy digestion.
– What is street photography for you, it’s purpose, according to your understanding?
I think that what we call “street photography” has today more than ever a vast territory, but in my case I feel too free to pigeonhole my photography. But what I can say is that my project “The Waiting Game” has appeared in a book called “New street photography”. has been exhibited in a collective on landscape photography and that has been published in numerous informative newspapers.
Photography is polysemic, it’s not just what I want to say. The viewer through his emotional or professional experience gives meaning to that image. Naturally my work is circumscribed in a territory, but it can work in different ways depending on the context in which it is exposed. It has an artistic reading if we stick to the global concept and the figure of the author (in this case me), more journalistic if we reflect on the subject, more philosophical or sociological if we study it as a document…
– How did you come to photography?
I discovered photography by chance but decided to leave my biology studies to focus more seriously on photography. Photography is a way of intensifying the experience of being fully present in every place and moment. Its practice favours attention, lends depth and variety to the most everyday things and turns the inevitable exercise of looking into pleasant awareness training.
– Would you say you are influenced by other photographers? Do you look at other people’s work to inspire you? If so, could you name a few and why?
My influences come more from other fields, but some books that were important for me especially for the moment in which I discovered them:
Joel Sternfeld (American Prospect), Carl de Keyzer (God Inc), Cristina Garcia Rodero (España Oculta), Larry Sultan (The Valley), Gilles Peress (Telex Iran), Richard Billingham (Ray’s laugh), Lars Tunbjörk (Landet Utom Sig.)…
– In your project ‘Nice to meet you’, you are showing people in supposed family situations, many of them are close and humoristic. Other works like ‘The waiting game’ and ‘Perfect day’ are more distant and serious. Where does this difference come from?
When I started taking pictures, my attention was very focused on the “gestures” of the characters. Action-packed photos where the character inhabited the photograph and where the scenery was anecdotal. Photos that usually responded to themselves.
In my last projects, the stage is the main asset of the image. The character that inhabits it helps me to reinforce the paradoxical status between what is shown and what is suggested. The concept of
“waiting” interests me because it forces the “reader” of my photos to question and question what has happened, is happening or is going to happen.
– Your projects seem to be rather personal ones. Do you have other projects, like commissioned ones? Do you make any difference in approach between personal and non-personal ones?
Maintaining a balance between personal projects and commissions is very necessary. With the commissions I finance my family and my personal projects. There is a very clear difference, the assignments are superimposed on the needs of a client. I always shoot them in digital, unlike all my personal projects that work with analog cameras.
With my personal work I do not intend to earn money, that allows me to be very free and very honest, and spend a lot of time until the photographic result pleases me.
– How do you choose your themes for your projects? Do you set yourself a theme and then realize the corresponding photographs or do you shoot without big plans and realize after a while that there is a recurring theme in your work, which you then concentrate on? Or a still different approach?
My studies in biology have determined more my subject of work than my photography studies. My photography studies taught me to use the medium, its advantages and gaps. But my insistence on systematically working a specific area, goes through the way I have to understand a document. Something like an explorer who systematically runs through an area, marking rivers, mountains and villages, to finally draw a map, a territory, an idea.
– Are you an intuitive shooter or more like someone who plans his shootings ahead?
One of the reasons why I use analog photography is because I trust my intuition a lot. With analog photography you can not correct the photo you just made, you just have to keep going. Keep yourself very focused on what you do and stop, at least, every time you change the photographic film.
The digital is much faster, you are always attentive to what goes on the screen, which is ultimately the photo. I appreciate the wait I was subjected to when I sent the photographic rolls to the laboratory. I like to look at the backlit negatives. In short, I like the analogue liturgy.
– How do you approach people? Are they aware of you taking pictures of them?
While it is true that photography exists as a consequence of a technological fact that is “the camera”, this interface between the world and the artist makes me very uncomfortable. The camera, discovers you, puts the accent on you and interrupts your thoughts. But at the same time, in the aesthetic and formal environment it offers you a multitude of possibilities that we can use skillfully. The big question (in my case) is how to access a certain reality without that reality being affected by my presence.
Regardless of Schrödinger’s paradox, there are numerous strategies to minimize the attention of those photographed about the photographer. In the case of “Nice to meet you” people invited me to share a day of their holidays this gave me access to family situations that otherwise would not be possible.
In “The Waiting Game” the challenge was to use a topography team to make people confuse me with a worker.
To protect the identity of women, I turned the project into a series of landscapes, where the identity of the woman is protected by the distance and angle of the shot.
In my project “Perfect Day” the strategy is to use a large format camera, a camera that has people’s eyes is too technical and complicated to be dangerous.
– Are there any specific lighting conditions you prefer to photograph in?
Light is the holy grail in photography. In my case, I’m interested in the worst of lights, the light that discovers everything. My photos evoke desolation, and that desolation comes largely determined by the light I use, which, like background music, floods everything.
– What is your favourite camera to shoot with?
‘Nice to meet’ you I did it with a Leica M6 and a Nikon F5, ‘My kingdom’ with a Hasselblad, but the latest projects I always worked with a Cambo Wide mounted on a tripod. Each camera has its own circumstances, advantages and disadvantages. When you change your camera you have to learn to dance again.
location: Rotondes- Platforme (Rotonde1) (map)