I read on your website that you studied photography in Brazil. How did that come about? You’re from Canada right? Did you learn anything about photography (or otherwise) that you might not have learned in your home country?
That’s right, I am from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but I’m also a Brazilian citizen. I have a large family in Brazil, and I would visit them quite frequently for weddings, family gatherings, and the like. During one of my last trips I decided to stay instead of going back home, and live there for a while. I felt like I needed a new perspective in my life, to get out of Canada for some time and connect with my roots. At first I spent some time teaching English at a few small schools in Curitiba, Parana to get by, and after a few years I enrolled in a graphic design course.
While studying, we had a few photography classes and those turned out to be what interested me the most. I have always loved taking pictures, but never got serious about it, so I decided to immerse myself. After some searching, I found an intensive photography course at Omicron Escola de Fotografia. During my time there, I was introduced to many different genres of photography from some great teachers who explained everything with great enthusiasm and detail, and that’s where I developed a passion for street photography. Although I did learn a few tips and tricks, I can’t say if there is anything I learned there that I couldn’t have been taught here.
How did you get into street photography specifically and what is it about B&W photography that caught your interest?
While I was studying at Omicron, one of the courses was documentary and street photography. On the first day of that course, I was introduced to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Elliott Erwitt and many others. Their photographs instantly captured my interest. Their use of shadow to sculpt available light, using lines, shapes, and perspective to guide the viewer’s eye around the image was incredible. Through their vision, they told stories that made me want to see more of the world around me. The use of black and white made their images quite striking in my eyes, how they focused on contrast and composition to make up for the lack of bright, attention grabbing colours. To me, it gave the images more of a raw feel which helped spark my imagination and interest.
Are there any street photographers in particular that you draw inspiration from?
I like to draw inspiration from many different street, and documentary, photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, Fan Ho, Bruce Davidson, to name a few. But the one that I have always revered is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Cliché for a street photographer, I know, but it’s true. I even carry a pocket book of his work in my camera bag wherever I go, so I can pull it out whenever I feel like I need some inspiration on the streets. In terms of more modern photographers, Alan Schallar is amazing! I would say his photographs have influenced my editing style a little with his use of high contrast black and white.
Where is your favorite place to take photographs and why?
Here in Edmonton, I’d say I like to hang around Rogers Place stadium, the Alberta Legislature grounds and River Valley, basically the downtown area on the North side of the river that divides the city if you were looking at a map. There’s almost always something happening in that area. The tall steel and glass buildings create some nice shadows and reflections in the city centre if the light is good, and there are a few backdrops I like to use close to the Legislature. Edmonton is not a big city, but it does have some varied locations within a few hours walking. Now, if I had a choice of places to travel to and take photographs, I would choose Latin America in general. I loved taking photos in Brazil and Panama. I seemed to connect more in those countries, it’s hard to explain but taking photos there just felt better, and I think that reflects in my images. I do plan on going back to Brazil in the near future, and still have places like Cuba, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico on my travel list.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in street photography and how have you overcome them?
I am very much an introvert! When I go out to take photographs, I like to be the observer and not interact with my environment as much as possible. My preference is to find a scene with an interesting background and some good light, and wait for someone to pass through. I rarely actively look for subjects to take photos of, but once in a while I can’t help myself. So, I would say approaching and being approached by people is what was my biggest challenge, and some days it would keep me from leaving my home. I would love to tell the other introverted street photographers out there that there is a quick fix, or a trick to help overcome this. There is not. Just stop making excuses and get out there, and the more experience you get, the less anxious you will become. Does the feeling ever go away? No. But it does get manageable, and coming back with at least one good image always makes it more than worth it!
What is your most memorable moment or photo from street photography?
I was visiting a small town called Tiradentes, in Brazil, and I was fresh out of Omicron Photography School. I was hungry for some street photography, so I popped my 50mm F1.8 II on my first DSLR, a Canon T3, and started roaming. I explored for a bit but I wasn’t having much luck, so I decided to slow down and find a spot I found visually pleasing, and wait. I came across a wall that had a lamp next to a window, with some good space for a subject that caught my eye, so I decided to wait for someone to walk by, and I waited, and I waited. I was sitting in the afternoon sun for a good half an hour before I thought I’d better get a beer to cool off and call it a day at that location. Just as I was pushing off the wall I was leaning on, I saw some movement coming down the road out of the corner of my eye. I looked over, hoping it was the subject I was waiting for all this time… it was a vira lata, a street dog. “Dogs count, right?” I thought to myself as I adjusted my settings, framed the shot, and waited just a few more seconds. When he got to the right spot, I took the shot, and it still is until today one of my favourite photos.
What has street photography taught you?
Slow down, observe, you would be amazed at what you can find. I used to be a very impatient person, but street photography helped teach me that there is no need to rush, good things do come to those who wait.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about George and see more of his work, be sure to visit his website and Flickr photostream. This photographer was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.