Denis Buchel was born in the eastern European country of Moldova, lived for several years in Israel and now makes his home in Bulgaria.
When I first saw his work, I was intrigued with his unique and gritty street portrait style. Maybe it’s because Denis is not afraid to get up close and personal with the subjects. Just look at their eyes and see for yourself.
Denis wasn’t able to participate in a recorded interview with us but he was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions in writing. Keep reading to learn more about how he fulfills his vision.
I started with photography in 2007, when I bought my first shoot camera. In the beginning, I took photos as an amateur only. However, as time passed, I became obsessed with photography. Now and then, I thought I was going crazy, because only photography was on my mind – I woke up with thoughts about photography, I fell asleep with thoughts about photography, I could not even speak to people who were not, somehow, connected with photography. Now that it has turned into what I would call a way of life, I realize that photography lets me understand what I am. Precisely “what” and not “who”, because when you ask “Who am I?”, you examine yourself only materially and superficially. And if you ask yourself “What am I?”, the answer is deeply philosophical, concentrated on your own consciousness, sensation and perceptions of human essence.
If we talk about street photography, the story went like this. In the beginning, I couldn’t understand those who took photos of people. I was indignant even. It may be strange, but I did not start with shooting landscapes or animals and flowers. Architecture was first. After that, I entered the company of street photographers. I tried and started liking it, it just completely changed my focus. There was time, when eighty per cent of my photos were portraits. Then I felt it was not enough. I didn’t have enough place – I wanted background and history behind the portrait. Step by step, I started changing the framing, started adding more and more details. And this, I understood, was my mine.
How would you describe your style of street photography?
I am not sure that I have a style, though a lot of people repeat it. If so, this is not a style I created deliberately, it is impossible. There are photographers who shoot what they see, I try to take photos of what I experience. It is not a question of being there and taking the photo. It is more because I was there, experienced it and tried to show what I experienced. You may call it a style, or whatever you want. It is my description of taking photos, it’s me. I believe that a street photo is not just a photo of the street in black and white. It goes a lot further.
If someone were to visit your city where would you tell them are your favorite street photography locations and why?
Unfortunately, I don’t know any special places in the world, where to send someone. There are suitable locations everywhere and nowhere. You may find your photo on the empty street or not shoot anything on the crowded one. This is too individual. It depends on your mood. Today, for example, while walking down this street, I may see a face that will not impress me and I will not shoot then. This is my mood. Tomorrow, in the same way, with the same face, I may then stop and take a photo. This will be my place, my capture. It doesn’t matter where you are, but what you see and experience.
What other types of photography do you enjoy?
In fact, in every genre you may find something good, if it is well done. This is true not for photography only. If we speak about, for example, music, my favourite style is classical music. But, at the same time, in the different types there are several pretty good tunes. It doesn’t matter that they are not my style. The same thing goes with photography. Street photography is what I like best, but there is so much other space for experiments.
Where do you get your inspiration and what drives you each day?
When we speak about inspiration, people are my inspiration because I like them – without any reason.
At the same time I know that my best photo is waiting for me. I haven’t taken it yet. I’m still learning. If I say that I’ve learnt photography, I’ll stop taking photos. I do train every single day, awaiting my shot.
What do you do when you get the feeling that there’s nothing new to shoot?
There are such periods, and this is for better if they are not too long, of course. Thanks to them, you have time to think over, to consider, to re-consider what photos you have taken within this time. You may come back to your archive to look through it and to visualize, to form an image in your mind, what more you want to shoot one day (I have some interesting stories from these periods exactly).
Who is your biggest influence in terms of your photography?
Frankly speaking, since I started seven years ago, until, approximately 2 years ago, I have not known any famous photographers. Not because I was not interested, but because I did not want my viewpoint to be influenced, I did not want to copy them, though subconsciously. I did not know who Robert Capa is (yes, shame on me, I know).
For some time now I’ve been interested in war photography. So, one day I came across a movie – War Photographer, with James Nachtwey. I have never seen a photographer like him so far – taking war photos in extreme conditions. His shots are photography within the full meaning of the word. He does not show that he was just on the battle field, taking a range of photos. He was there, he experienced and reflected the mood, the composition, the details, everything which makes photography photography.
What is the creative process you go through to create your work and what tools do you use (camera, post-processing application(s), film (if you use it)?
In terms of the camera – my current one is Canon 5D/7D, and the lenses are L series. And yes, I use Photoshop. I think that digital photography nowadays cannot be done without Photoshop. But it is important not to be too much, not to spoil the picture. Though post-processing is inevitable, it shouldn’t be overdone, it should make the photo neither repulsive, nor too pompous. I can’t say that I have a precise way of doing it. Everything depends on my mood.
What I try to do is to adjust the photo in row converter. The rest of it goes through Photoshop – converting to black and white (almost 80% of my photos are like this), contrasting and putting accents. I am trying not to crop my photos, because I do my best to frame them while shooting. For me, it is of vital importance.
I do not make collages. These are street photos, taken in a reportage way – it is impossible to add any elements or to remove them, IMHO.
If we speak about film photography, I do like it very much. Although I have a fridge full of films at home and five film cameras, unfortunately, I do not use them very often.
What advice or tips can you give to someone who is new to street photography?
Probably the most important thing for a street photographer to know is that you shouldn’t be too impudent, nor too timid. In fact, if the person saw you, his expression tells you if he wants to be shot or not. You need to catch your moment but respect the person in front of the camera too. He is, in general, right. Always. It is you who comes and points your camera at him.
Where has your work been exhibited, published in print or online?
When the people around you tell you, “Man, your photos are good!”, it’s nice. But when your photos are asked for or paid for, it’s even nicer, since it shows you an independent opinion. If we speak about internet, in general, they are almost everywhere. Meanwhile, they are published in magazines, newspapers and asked to be shown in different exhibitions – in China, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Israel, Poland and Bulgaria. Frankly speaking, there are several other countries as well, but I don’t remember and this is not the aim.