What drew you to street photography initially?
My interest in photography comes from my mother, I think. She was often snapping around with her point and shoot, taking family portraits and daily life moments. We have a lot of family photo books at home and I liked to sit down and browse through them. At one point she took photography classes and for the occasion, she bought a splendid Pentax K 1000 that later turned out to be my first camera. I was very attracted by that shiny, metallic, and minimalistic camera so I started spending my time studying techniques by myself, reading Ansel Adams books, taking pictures in my town and printing out my B&W images.
I was taking snaps of my friends, people in the street, dogs, everything caught my attention. My meeting with street photography happened when I first saw Cartier-Bresson’s work, I was amazed by the idea that one can create such beautiful and mysterious images by simply walking around and observing the world, transforming the reality into something else, interpreting our surroundings and sharing what we see and how we see it. To me all this was pure magic and so it is today.
I can say that documentary photography and portraits are always been my first love. I was very inspired by all the great Magnum photographers: wide angles, decisive moments, storytelling, humanity in all its paradoxical blending of beauty and brutality.
I loved all of this and I went naturally in that direction. Today my influences are wider. For example, there are also many fine artists and fashion photographers that really inspire my work in the streets.
Where do you shoot mostly and how would you describe that city to other street photographers?
I mostly shoot in my neighborhood and surrounding areas. There are a couple of spots I prefer because the flow of passers-by is richer and I feel I have more possibility to see something interesting. One is close to Nørreport Station, I like it there because it’s located between two different neighborhoods with two distinct souls, Nørrebro – more multicultural and the city center – and Indreby, which is more touristic and posh. By walking around this area, I can have a vibrant mixed and multicolored overview of the city. Then my neighborhood – Vesterbo – is more dedicated to local lifestyle, family walking, kids playing in the streets, young mothers with strollers etc. It’s cozy and it gives me a more homey feeling.
Copenhagen is a fantastic city, I fell completely in love with it. It’s a pleasure to walk around and be absorbed in its Nordic atmosphere. It’s a quiet city, not chaotic at all, which for a photographer can be a plus and a minus sometimes. The population density is different than in a huge city like New York and one can miss some action in the street. The inhabitants are friendly though, and even if they care a lot about privacy, I rarely ended up in trouble because of taking my snaps. I always talk to them after I take the shot, sometimes they just walk by and that’s it.
What are the biggest challenges you face in street photography and how do you overcome them?
Street photography is a difficult and challenging discipline. I feel it every day. It takes some guts to shoot in front of strangers in the streets, even an experienced photographer has to deal with that kind of tension. The fear of violating others privacy and confrontations with strangers – it’s a classic challenge and I am not an exception, sometimes one just doesn’t feel like doing it. To overcome it, I found helpful to read other photographers’ interviews on this topic, reading about their experiences is a consolation and an encouragement.
But the ultimate solution is to go out and do it again, and again, and talk with people if you notice that they were surprised or annoyed by your act, in the end, like Bruce Gilden said: “Most of the people like to be photographed, some don’t.” We should remember this – most of the people like to be photographed – if you do it in an open and honest way, they will feel it and it will flow.
What is your favorite image or your most memorable moment from doing street photography?
They can be two different things, they can coexist or not. For example, I have a favorite image but it is not connected with an emotional feeling or a particularly situation, it’s the one with the three veiled ladies. I like everything about it. The subject: I’m particularly interested to portrait people who look different then me, people from other countries or people with other roots, other taste and culture. The light: my ideal natural light, sharp sunny on the subject with shades on the background, I often look for this light condition. The right moment: the composition is good, I took the right moment and when it happens that all these elements are combined, I think it’s pure magic. As Koudelka well said: “A good photo is a miracle.”
On the other hand, while out shooting I experienced some intense and beautiful, memorable moments of compassion and humanity where I just interact with people in the street without taking a picture. I speak with all sorts of creatures out there in the street: other photographers, tourists, old people, kids, mothers, workers, businessmen, girls, drug addicts, prostitutes, dogs…
I have beautiful memories of a talking with a homeless men, I rolled a cigarette for him and we sat down to smoke and talk together, we talked long and he was really happy that someone wanted to talk with him for real. He gave me as much as I gave to him, and this is what it is all about sometimes.
What has street photography taught you?
Street photography is teaching me a lot. I can feel a deep change in me since I started doing it on a daily basis. Spending time outside observing people makes me feel more a part of a vibrant all, I feel less isolated and more integrated in my society. I feel compassion for everyone, I feel more and more that we have to take care of each other, feel the fact that we are all in the same boat and realize that deeply we have the same nature. This causes feelings of common existence to arise that make me feel good and, by spreading this energy around, others can feel good as well.
Photographically speaking, and in my opinion, street photography is one of the most exciting ways of using this media. I like the technical aspect of photography as well. And in the street all the technical elements combine so one develops a rich knowledge by doing it. Dealing with different focus techniques, depth of field, lighting, shutter speeds…I still shoot all in manual even if a camera has automatic mode, I like to be in control of the light and the street is a big school for this, light changes quickly (especially in Scandinavia) and one need to be quick to read it and operate fast in both exposing and framing.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Roberto and see more of his work, be sure to visit his Instagram and Flickr account. Roberto was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.