If street photography was music, it would be Jazz. If it was literature, it would be neither novel, essay, nor fairytale. It wouldn’t be a greguería. Would it be poetry? No. It would be a micro-story, like what Hemingway wrote. “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” – Javi Calvo
Beginnings: “I take photos so I won’t cry.”
I began taking photographs because I felt alone in the city. One day, I went out on the street with a camera and found that my loneliness had lessened. It was then that I set out to complete a 365 project taking one photo each day and she, the camera, became my companion. Now, she goes with me everywhere, and occasionally, I take two cameras. I take photos so I won’t cry.
Although in my home there had been a photo lab and my father and one of my two sisters have always been involved in art, it never held my attention. I was more interested in the chemical products that were used in that lab. It was later, with the appearance of digital techniques and the ability to see images immediately that the world of photography began to interest me.
Presently, I am about to begin my fourth year dedicated to street photography, although I did spend a few years before taking photos in general. During all those years, my camera and I have not been separated for a single day.
Why Street Photography: “I want to make a record of the era I live in.”
Street photography is something very personal and it will last throughout the ages. When we see old photographs, from 50, 60, 70 years ago, those that capture our attention with the most force are the ones taken of people. Although the scenery changes some and people have similar features, the photo gives testimony to what we were and are in every era. I too want to leave behind a record of the age in which I live.
This is why I go out onto the street with my camera and go to my favorite places in the city: the Main Plaza and the stairs of the Iglesia de la Clerecía. I have taken so many photos from those stairs that the people in my photographic circles began to call them “Javi Calvo’s stairs”.
It is there that I can capture on occasions the difficult “decisive moment” that Cartier-Bresson spoke of, although he thoroughly studied his photographs and didn’t take just one shot. It is very complicated, capturing that instant, although sometimes it does happen. Even in some of what I consider to be my best photos, there is usually time to frame and compose. For example, in the photograph of Lucía (who I ended up meeting later on) in the Main Plaza, I had enough time before she saw me. It was only when I took the first image, perhaps because she heard the sound of the camera, that she turned around to look at me and I took a second shot.
Influence: “The protagonism of the street photo belongs to the person and not the urban scenery.”
My photography drinks from the classics like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank. When it comes to my most recent photos, I have a predilection for the Swiss photographer Thomas Leuthard and the Portuguese photographer Rui Palha, although the photography of Rui is less “street photography” per se, I understand it to be of a very pure kind, very Winograond, with a lot of human presence. I believe the protagonism of a photo belongs to the person and not the urban scenery.
As far as Spanish photographers, I follow a strong collective called Calle 35, which belongs to Manu Mart, Rafa Badía and Carlos Prieto. In the Orihuela area, there exists a very interesting photography group called Street Soul Photography. Of the photographers that make up this group, I would point out Eduard Francés. There is also a collective in Barcelona with important photographers, such as Ignasi Raventos, Jordi Flores, Susana Hinojo and Jordi Villalta. In addition, I admire the work of Alberte Pereira (Santiago de Compostela) o Antonio E. Ojeda (Sevilla).
Technique: “Life is in color. Photography is in black and white.”
I understand street photography to be “hand to hand”, so I work with a Fujifilm X100 and an objective 23mm, which in full frame format equals a 35mm. I choose this format because it alters reality very little, due to the fact that the 35mm is similar to real human vision. If I work with a reflex camera, I use a 50mm. I like fixed focuses and I utilize these lenses so that my photography looks natural, without flattening, neat.
In addition, I process in black and white because I believe it contributes a timelessness to the photos and allows me to imbue them with my style, since processing is so personal. You can teach someone how to figure out their way of processing, but not to process like you: I do it only according to what my own eyes tell me.
Projects: “I like hunting better than fishing.”
I have realized two defined projects: the 365, which consisted in taking one photograph each day during all of 2011, and another that is still in progress about the loneliness of adult people. I am developing it in Ávila, my home town, because it is a place where very few young people can be found since most of the population between 18 and 40 years of age disappear when the move to other cities to study and work. It all began when I passed through a neighborhood and ran into a woman, alone, pacing back and forth in one place. She came and went, came and went, and this made me ponder over the aloneness of the older adults here in Ávila. This project is taking shape little by little, by brushstrokes, and I have yet to show it to anyone.
Also, although it isn’t exactly a project, more of a recurrent theme in my photos, I very much enjoy shooting people reading in the street and I am experimenting with the shadows. However, I prefer not to work on concrete projects nor to focus only on certain themes. When I head out to the streets to take photos, I don’t think about what I have to capture: I prefer going and seeing what I find instead of waiting for something specific to happen. I like hunting better than fishing.
Desirable Cities: “I do not think street photography is meant to be exclusively urban photography.”
With their diverse cultures and environments, I would like to photograph four cities: New York, London, Istanbul and Tokyo. There are other beautiful cities to photograph, like Lisbon and Oporto, where I’ve been lucky enough to do so myself. However, I don’t believe that street photography is exclusively urban photography, rather, that it can include rural areas. It is true, the more inhabitants the nucleus of a population has, the easier it is to do street photography, since there are more opportunities to do so and the photograph is easier to take discreetly.
Learning: “The biggest problem when learning to take street photos is fear.”
You can learn street photography. It is taught in many different workshops, although the biggest problem when it comes to learning street photography has nothing to do with the equipment, nor the techniques, but with fear: the fear of what people will say, of if you will have problems with the people you try to photograph. Street photography isn’t about shooting everything that moves, but rather it has a documentary purpose. This is what should guide a photograph when it is time to capture images of interesting people or everyday people doing everyday things.
When taking street photography, every professional must establish their own limits. Keeping in mind that in Spain, taking photographs of people without their permission is prohibited, all street photographers cross certain lines. In my case, I established my limit by deciding to hide or exclude a person’s identity. While I photograph and show some details of my subject, they are not usually recognizable.
Each photographer should seek out great themes and flee from the cliché, from that which has already been overly photographed and, as a result, holds no great interest. This is the case with street musicians. While others enjoy photographing them, I don’t. It is more interesting to search for another point of view and photograph the people that are looking and listening to the music.