I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up the phone and dialed Miguel Maldonado’s phone number. Miguel has been reading Street Photography Magazine for some time now from his home in Puerto Rico, but it was only recently that our team here got a glimpse of his beautiful street photos. That said, aside from having viewed his website, I didn’t know too much about him when I called him up for an interview.
Turns out, Miguel has had a truly interesting life thanks to photography, which has pretty much been a lifelong passion for him. Miguel spoke with me about how, from a very young age, he enjoyed spending his weekends taking photographs on the streets of small town happenings and of events involving Puerto Rico’s prized Paso Fino horses.
Miguel is now a professional photographer, but it wasn’t necessarily his intention to be one early on. Sometimes life has a funny way of getting you places. He had turned down the opportunity to take over his father’s business, got a Bachelor’s in arts and education and was working as a teacher when his life took a rather unexpected turn.
During a special Paso Fino event in Puerto Rico, he was taking some shots of the horses for a Venezuelan magazine when they asked to have the prints right away. Not equipped with a way to develop his photos, Miguel approached a man who was taking and developing photos on site and asked if he would develop his work for the magazine right away. Long story short, the man agreed and later asked Miguel, “How much do you make as a teacher?” He then proceeded to offer Miguel work as a photographer earning the same amount and threw in a car to boot. That was how Miguel’s on-the-side hobby turned into a 28 year long career in professional photography.
Over the years, Miguel has had the opportunity to photograph some very special events. In the 70s, for example, Miguel was at the very university where student Antonia Martinez was murdered by a police officer during student protests. Miguel explained that this happens all too often in governments, “University students are a government’s worst enemy because of their open mindedness” he said. Antonia’s death marked a turning point in Puerto Rico’s history, a turning point that Miguel dared to capture on film. He said they were tense times, and he had to be very careful, but he knew he was capturing history.
Miguel also has a passion for music, particularly jazz, and this passion is evident in his photos. Miguel said jazz is a conversation between instruments, it is spontaneous and the improvisation of musicians mean it is easy to see what they feel as they play and capture those feelings in photographs. Miguel’s love for music has led him to photograph at numerous concerts in many different countries. In fact, he was one of the only photographers present at the last concert of the famous musician Tito Puentes, before his untimely death. Miguel says he went to the concert to enjoy the music and take photos, never knowing how significant the event would turn out to be. I can’t help thinking that this story is a great example of why it’s important to always be ready to go out and shoot.
These days, Miguel takes on assignments from newspapers, which he says is an interesting job that allows him to live and travel as he pleases. In fact, occasionally, Miguel gets invited by the Association of Photojournalists in his area to travel to Cuba and share experiences with fellow photojournalists. Miguel commented, “Cuba is a photographer’s paradise.” He says it even beats out Europe when it comes to popular travel destinations for photographers. Why so? Cuba is a country that seems to be detained in time. You see a little bit of everything and when you leave he says, “You just keep thinking about everything you didn’t have a chance to photograph.” And the people?
Even during their times of need and hardships, they maintained their happy, cheerful disposition. Fine tobacco, upbeat music and a people with wide, open hearts characterize this unique country. Miguel relates that people ask you to take photographs, they invite you in to chat or eat a meal with them. In short, Cuba offers photographers not only the chance to capture the day-to-day life of locals, but to be a part of the daily goings on, if only for a short while.
When I asked him what street photography is like in Puerto Rico, he said it is really just being born, but that there are some talented photographers taking an interest. Innovative programs are starting up in Puerto Rico, like programs that use photography to teach math and other academic subjects. Right now, Miguel takes part in a kind of photography club, in which photojournalist style photographers come together to appreciate each other’s work. Miguel says this is one of the best ways out there to find motivation and advice from others who share your passion.
He also had a few more words of advice for anyone just getting started in photography. He said the mistake he sees amateurs make most often is basic composition errors. The solution? Miguel’s advice was this:
- Improve by reading books and magazines about photography and watch videos about composition. After all, there’s certainly no shortage of these online he pointed out.
- Look at the work of photographers you admire. This is not to copy them of course, but to learn from their work and find inspiration.
- Get to know your equipment. It doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you have. Whether it’s an iPhone or a Canon 5D Mark III, you need to know how it works and take advantage of its features and settings.
- Most importantly, shoot, shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more. This, he says, is how you will learn to become a good photographer.
It was a pleasure speaking with Miguel and hearing about his many experiences. He is living proof that photography, whether it is a hobby or a profession can truly enrich your life.
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon EOS DX
- Fuji 100F 35mm (his preferred camera for street photography
- Fuji XE2
- Fuji XM1