Is there a particular South American angle on street photography? A specific photographic culture that presents a new dynamic only found in places like Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina et al?
Difficult to say, of course, if a dazzling ‘magic realism’ is at play in street photographs from this part of the world, but I like to think there might be. A certain Latino swagger that is discernible when compared to European street photography, or, indeed, North American street photography.
I am with two leading, and exciting, South American exponents of the art, Uruguayans Gustavo Rosas López and his street photography partner Gonzalo Gómez Gaggero. I want to try and discover if my theory has any resonance.
“I go for a walk without a previous idea,” Gustavo tells me openly when I ask the two men what they might go looking for on the street. “Trying to photograph what, in some way, excites and surprises me, from a small gesture to the most complex situation.”
Their collection is testimony to this attitude, often taken from unusual angles they offer a unique perspective of the world around us.
“I like the sense of humour and irony,” Gonzalo adds. “But also the drama and ambiguity. Surely this influences me when it comes to finding a situation to photograph. I have also noticed that I like the adrenaline that I feel when I have to take a picture very quickly or get close…to the subject. Not knowing what I am going to find generates in me a nice feeling, that has a playful component.”
Copyright ⓒ Gonzalo Gomez
Downtown Montevideo, an attractive blonde woman wearing fishnet stockings, black boots and a short skirt pivots. She looks back over her shoulder as if someone has called out her name: ‘Hey Rosita! Tu sabes que te quiero! (Hey Rosita, you know I love you!). The attractive woman is carrying a brochure, while an older woman carrying a bag is seen between her and a nun standing to our right as we look at the photograph – with her back to the photographer. The photograph is almost surreal. Perhaps the nun (whose face we cannot see) is looking in the direction of the voice and preparing to chastise its owner.
The photograph, and it gains something from being taken at an angle looking up and from the photographer being close, presents juxtaposition and a candidness – an exciting shot – that is nothing if not thought-provoking. It makes me think can street photography help us contemplate our place in the world? Three women on the same street but, obviously, with very different lifestyles.
“My first approach to photography may have been through film,” Gustavo informed me and, I have to confess, the above photograph does have a cinematic feel to it – though I have no idea if Gustavo or Gonzalo took the shot. “Since I was a kid I like to watch movies, and since then I have been curious about the images, their construction and their power to communicate emotions.”
Then Gonzalo chimed.
“My interest in photography began when I was finishing my degree in graphic design in 2007. Graphic design is directly linked to the post-production of photos. So, I became interested in what happened behind a lens, before processing the photo. When I bought my first camera in 2010, I went out to take pictures without focusing on anything in particular…until I felt the need to do something more personal, taking advantage of the opportunity the city gives…to go out and capture stories.”
The men met in 2006 when both were pursuing a career in graphic design, and later in 2010 when they were involved in some design work for a client. Gustavo showed Gonzalo some photographs.
“He showed me some pictures he had taken,” Gonzalo explained. “Of the coastal area of Montevideo. I found his vision of life on the streets of our city very interesting and coincidentally I was also taking pictures on the street.”
Copyright ⓒ Gustavo Rosas
Their work is impressive. In a beautiful close-up of, what looks like, a man down on his luck – perhaps homeless – who appears to be dozing, eyes-closed, while brilliantly just out of focus beyond him a couple kiss on the street. A beautifully captured moment of pleasure and pain – the two existential drivers of all our souls. When I see this photograph, I think, has the man closed his eyes because the snogging couple remind him of a former, happier time when he himself was in love? Again taken from a low position and close up gives the photograph a ‘life and dimension’ it would otherwise not have had.
If I am being honest, I might have focused on the kissing couple, and had the man on the street out of focus which would have have given the work less vibrancy and would have made it more predictable. This, for me, was the way to capture that moment, and is a good example great street work.
Both men are from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, a relatively small nation of around 3.5 million people, and I was curious to know why the men chose to join forces as street photographers?
“Sharing the passion to capture moments of life on the streets, was what motivated us to generate a duo,” Gustavo explained. “We are also friends and in some way it is fun to share experience of the stories or characters that appear on the street.”
Copyright ⓒ Gustavo Rosas
The shared passion has paid dividends. There is an intriguing photograph of a car with a type of horror mask emerging from the dark interior, while a young person, just out of focus, rides past on his bicycle. It could be a movie poster for a new scare film. Again that juxtaposition, that eye that sees and captures that moment. The mark of great street photography.
Copyright ⓒ Gonzalo Gomez
In another photograph an elderly face peers from a dusty bus window, a metaphor for the journey of life? The face is in the corner of the photograph one step forward and that face would have disappeared from the frame – which, for me, was a great metaphor for the ageing process.
“I believe walking frees the mind,” Gustavo tells me. “One becomes more receptive to what happens in the street. I like to be close to the situation (depending on the possibilities).”
Meanwhile Gonzalo ponders how the art form is developing in Uruguay.
“We don’t have a notion of how popular it is in Uruguay,” He says thoughtfully. “Since there is no discussion…about this photographic genre. We know some photographers who practice it, but we are not sure that it could become popular at some point.”
Street photography, of course, is a global project, but I suspect that because of the historical, cultural and the political nuances of nations there are subtle differences out there.
In writing about Brazilian street photographer Gustavo Minas – who featured in the magazine in April this year – as well as Gustavo Rosas López and Gonzalo Gómez Gaggero it is almost like curating that South American flavour of street photography.
Whether it has its own resonance or not is, of course, up for debate. Suffice to say I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have written about these street photographers.
To see More of Gustavo & Gonzalo see INSPIRATION