Alex Coghe is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events.
This article is an extract for the Leica Camera Blog from the diary written in Los Angeles. I was the only Italian in this international competition dedicated to street photography. And this is a milestone in my photographic career. It is a fine showcase international and already the fact of being here, among the 32 photographers selected after a tough selection, is a great satisfaction. The images in the Think Tank Gallery were up through the end of October. There will be a printed magazine along with a digital pdf version of this fantastic show.
Day One in the Fashion District
Today, the first day of competition. Yesterday evening around 10 pm, we received the map. The secret location is no longer secret. There are four streets that surround the Think Tank Gallery in the heart of Fashion District in Downtown.
I have an appointment with Eric Kim at 10 am at the Union Station metro stop. From there we will reach with the Fashion District.
I admit to being excited and a little nervous. I don’t know Los Angeles, only through the TV series that accompanied my childhood in the ’80s.
Eric Kim is really a nice person that I have come to know through the internet. Boasting an incredible technique, Bruce Gilden style, flash in one hand and camera in the other. A little Gilden, a little two cute dogs aka Charlie Kirk with such psychology, enchants people who want more pictures.
It’s nice and incredible to have met so many talented photographers in the same area. We talked, made pictures together and ate at a nice restaurant a real rich and abundant meal.
Not only really talented photographers, but especially exquisite people. On this first day also an an invitation to dinner (Susan Catherine Weber), a ride and a present (Eric Kim) and wonderful hours spent taking pictures in the Fashion District: people, with a few exceptions, react wonderfully. Good vibrations!!!
In the evening, I went to Hollywood and now it’s like I’ve always imagined. In fact, I’m quickly realizing that the United States is really what we see; has always been to the movies, readings, documentaries.
I am excited about this first day and tomorrow, Venice Beach! May the spirit of Garry Winogrand help me!
A Day in Venice Beach
Venice Beach: how many times I have dreamed in my life? For the ’80s and ’90s TV series.
In the morning I still remember the pizza and Guinness that we ate the night before in Hollywood.
The first stop of the day, however, is the Paul Getty Museum, where we admired the works of Walker Evans. We are at the dawn of street photography, straight photography specifically.
The work from Cuba is impressive. Some works are part of me now, so are the times that I admired, studied, envied and eventually assimilated.
The museum is incredible and we can also admire the works of Alberto Korda, the photographer of the Cuban Revolution.
Venice Beach really confirms what I expected: a mythical place where artists, exhibitionists, freakers, rappers chasing fame, skaters and pretty girls come together in a kaleidoscope of incredible human beings.
I shoot everything. I admit I struggled a bit; it’s so great and there are so many diverse people that I feel dazed. It is not easy, at any moment, without knowing the place to take so many different situations, but in the end I believe that I have managed to do something good.
Something else happened that I did not expect; I was interviewed in a documentary! I found myself speaking in front of a camera and then they filmed me at work!
Day Two in the Fashion District
Susan is punctual. The day begins with a light drizzle that makes us worry a little.
The light is very bad at times, but the clouds are not so bad for me. I generally work with flash.
At this time of morning the shopkeepers start their day and this is easier for us than the weekend. It’s just me and Susan and we’re doing good work. Fewer people, better conditions, more time to think and really look at the street situations.
You shoot, you stop to talk to people, many of whom were intrigued by our wandering and photographing. There are good vibes in the air and the feeling is that we are doing some good photos.
On the way, we meet one of the photographers selected for this event. We chat and we share ideas.
I speak some English, but mostly in Spanish. And there are plenty people excited to hear that I’m Italian.
The people are lovely and it is natural to stop and talk.
Then there are always exceptions. One man gets angry at Susan and he tries to rip the camera out of her hand, asserting that we cannot take pictures because it’s a private place.
The rude man doesn’ t listen our reasons; he begins to mutter that we are only shooting black people and Latinos. Susan explains that we photograph the varied humanity without distinction of race or social class and that I am Latin. She also offers an apology if he was somehow offended.
He shouts that this is Downtown LA. Susan replies, asking, “Is Downtown LA not the United States?” She pulls out an IPA document on the rights of photographers in the street, but the guy doesn’t want to see it.
Susan walks away, clearly annoyed. I try to talk him, showing him picture I took of a girl, white. Nothing to do. I give him a card of the October 13 show at the Think Tank Gallery.
I want to emphasize that at no time had I feared something. I was very quiet, partly because I didn’t know that Susan had risked her camera. I don’t want scare anyone. We must always be on guard because danger can come in every moment. I believe that common sense and a some psychology can help, although this is not insurance that nothing will happen.
Humanity is diverse. As evidence of this, after five minutes of speaking amiably with a man, a native of Michoacan, he complimentedme on my pronunciation of Spanish.
I’m really happy with this second day at the Fashion District.
Day Three in the Fashion District
Anyone who knows me, knows of my obsession with the number seven. It is definitely my lucky number and once again this is not denied.
I’ve got the one! Yes, I can finally say it. I have the photo that I will use to launch the other two.
It was a perfect day in so many ways. I met up with Eric Kim at Union Station from where we drove to the Fashion District and, in particular, the location selected for the competition.
Eric begins shooting and we run into the first problem of the day because the girl didn’t like the photographic attention by my friend. We continue with the confusion between privacy and the right image. In fact, the privacy in a public place doesn’t exist.
The day evolves big time and soon I capture the photo of the day. Satisfied with what was, the work becomes much easier and stress free. The result is that I continued to take good pictures throughout the afternoon.
So many of the photographers were present today. There were eight of us walking together for a while. It’s great to share ideas with so many photographers. This is is a competition between us, but there is no rivalry. There is so much friendship in the air. I’m glad to reconnect with some people I already know and meet new people as well.
We have lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, which was a new experience for me, but it’s very good! We leave and continue shooting. By now I’ve gotten to know some sellers on block: the Mexican man, a woman I met because I had photographed her daughter, a boy who studied music in Distrito Federal.
Most people are happy to be photographed. We know humanity in a varied, colorful kaleidoscope of races, cultures and personalities. The afternoon passed quickly. Some of our group departed to perhaps be seen again on the evening of October 13, the day of the show. And now our group dwindled down to three. We decided to shoot on Broadway.
We had dinner at Bar Kitchen,a really cool local spot, and continue to talk about street photography until it’s time to go home. Eric drops me off at home in South Pasadena. I say goodbye to Eric and now I must start working on the pictures. I’m tired, but very satisfied with the day.
Day of the Show
So here I am to write the day after the event. Let me start by saying that it was a perfect show from many points of view.
The exhibition at Think Tank Gallery is part of the Downtown Art Walk, a traditional cultural event that attracts many people in the Downtown LA area.
I arrived at 8:00 pm after having dinner with my cousin and her husband, Luis, in a German restaurant. I find to the entrance to greet Alex JD and finally I am here!
The impact is incredible. Many people have arrived already including Rinzi Ruiz, Eric Kim and Susan. I ran to see my pictures. They look amazing framed and displayed in a gallery. I meet some other friends: Neema Sadeghi, Jacob Patterson, Ludmilla Morais and Derriel. We share ideas and impressions. We are excited to be part of such a great event. I think this experience will be one of the most beautiful I ever have at a professional level.
I am happy to talk about my photos as well as go to see the photos of other friends. One of the more than hundred photos will be chosen as the best in show and the author will take home a Leica V-Lux 30. Hard, very hard, but as I have said to my friend Rinzi Ruiz tonight we have already won them all. The rest is relative.
It’s interesting to note that every photographer has had a different look and a completely different approach from one another. There are photos more focused on urban issues, which are essentially reportage photographs, some pure street.
The best of the show is Jordan Dunn, who won Leica’s “Best in Show” award and the VLUX-30 for his photo Bus Stop Peeker.
I think it merits a separate chapter in this book. Now, finally, my photos are public and are no longer bound to keep the mystery that was my proposal.
In all three pictures, I used the same concept and same the precise point for shooting, the windows of Starbucks, in a sort of false double exposure using the reflection of the glass. The concept shows the indoor and outdoor, with the main subject inside, with my presence because Friedlander is still very important for me.
There is the urban context, there is the story of the subjects represented, life moments and elements and purely urban street that fit into full compositions.
This was a very important professional experience for me. I finally met my virtual friends like Eric Kim and Susan Catherine Weber. I also met other great photographers and great persons as Mehdi and Rinzi. Los Angeles gave me a lot both in terms of the professional and on the human level.
I go back to Mexico City with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas and incentives. I will create a photography school and I will focus primarily on street photography workshops. Having attended an event sponsored by Leica is very important for the curriculum.
My photographic career is at an important turning point and for that I thank the three weeks spent in Los Angeles.
– Alex Coghe