Marcel Pedragosa was born in Barcelona in 1978 and has been based in Paris, France since 2011 where he obtained several artist residences. Marcel’s photographic work has been published and exhibited internationally including The Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and the Bankside Gallery in London.
Marcel possesses an innate understanding of cities and the artistic opportunities they present. He has captured images in varied settings around the world, though he is most drawn to urban environments, where his photography unfolds with considerable richness. In part one of our interview, Marcel told us about his unique approach to photography and his first major photographic project, “Parisii.” Now Marcel provides insight into his “Western Eyes” project, taken in the Russian city of Perm.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: Because of its continuous movement I think my work may be interpreted as impulsive and energetic, trying to depict today’s relationship between human activity and urban spaces as a direct environment. I find it appropriate to use black-and-white photography in order to simplify the image and intensify its graphic forms. I like to suggest what may be interpreted in the scene, escaping from the immediate reality rather than showing it clearly and conventionally. Providing minimal information, I look for a free interpretation of the abstract message encoded within every photograph.
Q: What is accomplished by “escaping from the immediate reality” and how do you think this concept shapes your work and expands its meaning and relevance?
A: There is a clear intention to produce images with a timeless and space-less feeling. Most of the time the people in the images are unrecognizable. This lack of reference points places these photographs into an uncertain atmosphere that distances us from what we are generally used to seeing and experiencing in our daily lives. This is one of the ideas behind my creative process that ultimately personalizes my style as a photographer.
Q: How do you think black-and-white helps in articulating certain aspects of your work, particularly the blurred motion and soft focus that characterizes many of your images? Have you ever worked in color, and do you plan to do so in the future?
A: Thinking in black-and-white in my photography helps to further minimize the little information given in the images. Most of these images would not make much sense if they were taken in color, probably because it would only add superfluous information that eventually would break down the harmony achieved with the use of black and white. Black-and-white emphasizes the soul of the image whatever that may be.
I have worked in color for commercial purposes and I do not eschew using it in future projects. I actually have a great respect for masters of color. I admire, for example, how Viviane Sassen uses it in her photography, creating shapes that would be extremely effective in black-and-white as well.
Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression or as a profession?
A: I was always interested in photography, mostly as a spectator rather than as an image producer. I had a lot of respect for a profession that seems to be not too clearly defined. I visited as many photography exhibitions as I could in my city and many others around Europe. I used these trips to take photos myself too. I was probably first seduced by the idea of making photography my profession eventually, from a photojournalistic approach. Afterwards, I discovered that photography could cover any aspect of life, not only professional, becoming a persistent form of thinking and expression.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about how photography has transformed other aspects of your life and influenced your mode of being in the world?
A: Well, this is a very personal experience that I noticed in my changing mood since I started getting more deeply into photography. I know a few people who also experienced this transition. It’s about thinking of photography almost all the time, living for it whether you have a camera in your hands or not. Currently, it is monopolizing my life but in a positive and creative way; not as an obsession but mostly a passion I guess.
Q: How did you come to create your “Western Eyes” project?
A: Last year, the International Festival of City Photography, “Photograffiti,” in Russia nominated my work in first position inviting me to the Russian city of Perm to participate in the awards in the “Art Photography“ category. For this festival they asked me to take photos during a one-week period and Leica Camera Russia lent me a Leica M9 to accomplish this. After the Paris exhibition, I contacted Leica Camera Russia offering them the opportunity to show the work I produced last year in Russia and they kindly accepted. Eight photographs from “Western Eyes” are currently being exhibited at the Leica Store Moscow until July 31, 2013.
Q: What made you chose the name of “Western Eyes”? Also, how did your experience shooting in Russia differ from your experience in France?
A: The “Western Eyes” photographic series is the result of a timeless journey pursuing the essence and abstract of this city from an unavoidable Western perspective. This work reveals my personal visual approach to the experience of landing into an unknown point of a previously unvisited city where the notion of time and space disappeared at first sight. The thing that remained in my mind was a Western ideal of what an Eastern country represents, very little possibility of verbal communication, and a camera. As a result, every single photograph has been captured or created on the basis of personal intuition, feelings and sensations in this fresh, new and strange environment. Drawing particular attention to the differences over a short period, the narrative depicts a timeless journey pursuing the essence and abstract of an urban center, using the opportunity that an unavoidable Western perspective brings to my vision. The camera, as a medium, expressed itself by capturing isolated spaces in motion with individuals who swing imprecisely from one place to another trapped by the angle of view captured by the lens.
As you can now appreciate the experience of shooting in Russia was totally different from shooting in France. In Paris, I try to depict an out of cliché city whereas as a newcomer and stranger, in Russia I was totally following my idea of what an Eastern country is.
Q: This image from “Western Eyes” seems to show a hand depositing something into the hands of another who is holding a metal chain in his hands. The focus in on the hands and the object, but it seems to be primarily about the gesture. Where was this image taken, what does it depict, and what motivated you to take the picture?
A: It looks like this image motivates lots of questions as I was asked about it several times in Russia. After exploring Perm for a week, I found out about a market where there was a lot of activity. It was next to the central bus station so it was a good spot for me to take photos. I liked to look at people and observe their behavior. Again, I was at a counter in a small place that sold food and drinks and a group of three people approached me. They just wanted to share some space in order to show these crosses and get out of the rain. They where very close to me and this man was just showing what he had; I’m not sure if he was dealing with it or presenting it to his companions. I was interested in the intimacy of the moment in such a public space and I had the chance to be right next to them. I never talked to them; there was a huge language barrier and maybe I thought it was not necessary to be intrusive.
Q: Let’s discuss this image of a person who has turned their head during the exposure, which makes them unrecognizable and gives them a cartoon aspect like a character type. The strangely shaped light in the upper right-hand corner enhances the grotesque quality of this image. What’s going on in this image?
A: As I was walking around this bus station on a very busy street I bumped into a group of three people, one boy and two girls. It was Sunday afternoon and they had been drinking enough beer to feel quite tipsy. They started talking to me (in Russian) and it seemed like they wanted my company, being happy to see a stranger in a very unusual place. We jumped from the first bar to this one and this girl was sitting next to me drinking beer with a straw and smoking. I photographed her while she gestured in a very dramatic fashion.
A: In the streets of Perm and Moscow there are a lot of young people and lots of girls. I like to look at the pedestrians and how they interact in these public spaces. In the case of these two images, I was very attracted by the pattern of the dress; I think that’s what moved me to go behind these two girls and photograph them. Probably they were also wearing high heels (extremely common among Russian woman), and the way they walked in the middle of the street and the determination they showed was visually very powerful. For the other image, it was a bit different. These two women where standing in the corner of the street and I was taking photos of them as I was approaching them. Later I found out they where waiting for a car after a long night out. I think the randomness of these portraits explains what the situation is in each case. Again, without seeing their faces, it’s their bodies, their movement and the context that determines the essence of the image.
Q: Since you evidently have arrived at a personal style and methodology for creating your images, how do you see your work evolving over time? Do you plan to explore any other genres in the immediate future?
A: I currently feel very comfortable with this type of photography. When I went to Moscow for the “Western Eyes” opening at the Leica Store, I had the chance to take some more photos in the same vein as the work created in Perm. With a defined style I just want my work to be more and more consistent over time.
When I am not taking photos, I like to visit photography exhibitions or browse through photo books discovering old and new work. Photography as a medium encompasses infinite ways of expression and I certainly have no aversion to trying new things. Why not explore new formats, colors, or subjects?
Thank you for your time, Marcel!
– Leica Internet Team
You can see more of Marcel’s work on his website, www.marcelpedragosa.com.