Bruno Gracia, born in Spain, is a self-taught photographer who has been photographing for the past four years. He now lives in London where he tries to express the feelings he sees on the street. Here Alex Coghe talks with Bruno about how he discovered Leica, his life as a Spaniard in London and more.
Q: Bruno, you started with photography four years ago using a DLSR. After a year, you discovered Leica. You told me that it’s a way of life for you. Could you tell us a bit more about this story of love and passion?
A: Like many of us, I stepped into Leica after a time with DSLR cameras. And the reason underlying this change was due to some difficult moments I came across in a stage of my life. I sheltered in online forums seeking information about photography. Since I was a beginner, I discovered a Spanish forum focused on rangefinder cameras, and hence, on Leica. The more I read about it, the more I fell in love with the aesthetic images and the final quality they offer. I did not doubt it and decided to sell all my previous gadgets and bought a M8 with a 50 mm f/2 Summicron. It was then when everything changed: its focus, complete control, speed and opening, fast and easy menu and build quality made me think Leica was going to be with me until death. Thanks to it I started to cheer up and I went out to take pictures, people looked at me due to the old aspect of the camera and they smiled at me. It was then impossible to carry on living without my Leica.
Q: We can affirm Leica changed your life and now you are also an enthusiastic collector of Leica cameras.
A: It is not only the file quality or final image, it is also the pleasure while you are using it. The fact is that taking pictures with these gorgeous cameras is an art, something that Leica M and Leica X or older models do perfectly. I could spend the whole day taking pictures with them and looking at them on the computer screen; they fascinate me! Once you try a Leica, nothing remains the same.
Q: You have worked with many Leica cameras, digital and film, but you prefer analog. Do you want to share with us the reason behind this preference?
A: Of course, I have had the great chance of trying them one by one, all the Leica digital cameras. There are many cameras that have the capacity of high-quality images and zoom; however, many of them lack the wonderful process of thinking first before taking the picture, developing photographs, making wet prints or scanning them.
Q: Let’s talk about digital Leica cameras. Is there a camera that you enjoyed or that you like more than the others?
A: Of course, in my opinion, the Leica Monochrom has been a great discovery. The grey range of colours, from pure white to pure black, I have only seen in Tri-X or HP5 according to the processing. The sharpness and warmth of the final outcome is comparable to a medium format, which I love too. It is an M camera that is as handy as an analog MP and what you have inside is endless Neopan, Tri-X, HP5. They still lack the analog outcome, something that the users look for. They are definitely incomparable though compatible.
Q: Can I ask you about the Leica X2? What do you like about this compact camera?
A: That’s interesting, I nearly become an addict of my own goods. I didn’t know what to buy, what to keep; I just wanted to keep everything and every time a new camera reached my hands I thought it was going to be the ultimate one. Suddenly, I discovered a Leica X1 and it was something I will never forget: compact, manual focus, discreet and that superlative lens. Then, a Leica X2 came into my life. It didn’t really attract my attention, but later I saw Mr. Hovetoo’s video and then yours and I realized that was the perfect camera to go with. The EVF has still more possibilities with difficult lights and angles.
Q: In your work I see images with a real intimacy with the subjects that you portray. So I want to ask you, how important is connecting to the people for your approach?
A: It is important for me to empathize with people, at least to have their approval. Sometimes an image is worth more than a thousand words. I think that my source of inspiration regarding others is just an honest and sincere smile. I do not normally ask for permission, although later I go to talk to them and see if they agree. If I have time, I try to ask for their story. Sometimes I speak first with them and later I ask for a picture. What I like most is that after being accepted in a group, they allow me to take pictures without pressure.
Q: The images in this portfolio were all shot in London. Can you tell us something about your experience being a Spaniard in London. Do you think this affects your way of photographing and do you feel your eye on London is different from that of an English photographer?
A: Like many young Europeans, the current situation in our countries has obliged us to seek a better life abroad like our grandparents did years ago, although we are definitely better qualified than previous generations. Having my partner there is also a good reason for living there.
Our perspective of London as foreigners is that of hugeness, fear, thrill and hope. Meeting people from other places that are completely different from you is also a strong point. You are just another pedestrian so you don’t feel like an outsider any longer. That taught me to walk with curiosity and try to capture the lives of those people that are different from South Europeans. Since people living in London are used to cameras and I look like a tourist, I take advantage of it. Being half-tourist, half-Londoner, I can see life from both sides which is something that makes me different from other British photographers who would only seek the exotic side of London.
Q: Let’s talk about your next project: “20 character.” You will do two pictures of each person to build a diptych for each person and another work will be dedicated to your 83-year-old grandpa, a teacher and cyclist in your hometown of Ronda, Spain. Sounds interesting!
A: It is really interesting, a good photographer friend of my father released a book with the same theme although it was focused in a different way and addressed to other kinds of people. I want to do nearly the same, but instead of doing only one image I would advocate for a diptych in which we could see people from the other work so that we can see how time has gone as well as some close relatives of theirs. I think this would be something interesting for the city and its inhabitants, a reason for joy and bliss.
Regarding my grandfather, he is a fascinating person. At 83 years old he rides 20 km everyday with his bike. And what is more, due to his job as a teacher (he is well-known and so recognizable in my town that there is a street with his name), he is able to recite poems and name huge lists of old kings by heart. It is always a pleasure being with him because you always learn something. Since we would like to have some memories, I will do this book to keep his image always alive.
Q: A photograph without context, without a history can only be a mere exercise in style. I am sure you agree with me so I ask you, how do you get to take pictures with context?
A: As I see it, if you don’t have a concrete and clear project in mind, the work can be developed in the street itself. In a city like London you have 13 million different potential contexts so you will never find anything like this, it is awesome!
For example, if you go on Sunday to Brick Lane you will see so many different people within the same context that you will go crazy if you feel like taking photographs. When you arrive home after that experience, there is always an image you feel proud of. Then you insert them on the London file and when you look at them again after a time you know that you have enough material to cover a good exhibition. The only images I take without contexts are those of my friends or with inanimate landscapes, objects or a short walk around my neighbourhood.
Thank you for your time, Bruno!
– Leica Internet Team
Alex Coghe is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events. Learn more about Alex’s nasty project on his website, Tumblr, YouTube and download his books on iTunes. He is also a member of the international photography collective, noise. Check out their work on Tumblr, Facebook and Blurb.