Osley Pérez, Examining Social Structure through Photography, Part 2

Osley Pérez is a Cuban-born photographer who came to the United States five years ago. He has placed in both Leica Camera’s X Vario City Challenge in Miami and LFI’s Me and My Leica X competition. In part two of our interview, Osley goes in-depth about his photography and some of his images from his winning portfolio “Social Structure” which includes photos taken in and around the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood. You can read part one of his interview here.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: My work is a way to express and liberate my mind and get beyond myself. In that sense photography for me is like another form of escaping to another reality. Also, I enjoy experimenting, shooting from unusual angles and varying the lighting conditions. I like to make use of nuances in black-and-white tones because this lends some perceptible, visceral quality to the whole photograph.

Q: In what genre would you place your photos?

A: It falls into a number of different genres including portraiture, documentary photography, etc. Recently, conceptual photography has become my new passion.

Q: Is there a photographer or type of photography that influences your work or inspires you?

A: Cuban photographers are generally really good, and my work contains a bit of each of them, especially photographers like René Peña, Cirenaica Moreira, Juan Carlos Alom, Marta María Pérez, etc. Also, I admire the work of other international photographers as well, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Andrés Serrano, Edward Weston, Barbara Kruger, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman, etc., who influenced my own work in different ways: the use of lighting, angles, concepts, and perspectives.

Q: What does photography mean to you?

A: For me, photography is nothing more than a tool to project a way of looking or feeling. My relationship with photography is fairly recent, but many years ago, I remember my first photographs taken in Cuba, maybe 10 years ago. I was taking portraits of devotees inside a church in a very small town at the western end. I was actually involved in the street photography genre without actually realizing it. Photography is an obsession for me, and putting everything into capturing an image is a cause. That commitment has always fascinated me. Every photographer should find his or her own theme, something that will engage their passion and devotion throughout their career. I am still on that quest. I guess every day I get a little closer.

Q: I like the picture you shot looking into the back of a UPS truck because it makes you look at an everyday event in a new light, and it uses space and a vertical composition very effectively. Since it has extended depth of field I assume you shot it at a small aperture. Can you provide the technical details?

A: The photo was taken at 1/125 sec at f/6.4 ISO 400 and the lens was set at a focal length of 22.1 mm. UPS workers already make up part of the city dweller movement, the brown trucks without doors give the impression that they never stop! I was very pleased to see them there, stopping, resting and maybe discussing some current topic surrounded by boxes and labels! The wealth that street photography delivers is based on showing everyday events from a different perspective or non-traditional angles, stopping what is moving or moving what is inanimate.

Q: “The Wait” is a masterfully composed black-and-white image that has a feeling of randomness but is actually very precise. There is a visual tension in its quietness that does seem to capture the essence of waiting. Who are these folks, what are they waiting for, and why did you decide to present this image in black-and-white?

A: For me, black-and-white photography in this context represents immobility, stasis, tension — that’s the reason why this photo is monochrome! Here some homeless people are sitting in front of where they are fed and are given a place to sleep. They are there killing time without dialogue among them. They do not believe there could be another option for their lives, and their stress denotes dissatisfaction.

Q: The image labeled “Untitled II” is also in black-and-white and it shows a graveyard and a stone set into the grass in the foreground, and a metal fence that visually and conceptually places the living beyond the reach of the dead. What do you think this picture stands for and what moods do you think it conveys, both to you personally, and the viewer?

A: It is a high-contrast image and it represents the division between life and death. It embodies the concept of ruptures but it also represents a predetermined portion of existence. The fence: firm and unmistakable, marks the separation between the two worlds, while the exaggerated contrast between the movement and a light metal fence separates the tranquility of these two separate spaces. It’s funny how sometimes existence is darker than the deathbed. That’s the thing about life: proven, defined, contrasting, white and black.

Q: There is something charming but disturbing about the image labeled “Untitled I”. The bright orange of the building and background details and the bright red punching bag are kind of jaunty, but there is something sad about the solitary figure of the young man behind the prison like bars of a window gate and the image feels constricted as though he is literally in jail. Where did you take this shot and how do you think it fits in with this portfolio and its societal message?

A: It is the type of photography where you go out, you watch so many people, and you find that guy that captures your attention. The double framing of the image captivated me; it seems that in addition to being tied to the activity that he is doing, he is also trapped within a very dominant orange space. When composing the image I saw an athlete that strives to improve his performance, and I saw his passion for his sport, but it was also inevitable to see the implicit anger and striving for monetary rewards. Maybe he feels as a prisoner of his activity or better yet maybe he finds freedom in pursuing it.

Q. How do you think that growing up in Cuba, and doing post-graduate work in painting and photography has influenced your passion for street photography and has helped strengthen your commitment to continuing your creative quest going forward?

A: That was a turning point in my life; new concepts, ways of seeing and looking enlivened me. Cuba as a tropical country has a rich street life that is constantly evoking emotions in me. The transformations that occur constantly in the island generate a variety of reactions and that gives its society an extraordinary social wealth. Since I was a kid I’ve had a strong inclination towards the visual arts but my love for photography grew on me only after I began my architecture career in Havana. My studies of perception, lines and composition together with the social revolution that we lived through opened up my eyes and caused me to focus in a different direction. I wasn’t just interested in the lines and silhouettes of the perfect buildings but in the emotions and people’s expressions that started to attract my attention ever more intensely. Without a doubt, my studies helped me improve my perception of the environment and colors, which helps me to articulate my vision more effectively.

Q: Do you plan to publish these and possibly other images in your extended portfolio in the form of a print or online book, or to exhibit them in Havana or elsewhere?

A: It could happen and I would love it. My training as a photographer began in a Caribbean society full of political conflicts and varied subjects that suggested daily messages to me. In my photographs I see universal situations that may well be of interest in Havana or in any other city. I am really interested in critiquing the problems that affect our society nowadays and if I have the chance to do it through my lens, then that will be my reward!

Q: How do you see your work evolving over the next few years and do you plan to explore any other genres?

A: For some time now I’ve seen life and everyday situations in terms of a picture format; it’s like freezing a moment in time so it gains a life of its own. I say this, because for some time now I have inevitably captured practically every situation wherever I am. Yes I will be doing conceptual photography and architectural photography (which should be influenced by my training) going forward but in a sense they have always been part of my work. I believe in specialization, because life is very short, but I never shy away from experimenting, and taking photographs unplanned, as to subject or genre, so long as the subject is interesting. Right now I just finished a series called “Voices from the inside” and it gives form to the inner voice, it liberates the thoughts that the soul confines. I think of it as an ode to what is absent, lost, missing. Portraits convey the inner voice through body expressions, providing a door to liberate the mind and escape from reality.

Q: What do you think you have accomplished with this portfolio, and do you think you succeeded in achieving your goal and/or expressing your stated theme?

A: The most significant thing that I have achieved is to get involved in the complex texture of life and take advantage of the moments that will never repeat themselves, to position myself in the right place, without plan, without premeditation and then compose an action that contains implicit messages.

Thank you for your time, Osley!

– Leica Internet Team

See more of Osley’s work on his website and Facebook.

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