Born in Brooklyn New York, Andrés LaBrada was always surrounded by motion picture cameras and film cameras since early childhood. He went on to pursue a course of study at the University of Miami’s Motion Picture program. While enrolled in the program he studied film making abroad in the United Kingdom and Ireland at various motion picture locations. LaBrada subsequently directed and produced movies that have been featured at film festivals. With his lifelong passion for photography and years of working in the film industry, Andy LaBrada now uses the techniques of film making to create the images that comprise his compelling photography portfolios.
Below is the story of how Andrés used a Leica X Vario to create “The Miamians,” an amazingly authentic and insightful portfolio of life in one of the world’s most diverse and colorful cities.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: My photography is closest to documentary. Early on I began capturing South Florida landscapes, specifically the Everglades. The conservation of the Everglades is important to me, so I wanted to contribute by memorializing the scenic views before they are gone. Then for some inner reason I was drawn to capturing the everyday lives of locals.
Q: You mentioned that early on you began capturing South Florida landscapes, specifically the Everglades, and then “for some inner reason” you were drawn to capturing the everyday lives of locals. Can you tell us something about that transformational experience and why photographing people and street scenes is now your primary creative mission?
A: People affect landscapes. How we interact with our surroundings always fascinated me. And I always wonder why people go about their daily lives doing what they do, mostly unnoticed. While in London working on a project I started photographing people. The royal wedding was going on at the time and this piqued my interest. It was interesting to see how the ordinary unnoticed activities of people really affect that time and space. Photography makes a historical document of this information and shares it with the viewer that would have otherwise ignored the scene, completely enmeshed in his or her own activities. Miami is a unique city. There are people from myriad diverse cultures and backgrounds, and this makes for a unique story.
Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: When I began photographing street scenes I looked around to see if anyone else was doing this type of work and that’s when I discovered the master Henri Cartier-Bresson. When I learned about Henri Cartier-Bresson my first thought was, “What camera was he using?” As I discovered he was a devout Leica user. I then began researching Leica cameras and found out that Leica had a program where one can use the Leica M for the day. Taking advantage of this, once I actually used the Leica M, I instantly understood Bresson’s love for Leica. The colors, the feel of the camera, it was an extension of my mind’s eye. The image quality was natural, almost chemical not digital. The images it captures are smooth yet sharp. The camera enabled me to approach people with ease due to its size and I had the courage to get close because I was shooting with a Leica.
Q: You say that your photography falls into the documentary, social and street photography genres and note that you discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson when you looked around to see if anyone was doing this type of work. What was there about Bresson’s work you found inspiring, and how do you think it has influenced your approach to documentary street photography?
A: Cartier-Bresson caught the moment of everyday people doing everyday things; this is the essence of street photography. His photographs, like mine, dignify the ordinary scene and bring it to light. Coincidentally, my photographs are similar. When I began photographing everyday life and learned about Bresson’s work it helped me to continue this line of photography. I have always seen everyday moments and pondered on them.
Q: What camera equipment did you use for your Miami project?
A: I used the Leica X Vario to capture the real Miami. I am putting this work together in a book entitled “The Miamians”. Using the Leica was a great experience; it enabled me to capture the moment precisely. The X Vario was perfect for this project due to its ease of use, its size and the normal zoom lens.
Q: You noted that Leica lent you the Leica X Vario “to capture the real Miami,” that it enabled you to “capture the moment precisely,” and that it was “perfect for this project” because of its “ease of use, its size and its fixed lens.” Well, the lens is fixed in the sense that it is not interchangeable, but it’s a 28-70 mm-equivalent zoom. How do you think having that optical flexibility helped you to execute this project, and are there any other characteristics of the X Vario that you found especially useful for this kind of work?
A: The lens was perfect for documentation. Its focal lengths are exactly the settings needed, mainly the 28 mm and 35 mm settings that for me are ideal for street photography. Since the camera’s sensor is APS-C I would go for either 28 mm or 35 mm to achieve the classic 50mm image. The Leica X Vario is quick because there is no need to have to continually switch lenses or stick to one focal length.
Q: You mentioned that you are collecting your Miami images into a book entitled “The Miamians.” Do you have a publisher, will it be available in hard copy, and do you intend to publish it online as well? Do you have any plans to exhibit your Miami images at galleries in Miami or elsewhere?
A: This is the first time the project has been announced. The book is complete, and I look forward to having it published. Currently, the photograph of the “local” is on display at the Coral Gables Museum through August. This fall there are also plans to exhibit more of these images in South Florida.
Q: Most of the pictures in your Miami portfolio are very colorful, typically with a profusion of bright, saturated primary colors and an adept use of color contrast. Do you think this is primarily due to the subject matter itself, or is it an element of your personal style? Or is it both?
A: When preparing for this project I thought about photographing in black-and-white. But when I started using the Leica, the camera rendered the colors impressively. It is almost film-like, chemical in nature. Also, the subject’s backdrop, being Miami, such a colorful city, “The Miamians” project simply called for color.
Q: Have you considered shooting with any other Leica models such as the Leica M, a camera prized by documentary photographers that which would provide, among other things, even greater optical flexibility and a full-frame sensor?
A: I had my first experience with the Leica M during Art Basel Miami. Everything I imagined was right on. The history of the camera, the masters that have used it before me I respectfully thought of while the camera was in my hands. It is a pleasure to hold and operate such a precisely crafted piece of equipment. I am in the process of working with a few Leica models to choose the option that is best suited for my projects.
Thank you for your time, Andrés!
– Leica Internet Team