Zac Patsalides: On The Road From Beijing To Borneo

Zac Patsalides is an up-and-coming photographer based in Suffolk, UK. At the age of 15, he was gifted an old Pentax film camera and his love of photography was born while studying A Level. His career is beginning to take off, and he has had images featured on Vogue online as well as LFI Mastershots, The Leica Meets ‘Selection of Excellence” and “Inspired Eye” magazine recently did an interview with him on his series “On the Road.” In October, Zac is leaving the English winter behind and going on a trip across Burma, India and Bangladesh.

Q: What camera equipment do you generally use?

A: I use a Leica Monochrom and a Leica M6. The M6 was my first Leica and I used it exclusively with black-and-white film. I spent many hours in the darkroom processing film and printing my own photos; it was a real process of love. So when it came to choosing a digital Leica it had to be the Monochrom. I first tried it out in the Leica Store in Berlin on my travels and instantly fell in love. For me it was the first digital camera I had seen that resembled black-and-white film. I no longer have use of a darkroom so I now use my M6 for color and the Monochrom for black-and-white.

Q: Which lenses do you use on your Leica Ms, and do you have any particular favorite? If so, what are some of the reasons you favor that focal length? Do you think, as many have stated, that Leica lenses have a distinctive and identifiable way of rendering images (the so-called “Leica look”) and if so is that important to you?

A: I use a 50 mm f/2 Summicron, which is gorgeous in both its build quality and rendering. It’s tiny and unobtrusive which is ideal for street photography. I also use a 12 mm Voigtlander for wide-angle shots. Leica lenses definitely are the Rolls-Royce when it comes to glass; their sharpness is incredible. Leica lenses undoubtedly have a distinctive look and this helps add to the originality of these images.

Q: What was it like making the switch from shooting black-and-white film in your Leica M6 to shooting with the digital Monochrom? What was it about the Monochrom that made you instantly fall in love with it, and how do you think your current black-and-white digital images compare with those you shot on film?

A: It was a natural process because the Monochrom was like a familiar friend. I fell in love when I was shown the RAW files and saw grain rather than pixels. Having tried out a lot of digital cameras, it was the first time I had seen files like this. I would like to think people would struggle to tell the difference, and with the bundled software you can create film-like images.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: That’s a difficult question. Obviously it comes under the genres of street and travel. Another thing that’s important for me is capturing an image that is only mine. I like to capture moments in time that can’t be relived like a landscape photograph might be retaken. I also need my photographs to bring some emotion out in the viewer, whether it’s only for my eyes or on exhibition. Black-and-white helps with this. As Ted Grant said, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls.”

Q: What approach do you take with your photography?

A: Most of the time I don’t go out with a premeditated idea of what I want to photograph. I’ll happily walk around all day and shoot with my instincts, and from that ideas will start to flow about potential future projects. This allows me to work on several different series at once, and I find I create the best work this way. This could be down to my aforementioned impatience—diving in and out keeps it fresh. Photography is part of me; I innately look for compositions, subconsciously think of ideas and actively practice. Without the rush I get from taking photos my life would feel a lot less complete.

Q: How would you characterize the images in this portfolio?

A: I like my photographs to have lots going on, with high contrast and a certain amount of grit and roughness. They must have emotion or bring out emotion in me; otherwise they’re a waste of time. I want people to look at one of my photos and say, “That’s a Patsalides.” Creating original work is very important to me; I want all my work to have my signature without having to write it.’

Q: You said that you like your photographs to have “lots going on, with high contrast and a certain amount of grit and roughness,” that “they must have emotion or bring out emotion,” and that “I want people to look at one of my photos and say, ‘That’s a Patsalides.” Why is it so important to you to have an identifiable style, and do you think your style is defined by the elements you mentioned or is there something more to it?

A: Being original has always been very important to me, whether it’s what I wear or the artwork I create.  For my prom I was the only one not wearing a black DJ; I sourced a vintage paisley smoking jacket and paired with my Dad’s Anello and Davide patent dance pumps. I think maybe I acquired the need for originality from my parents, both whom have their own distinct style. I think my style is a mixture of many things that are both conscious and subconscious, choices that make these images identifiable as my own.

Q: This is a high-contrast image of a seated elderly woman absently studying a folded pamphlet while surrounded by a profusion of lights and other objects for sale. She seems to project an air of calm resignation in the midst of the frenetic energy around her. Am I reading too much into this? In any event, where did you shoot this sad but amusing image, and what were you thinking as you pressed the shutter release? By the way, please provide the tech data, including camera, lens, exposure and ISO.

A: This image was taken shortly after I arrived in Hanoi. Hanoi is a crazy place, and it shocked me when I first arrived since it was my first time in Asia. I stepped out from where I was staying and there was a street full of these light shops, with motorbikes whizzing around, people crossing the road without looking, it was mayhem, and then I saw her sitting in an almost meditative state. When I look at this image, it takes me back to Hanoi. I remember looking at her amongst the chaos and wondering how she was so calm. It’s something I quickly became accustomed to and realized that it was in fact organized chaos that works like a well-oiled machine.  Tech data: 1/1000 sec at f/2, ISO 320, Leica M Monochrom with 50 mm f/2 Summicron.

Q: This image is a vignette of a practitioner of some kind in a sidewalk stall working on his reclining client. His plaid face mask and the “miner’s light” on his headband lend a surreal touch, and the motorbike and car behind the curtain establish the casual context. Where did you take this amusing and authentic picture and what do you think it says about these subjects and the society they live in?

A: This was taken in Hue, Vietnam. It was originally named ‘Street Surgery.’ I was walking around the back of the local hospital and spotted this scene, which I thought to be black market surgery for those who couldn’t afford the hospital. I was in shock and had to capture it. I later found out that it was an ear cleaning process that comes as a standard with a haircut in Vietnam, something I also tried out. Having someone put long metal tools in your ears is a very scary process, haha. I think what it says is their culture is completely different than our own and a lot simpler in many respects.

Q: This shows the genuine affection and bond between a farmer and his bovine. The farmer’s distinctive straw hat gives the image a sense of place, and his beatific expression is simply priceless. How have viewers reacted to this outstanding image, where was it taken, and how did you manage to capture such a perfect moment?

A: This image is one of my most popular and people love the true happiness that is captured in it. This one again was taken in Vietnam (I did go to other countries), somewhere near Hoi Ann in some rice paddies. My partner and I were riding through the most beautiful scenery, with water buffalos bathing in all the paddies. Moments before we saw him we said to each other, “I wonder if anybody rides them.” Then we saw this gent riding his buffalo to his work shack; it looked amazing so I quickly spun round the bike and started speaking the Vietnamese I had learned. A couple of minutes later Lucy and I were riding his buffalo! This was definitely one of the most memorable experiences and sums up the kindness we received throughout Vietnam. I feel we’d made a connection with him and I was able to capture the true emotion.

Q: Here is the only color image in this portfolio, and you evidently shot it on film with your Leica M6. I like the body language of the two guys standing on the beach who seem to be exhibiting their masculine physiques, as a fully clothed rather demure looking woman walks past them toward a guy lying on the ground. What’s actually going on here, why did you decide to capture this image in color? What film did you use, and how do you think it complements the rest of the images in this portfolio?

A: Color, like the multi hue of the peacock’s tail feathers, seemed appropriate here. There was much posturing; not to impress the female subject, but to demonstrate sexual supremacy (or lack of it). This is a shiny environment greased with Factor Five, KY jelly and concealer. Black-and-white would discreetly disguise the imperfections. I believe the film I used was Kodak Gold 200.

Q: One of the most striking images is a view of a mass of white ducks in the road shot over the handlebars of your motorbike. The hilly terrain on the sides of the dirt road certainly suggests Southeast Asia and the excellent image quality and long-scale tonal gradation certainly enhance the graphic effectiveness of this image. Do you agree? Where did you take this picture, what does it signify for you, and will you please provide the tech data?

A: This image so far is my favorite that I have taken and it epitomizes how I feel when I’m travelling, especially on a motorbike. It’s a visual metaphor for freedom-escaping the 9-5 daily grind. The ducks represent the aforementioned. Although they think they’re free, they’re trapped and one day will face an inevitable fate. I however am free and able to cut through them at will, breaking the normal pattern. The long scale gradation is something of a signature that I like to have in my photos and the Monochrom is absolutely ideal for this. Tech info: Leica M Monochrom, 12 mm Voigtlander, f/5.6

Q: How so you see your photography evolving over the next three years, and do you plan to explore any other styles or genres going forward? Do you have any other projects in the works you can briefly talk about here?

A: Although I’ve preached my love for black-and-white, I can see myself shooting more color. I’ll be in India soon and I’ve seen glimpses of some of the saturated colors they have there, so it will be impossible to shoot the majority of images in black and white. In terms of new projects I will find them along the way. ‘On the Road’ is one I’d like to continue on the various trips I have planned in the future. I’ll be away form October for around eight months so stay tuned—I’ll be working on several different series.

Thank you for your time, Zac!

– Jason Schneider, Leica Internet Team

Connect with Zac on his website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and tumblr.

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