As a graphic designer, living and working in Brooklyn NY, I’d spent the majority of this past winter busy working which is never a bad thing when you’re a freelancer. However, the cold weather was a drag and I couldn’t wait for things to get better so I could resume my impromptu wanderings around Manhattan to shoot, one of the perks of working for myself.
My photography nearly always involves people, luckily there’s a lot of them in New York. For me, the “human element” makes the picture. It adds personality, context, humor and coupled with the shapes, colors and textures of the city it’s a rich canvas with plenty of visual opportunity that I love to explore. My lack of engagement with people when taking street photos has always been the case in New York, the art of being stealthy and going unnoticed can be a virtue where people’s patience can be as short as their time for idle conversation. I’ve also found that the second an interaction happens, the moment that caught my eye in the first place is usually gone.
As a couple of my work projects wrapped up and another one didn’t materialize like I had hoped I suddenly had free time on my hands. Still longing for warmer weather and some great light that might help initiate a walk with the camera, the city felt cold and uninspiring. That’s when when I thought of Ernesto Bazan, an incredible photographer and teacher who I’ve known since 2004 when I joined him in Cuba for one of his photography workshops. It was a turning point for me and my photography, a great experience that I won’t forget.
It turned out Ernesto was slated to do a 10 day class in Bahia, Brazil, due to start in a couple of weeks. A few emails later I was signing up for the course and booking the plane ticket. After arriving to Salvador, a coastal city 2 hours north of Sao Paulo and our rendezvous for the workshop, it felt like a different world. The South American city felt alive with color – everything and everyone there seemed utterly beautiful especially after spending a New York winter in a perpetual grey cloud of cold and crappy weather.
Four other people had signed up for the workshop, and as we trickled in from our various places of origin we all got acquainted and excited about the ten days that lay ahead of us with Ernesto. Initially we stayed in Salvador photographing daily life and the celebrations for Lemanjà, a yearly ritual celebrating the Goddess of the Sea. It’s a huge deal but a little tricky to photograph, in large part because most of the activity takes place in the water at dusk. It’s too easy to forget the perils of salt water and cameras in the thick of all the excitement, my beloved Leica took some abuse, but thankfully survived – the Goddess was looking out for me!
The latter part of our trip was spent in the colorful old colonial town of Cachoeira further inland. During our excursions out into the surrounding rural areas we encountered towns and villages, each imbued with their own character and warmth. An old abandoned sugar mill that Ernesto took us to was really special; an impressive structure that was little more than a shell, but now home to a community of colorful personalities who were living there. They were more than happy to share their time with us and allow for our unhindered wanderings throughout the structure. Another location consisted of a few simple houses nestled together on a country lane where a couple of families lived. They were completely accepting of our intrusions, kids proudly showing off makeshift toys and pets they had, while the adults would look on with amusement. The simple gestures of everyday life would play out, often too quickly, despite our best efforts to capture them.
Each place we went to was a brief window into the lives of people that were incredibly gracious and open. It occurred to me that taking photos in in such an intimate way, slowing down and completely tuning into the places we visited is in stark contrast to how I photograph in New York. In the end however, it’s about enjoying the process of making images and capturing things in your own visual way that you feel drawn to – whether it’s up close and personal or from slightly afar. The generosity of the people in Bahia certainly allowed for some beautiful moments and I kept reminding myself of what a privilege it is to be in such a place and experience it intimately with an amazing group of fellow photographers.
About Garry Waller:
Garry Waller is a British born Graphic Designer and street photographer. He is currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He travels extensively with his Leica when not working. Garry uses a Leica M ( Typ 240) with a Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH.