In addition to his excellent studio work, the Italian photographer and Leica Ambassador Eolo Perfido has captured an impressive series of street photography with his Leica M10, Leica Q and Leica Monochrom. His passion for taking to the streets and capturing those ephemeral moments of beauty has yielded a collection of captures, which whisper to the viewer in subtle monochrome tones. We caught up with Eolo to get his personal take on street photography.
Could you tell us a little about your route into photography and anyone, who influenced you on the way?
I’ve always been in love with telling a story through images. When I was a kid, I used to devour graphic novels and comics and they are still a big passion of mine today. But not being able to draw, I had to find a different path to storytelling and when I was 28, I found photography. Photography came into my life first as a passion, as an intellectual attraction, and it quickly brought me to change my life around, switch career and focus all of my energy onto it. Through photography, I had many important encounters and experiences, like assisting Steve McCurry on many assignments around the world and the opportunity to be represented by Sudest57, one of Europe’s most important photographic agencies.
What is it about street photography, in particular, that interests you?
I like being able to tell stories within one single frame. In street photography, each photo is born unrelated to the next one and every photo has to work by itself. The tools we can use to create a narrative are nothing but composition and timing, and the relationships between the elements in a photo, whether they are real or not, are the foundation of said narrative.
My street photography is not meant to document the reality around us, it has instead the power to abstract itself from the context, using reality as a tool. It’s this trait of street photography in particular that draws me in so much.
How do you approach shooting on the street in comparison to other forms of photography?
When I’m shooting portraits or an ad campaign in my studio, I like to have everything under control, carefully planned and prepared. When shooting these kind of commercial jobs, the photographer is not a one man band, but rather coordinates a team of professionals with different skill sets, on top of shooting the job itself. Street photography is everything that exists outside of such a dynamic: being able to go out with nothing but my camera, searching for photos. It is some of the most rewarding time I can give myself.
In my opinion, the M10 is the perfect M camera, and I had been patiently waiting for it to come out for quite some time. I wanted an M that was small, super fast and with a performing sensor. Today, the M10 is my go to option, and my favorite camera. With the Monochrom, it was literally love at first sight: all my street photography is in black and white, and using the camera that creates the best possible black and white was a no brainer. The Q, instead, was an unexpected surprise: it’s now the camera that I use for all my Leica Akademie workshops and my go to option when I want to shoot with a 28mm. It’s also the perfect camera to dip one’s toes into the Leica world for the first time when coming from another camera system: it’s fast, tiny, responsive and the sensor is stellar. When I leave to go shoot, it’s the first camera that I put in my bag every time.
The SL is the system I use when shooting all my commercial work in the studio, but it’s a camera that can truly deliver even when shooting street photography, especially when paired with an M lens adapter, that makes the camera super light and very responsive.
What do you think makes a good street shot?
A good street photograph has the ability to prompt you into looking at reality in an unexpected way. It can make the viewer perceive everyday things like a street corner, a shadow, the pace of someone walking by, elements overlapping at the right time, as something extraordinary and not mundane at all. It allows us to see the world with a different set of eyes, and to perceive the beauty in things that we normally take for granted.
How do you approach the subjects of your photographs and do you like to remain incognito while shooting?
There is no such thing as one way to approach people and situations: when teaching my workshops, I always tell my students that our surroundings react differently based on how we feel, how we speak, and how we move. It’s important to develop a personal sensitivity to the street and its elements, instead of trying to copy someone else’s way to approach. It’s important to make mistakes and ask ourselves what went wrong, in order to develop a personal style of interacting with what’s around us. After all, there are two kinds of people: the ones that go to the same bar everyday for 10 years, and yet don’t know the name of a single person working there, and the ones that 5 minutes after walking into a place, already know everyone. I’m definitely the latter.
Was it a conscious decision to shoot this series in black and white? If so, why?
There are many reasons behind this choice. First of all, my love for how essential and timeless black and white photography is. After years of studying the work of some great photographers of the past, I started pretty much perceiving street photography itself as black and white. Of course there are some photographers that create incredible street work in color, but for me, it’s always black and white. On top of that, I shoot in color for all my editorial and ad assignments, and rarely do I get commissioned to shoot black and white. In this sense, we can say street photography became my personal way to shoot monochrome images.
This series features shots from all over the world. In which locations did you shoot and what were the challenges and rewards from shooting in each place?
Some of these photos were shot in Italy, Japan, Germany, Morocco and Malta. Each country challenges you in a different way: the streets have a different rhythm, just as different as peoples’ attitudes in each of these countries. One thing that can help when working in these different environments is obviously, paying attention to local traditions and customs.
Sometimes I hear people saying that it’s easier to shoot street photography in one country rather than another, but I believe that it’s actually a matter of approaching every different country or culture, with the appropriate attitude. Again, using the same approach, method and techniques, regardless of where we are shooting, is one of the most common mistakes I see less experienced photographers make. Developing the right sensitivity towards our surroundings doesn’t just leave room for more opportunities to arise, but it’s also a moment of personal growth and, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding things street photography gives me.
Do you favor a particular lens depending on what and when you are shooting?
When it comes to street photography, my favorite lenses are 21mm and 28mm. For portraits, I often use a 50mm.
What are your greatest technical considerations when shooting on the street?
Learn your camera. Focus on what’s essential. Be sensitive and learn to foresee situations. A good street photographer is able to walk that line between “too early” and “too late”, and the only way to do so is by learning to foresee by a few seconds the exact moment when all the elements in the photo align.
When and why did you start shooting with Leica and how has your relationship to the brand evolved?
The first Leica I shot was the M, and later on I started using the Q and the SL as well. There are three main reasons I chose Leica. The first one is image quality: Leica’s lenses and sensors are state-of-the-art and they deliver incredible quality even in the most complex situations. The second reason is more about the feeling these cameras give me when I’m using them: they feel natural, more like an extension of myself rather than a tool I’m using. I would never be able to work with a camera that doesn’t feel right in my hands. The third reason is how immediate and easy to use they are: I’m not the kind of person that enjoys unnecessary complication. If I wanted complex menus and hundreds of options for each setting, I would have probably chosen a career as a 747 pilot. Instead, I’m a photographer and I want to be able to control, in a fast and easy way, the three elements that I work with: ISO, shutter speed and aperture.
How important is photo editing as part of your process and what techniques do you like to employ when editing?
I believe photo editing to be a very important part of my process, the more intellectual phase. Choosing which photos to work on, seeing which qualities each image has and understanding which photos I feel are truly mine, are all crucial parts of this stage. I do all my photo editing myself and I take complete responsibility for my choices. Of course, I’m always open to discussion as it always gives me a different point of view and it’s always a chance to learn. With photography, there are always learning possibilities when it comes to how people see different things, both for the viewer and the photographer.
What advice would you offer any aspiring street photographers?
Shoot. Edit. Share. Learn. Repeat. There is no right or wrong way to approach the streets. Develop your own personal method. When you find something hard, don’t hide behind excuses: technique is often not the reason why we can’t seem to get a certain result. Don’t think that simply because it doesn’t come easy to you, a certain type of street photography is not for you. Photography comes from the photographer’s mind, and the mind often acts like a muscle: exercise it over and over, push it beyond its limits, only when it hurts does it mean it’s growing. Passion and the desire to always go beyond our limits fuels our ability to change and adapt.
Do you have any interesting new projects lined up?
I have been working on my series “Tokyoites” for a couple of years now, and I plan on finishing it in a couple more trips. After that, a new adventure: putting together a photo book.