Tomeu Coll: Searching for Answers at the Ends of the World

Tomeu Coll was born in 1981 and splits his time between Mallorca, Spain and New York City. He became involved in photography at the age of 17 and received a master’s degree in photojournalism from the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona. His work has been published in various magazines and he currently works as a freelance photographer.

Q: To begin this interview, can you tell us about yourself? Please provide some details on who you are, your background as well as your motivations and goals in photography.

A: “Who am I?” is the question I ask myself every morning. Although when I awake, I realize that I’m Tomeu Coll and I’m a photographer. My thought is that it would be really hard for me, to live without the chance to capture what I see or what I’m inspired by. I also want to search for some truth, to learn and of course to try through photography to give the opportunity to everybody to see what I saw and experienced.

Q: How are your photographic projects born, so to speak?

A: They always begin from a feeling, from something that grabbed my attention. It could be a story about somebody in the limits of reality or any other reality that I couldn’t escape from. Then everything is transformed into another unexpected thing, what makes me think. It becomes even more interesting then photography becomes a question again.

Q: What do you find are the differences between assignment work and your personal art?

A: They are obviously two different points. Although depending on the assignment, I can take it more as my personal work. The principal difference is that you don’t have the same attraction for something that an agency asks you to do compared to something you start to work on from the beginning of the idea.

Q: Looking at your work on your website, the adjective “emotional” comes to mind. I think your work has a strong emotional charge in which black-and-white plays an important role. For your personal projects do you prefer black-and-white? And why?

A: Black-and-white is not how see the world. I mean, color is in everyday life…you can’t stop seeing in color. Shooting in black-and-white gives me the chance to see things from another perspective, where time disappears and you see the world under a spell.

Q: One could say art is everywhere and there’s something to be said about photographing the everyday. Do you agree? Is your camera within reach and your eyes open all the time?

A: Of course art is everywhere! Because art is not only what is shown in museums or galleries. You can transform any reality into art. This world is changing everyday, art is the same as life, but lived and told from another perspective.

Q: Why Leica? How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: I’ve been attracted to Leica for a long time. The photographers that inspired and introduced me to the world of photography used Leica cameras. If I wanted the texture, the soul that their work had, I needed that camera. Since that day, I never leave home without her.

Q: What equipment are you using?

A: Leica M6 and Summilux 35mm f/1.4 and a 28mm f/2.

Q: Your work “Nevermind in Sovietland” is presented here. Can you tell us a bit about this series?

A: I like to think that this project was born for my need to experience and learn how the people live outside of the limits of the world. Those that are not on the news although their history deserves it so much. Also, isolation plays an important role inside “Nevermind in Sovietland.” Here’s a description on the project as summarized through one photo.

“When suddenly a strange three wheeler appears out of nowhere, from the absolute whiteness of the imaginary line of the Arctic Circle, one feels stunned by this unusual means of transport. It is just then when you discover that there aren’t other ways to move in such a frozen area. In the city of Vorkutá, an icy wasteland 3000 km to the north of Moscow, to remain is to accept the ostracism of a place that neither grows nor develops. Built up by Gulag prisoners themselves, it still has not found its place in history.”

Q: On your website you said this regarding photography, “still today I’m thinking that there’s so much to understand.” I agree with you, of course. The secret to grow is to always have hunger to learn.

A: That’s the secret, of course, not only to grow as a photographer, but also as a human being. Also, I love this quote by Ernst Bloch: “We are not human beings, if not human becomings.”

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: It’s hard to tag some photography with labels. That’s why I prefer to think in a kind of diary or personal photography style. Sometimes it’s documentary photography but not as it’s traditionally known, I mean, there are some unbelievable works that are considered fine art although they have an incredible power as social documentary photography and vice versa.

Q: In your photography, are there are more questions or answers?

A: If I start from my own point of view and about what I see after I photographed them, there are more questions than answers. I don’t know how they will look in other’s eyes. Sometimes I have daydreams about how it would be to see my own photographs without knowing that they are mine.

Q: Was there a photographer that influenced your work or inspired you? And are there colleagues who you’d like to mention?

A: There are so many photographers who inspire me such as William Klein, Garry Winogrand, Donna Ferrato, Philip Jones Griffiths, Robert Frank, Duane Michals and Brassaï. Now I’m interested in photographers who work so closely to their own lives, like Eva Wollenberg, Marco Vernaschi and Olivier Pin-Fat.

Q: Is there a dream project you have that you would like to share with our readers?

A: There are so many dream projects I have and I try to make them true day after day. Although one of them, and maybe it will work to encourage somebody to finance it (haha!), is my dream to go to Antarctica to the base of McMurdo. A place for lonely people who search for answers at the end of the world.

Thank you for your time, Tomeu!

- Leica Internet Team

Visit Tomeu’s website to see more of his work.

Alex Coghe, the interviewer, is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events.