Gabriele Lopez: Staying True to the Basics of Photography
Garbriele Lopez is a photographer based out of Milan, Italy. He has been photographing for twenty years and has a wide variety of projects ranging from weddings to street photography. His passion for photography began at a very young age and he continues to pursue and develop his skills by teaching and attending workshops regularly.
Q: Hello Gabriele. Can you tell us a little about what photography is to you personally?
A: This is a big question. I think it’s a medium for personal expression. It came to me unexpected when I was really young in the form of a Polaroid Camera, and then later with a 35mm P&S. From then on I always had the urge to take snapshots of what was happening in my life. So I guess it’s like a diary.
Q: Your work ranges from weddings to artistic and personal photography. How do you choose what to shoot?
A: I started working really young and in many different fields. I ended up being a photographer because I loved it. I couldn’t seem to resist the 12-hour a day rhythm. I wanted to go out and take pictures freely. I was always shooting underground on my way to and from work. Then I would work the pictures in the night often in my darkroom. My Underground project was born in those days.
A funny thing is when I worked as a printer we used to print the Leica Magazine Italy. I still have all the copies, proof prints, Cyano Proofs and all sorts of things. They may be rare, but I’ve never checked. So I had the opportunity of seeing all those masters and learning about that world which was fun.
I started to collaborate with Millennium Images Agency in London and took wedding pictures by myself after quitting my job. This meant living with almost no money for years. But then once again I found myself with no free time. I was troubled with assignments, meetings, taxes, overflowing emails and websites. So I decided to work it differently again and do something besides taking wedding photos. There were other things I could do like corporate or commercial events. But it helped me avoid all the hassle involved in shooting weddings. And it also allowed me more time for taking photos for myself. I want to keep my mind fresh and approach photography as relaxed as I can. Currently I’m working on a concept where I photograph a wedding in the same way I shoot street or personal stuff and propose it that way. It has worked for some other commercial things.
Q: Is your photography based especially on your own perception? I ask this because a lot of the photos of your personal projects seem to be blurry or out of focus. Like they are a part of your visual explorations.
A: I guess it’s totally an instinctive process. After all this time I still don’t know too many things. I don’t think I am expected to make well- calibrated, clean pictures. That’s just how I automatically do it. In reality, where you see blur was an attempt to avoid it, but the light wasn’t close enough and I tried to be as still as possible. The grain is the same thing. It is pushed develop usually one or two minutes more for giving that little light a chance. I don’t like to be in control.
Q: Do you view your work as a documentary?
A: No. I think I change it to fit my personal point of view. I put my opinion in it strongly. I believe pictures are always filtered from the photographer and that intrigues me.
Q: How do you portray an emotion?
A: For me it is simply being myself. A simple photographer that doesn’t lose his or her mind over which post-process artifact will be best is braver in my opinion. You can believe in it and actually feel the photographer’s personality. Whatever style you have, it should come by itself, and not from some application preset or from a headache about “the right post-processing for this”. So in short, just be yourself. We all get emotions different ways since luckily, we’re not all the same.
Q: What triggered your interest for Leica?
A: Simply a hard to break camera. A camera that can last a long time and you don’t have to re-learn something on the next one. Also that it is small enough to have it with you almost every day.
Q: What Leica are you using?
A: I use the M6 with Leica Summarit-M 35mm f/2.5 mostly. I love this combination. I have tried to use it with other wider lens like the 28, but I find it is way too much. On this camera I love to have a vision similar to my own so that it reflects what I’m living without lens effect. I keep going between the 50mm and the 35 depending on my mood and situation. I have tried the 50 Summicron, a Summilux once and the Elmar 2.8. The new Leica Summarit-M 50mm f/2.5 really goes between all these and I’m liking more and more working with the 50mm. It is a wonderful storyteller for me.
Q: If you could use any Leica camera, which one would be your first choice?
A: I have little or no interest in gear honestly. So I’ll say that I’m really fine with what I have. If I make a deal on a really big assignment I will buy a Leica Summarit-M 50mm f/2.5. I’ve seen things from that lens that I love. But I have no real need for anything else.
Q: What are your objectives with your personal photography? Are you trying to to convey a message, a mood, or something else?
A: I’m really just making my own family and life diary. In ways I only comprehend it in part and usually way later. The photographs reflect what happens. So you have tension, speed, and boredom. You can be reflexive or slow. You can feel naked sometimes or fascinated about different things. In reality I don’t think I have goals. It just comes how it is.
Q: You are also a teacher giving workshops from Street Photography to language and photographic composition. I’ve often said that teaching is an exchange not univocal between student and teacher. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. It’s always fun to see where photography is going. Everyone is going to bring their human side in the classes so we are faced with different kinds of stories and situations. The students have surprised us with deep ways of seeing things. It is wonderful to see stunning work come from a kid with an interesting eye and no knowledge about technical things, cameras and post- processing. This summer I attended a workshop as a student at TPW and the exchange has been surprisingly good so it is definitely like you said.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson photography has taught you?
A: This is a great question. I guess it is to look deeper. Many things from my underground days would have gone unnoticed if I wouldn’t have had the urge to take snapshots. It’s the same now. It helps me to understand and feel life deeper. I would have never noticed some side of life if not for photography. That’s the biggest present ever. Either that or the Polaroid camera I got when I was young!
Q: What suggestions would you give to an aspiring photographer?
A: Avoid categories. Are you a street photographer or a photojournalist? Whatever. It doesn’t matter. We’re just photographers who do what we do in the way that we do. Just follow what you think is fine and keep it simple, truthful and real. I don’t like series where I can feel acting.
Q: Which other photographers, old or contemporary, inspire your work the most?
A: I always forget some names when I make this list, but I’ll give it a try. I always loved the works from Daido, Ackermann, Petersen, T.Parke, Keizo Kitajima, and Machiel Botman. I’ve never been good in color but I always loved Eggleston. Those are of course the famous names, but I also follow many names like Grant Lamos & Ed Leveckis from NY, Yamasaki Ko-Ji, a dozen of Flickr and web contacts, Prying Open, and many many more. Basically everyone with a vision that intrigues me. I also try to find and buy as many photo books as I can. I’m really interested in self-published projects so if any of you have some names I’ll give it a look for sure!
Q: What work have you got coming up in the future?
A: I was talking about this with friends the other day. I’ve never been too good at projects. I tend to just follow my moods. I have a small notebook where I write down ideas, or projects like: the old Genova Streets, cheap hotels, raindrops on the windshield in the night, a broken window in a bar close to where I live, someone I want to make portraits of, a place close to the airport, and the aquarium. That is just to name a few. The list is ongoing and it’s not rare that a book I’m reading, something that I hear, or some light in a place totally drives me to something different and unplanned. I make series from all these fragments in the form of a diary. I like to create cheap small photo books from these pictures, but none of them are a definite project.
Thank you for your time, Gabriele!
-Leica Internet Team
Alex Coghe , the interviewer, is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events.