Kike Calvo: Discovering Himself Through Photography

A Spaniard by birth, Kike (pronounced key-key) Calvo has developed his unique vision and signature style by means of direct experience in over 75 countries. Those who have conversed with him about his work describe him as “one of those rare people who are pure energy.” Calvo is a photographer who transcends genres. He has been a wildlife photographer who has witnessed and captured some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth, but he is also a documentary shooter, a photojournalist, and a fine art photographer. After graduating with degrees in economics he received a scholarship to study in America, where he majored in journalism, with the idea of becoming to be a journalist devoted to environmental issues, but photography soon became the axis of his life and his abiding passion. Here Kike shares part of his story.

Q: After working as a photographer for more than 20 years, what meaning does the word “photography” hold for you?

A: Passion. I can’t really explain what photography is. Some would say that it is a profession, other than a hobby. For me, it was and is the motor and the shaft of my life. It’s the thread that has accompanied me to be the person I am today. Perhaps I should say that photography has been my school.

Q: And a picture in itself — what does that mean to you?

A: A picture is light. A photograph is emotion. A photograph is a story to tell. It’s a moment in time, the memory of lived experience and a message to those who have not had the fortune, or misfortune, to witness that moment.

Q: What camera and equipment do you use?

A: I use different gear depending on the type of work I am doing. Photojournalism and in-depth work is done with a Leica M9. For action nature and underwater, I use a Nikon D700.

 

Q: How would you describe your kind of photography?

 

A: I would say that after shooting for 21 years, my style has evolved. Our way of looking at the world advances parallel to our human and internal evolution. Initially my images were clean and colorful — stunning subjects and wonders from around the world that captivated the viewer by their perfection. It was probably more about myself. With time, I have minimized my tools, adjusting to a new style. My photography is now more about my subjects. I have come to the conclusion I would rather be remembered as the guy that made someone reflect about an environmental issue or discover an important social issue, and not only as the author of the gorgeous image of a great white shark launching out of the water.

Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? What made you decide to go pro?

A: My case is a little unusual. I started by experimenting with different career paths. I was studying economics to become a Wall Street broker, or so I dreamt, but when my father died when I was 20 my world collapsed. I lost all interest in material things and I focused on pursuing my dreams. I started wandering the planet in search of a purpose and a mission. And I did find it, but as promised my dad, I graduated with a degree in economics before heading to the United States.

Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, or as a profession?

 

A: For me, photography has been my life and my passion. It’s been the medium through which I have explored our world. Even though I have two degrees and two additional one-year specializations in communications and international affairs, the camera is the tool that has made me grow, both externally and internally.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught? Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

 

A: I never took any photography courses, but recently while visiting my old room in my mother’s house in Spain, I found that my shelves were packed with photography and art books I did not even recall. My father was a serious amateur, always taking tons of family photos in the film era. So I believe I observed and learned to love the craft without realizing it.  Later, when I was earning a mass media degree in the United States, I started working for everyone I could think of, doing a variety of visual work. In many ways this transformed me. Later, I also added an academic aspect to my visual training at the Charles Darwin Station in the Galápagos where spent several months documenting the Islands.

Q: What genre are your photos?

A: Knowledgeable people who have seen my work have told me that it doesn’t represent a single genre. It’s really a combination of different genres. So I believe it’s really the viewer who needs to look at my work and decide. What I am converging to is becoming a visual storyteller no matter the genre I happen to be in at the moment.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: As far back as I can remember, many of the historical photographic masterpieces and magical universal moments we come across in books, magazines and museums around the world have been documented with a Leica. I was always curious about shooting with one, but never had the chance. When I managed a photo studio in Soho, I owned a Mamiya 7 and I liked rangefinder cameras. One day, I decided I was going to buy an M8. Only the day before I had acquired a Nikon D700, so it was a crazy move. But I said to myself, “If I don’t do it now, it’s not going to happen.” So I went ahead and bought it. I had been reading about Leica on blogs and forums, hearing all sorts of comments. Like most things in life, one should test the gear to really know. I fell in love with the smoothness and simplicity. It was very easy to handle and of the highest quality, allowing me to devote my time to observing the world and developing my own vision. It was silent and discreet, allowing me to approach my subjects in a non-threatening way; many times they were unaware of my presence. This also makes it safer, especially in developing countries where people tend to be wary of photographers.

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: To state it succinctly, photography has become my life. There is no separation between photography and my life, as it softly touches all aspects of my existence. It has been nothing less than my way of becoming me.

-Leica Internet Team

If you’d like to see more of Kike’s work, you can visit his website www.kikecalvo.com, Facebook Page and Twitter.