Xepo W.S.: Documenting The Swatch Art Peace Hotel
Artist and photographer Xepo W.S. was born in Spain in 1980. He went on to complete his photography studies in Barcelona. In recent years Xepo has been working extensively for Swiss watchmaker brands. His assignments on behalf of the brands have taken him to China, North America and a number of locations throughout Europe. For his latest project, Xepo is working with the Swatch Group’s Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Built in the early 20th century, The Swatch Art Peace Hotel was known initially as the Palace and later as the Peace Hotel South Building. Today the landmark building has been carefully restored by Swatch Group. The unique concept calls for gifted artists from around the world, including China, to be invited to Shanghai to live and work in studio-workshops on two floors of the Hotel. Artists chosen to participate in the Guest Artist Program contribute to the vibrant life of this unique artistic and cultural environment. Swatch Group welcomed the first artists to Shanghai and The Swatch Art Peace Hotel in April of 2011. Xepo used the Leica S2 to document the work being done by these artists including Phil Haddock, who rebuilt an old Shanghai city map with words in 3D. We had the opportunity to talk with Xepo about his passions, his influences and his latest projects.
Q: So tell us, Xepo, how did you get started in photography?
A: The first memory I have that is related to photography is looking through the family photo album. When I was a teenager, I started to dream about the great adventures of Robert Capa and the rest of the Magnum photographers. I wanted to become one of them so I started to document my environment and learn photographic techniques. Later I started to work in the newspaper industry in the region of Valencia and embarked on my first personal project.
Although I am working as a professional photographer traveling around the world now, my adventures have never gotten as crazy as Capa’s! But my feeling is that I’m always starting over with photography, always with a new cameras, new themes, new technologies, new software, etc. In photography you never stop learning and developing yourself.
Q: How does photography influence your outlook on life?
A: For me photography has become a way of life. I travel often and see new cities and people all the time, so I can safely say that the streets and personal experiences are my teachers. Photography has rooted itself so deeply in my life and I find it a powerful tool to help other people realize different realities. Although I am a storyteller, it is the viewer’s responsibility to understand what I am trying to depict. And since I became a professional photographer, I am always alert and have an eye looking around. To add on to that, I never stop thinking or searching for the next photo.
Q: It must be exciting and challenging to document the artist residency program in Shanghai for the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Tell us some interesting people you met or things that happened.
A: I have been really lucky to be one of the first artists selected to start the art program at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. The most interesting thing, apart from exploring and living in Shanghai, was to meet people from all over the world who exercise different art disciplines. The cultural exchange and the art experiences are a lot stronger in this kind of environment. In my case I met the sound artist Luca Forcucci and the visual artist Franz Burkhardt. This creative encounter led us to develop new art projects in cooperation. But what amazes me most of all is that all these meetings of words and wine get transformed into unique art pieces that speak on various themes, ranging from mankind to infinite spaces.
One of the projects I got more interested and focused on was the one of Phil Haddock. He rebuilt an old Shanghai city map with words in 3D, but to understand the art is to understand the process of its creation. Your perspective and your senses are really active and sensitive, and all the prejudices that you bring to China change as time pass by. I was really interested in this fact, so I followed him during his cultural journey, his walks in the city of Shanghai, his firsts tests, etc. I followed him in his art research and observed how he interacted with the environment. Time, space and words: these were the elements he was dealing with and I was documenting it.
The best part, as usual, is the exchange and sharing, as well as seeing how people all over the world with different roots and stories can live in a same space, which is just great.
Q: What made you decide to use the S2 for this project?
A: When I was planning to develop this project, I knew that I didn’t want to work with just any other dSLR. I’ve been using SLRs for some years, and cameras are becoming more and more complex and less practical. When I saw the Leica S2 I could feel simplicity in the design of a medium format. But once I started shooting I just forgot that I had a camera in my hands! The camera is light, it has a big viewfinder, and what is most important, the quality of the lenses, is just amazing. The color tones and the color gradient are just so real that I have no words to explain it; I just have pictures! I worked in totally different lighting conditions and the camera performed perfectly.
Q: Can you describe the approach you take when photographing and your processes?
A: Whether it is a photo essay or a portrait, I always build my personal idea that I would like to represent the photo. And after that, I choose the photographic material I’m going to work with.
After which, it’s time to “hunt” or “fish”. If it’s an event that has a defined time I always look for the elements that will build my perspective of the story and this for me is “hunting”. If I need to wait for things to happen and be always alert, this is “fishing”.
Lastly, it’s time to edit, the most important part of the process. Here is where I choose and organize the images that represent the initial idea that developed during my personal experience. Sometimes it’s just really hard because as a human we are full of personal emotions and the perception of your reality changes totally.
Q: What are some of the projects that you are undertaking now?
A: Now that I’m back in Europe after long-term projects, I always head to nature to refresh my body and mind. So these days I’m enjoying the Mediterranean. Now I’m thinking I will finish a project about the sea. It’s more of a poetic essay than a documentary effort. Also, I’m starting to work on one new project about a traditional sport called “Pilota Valenciana”, a sport that dates back to ancient Greece times, but is still played daily in the Valencian cities. In summer, I will shooting the Olympic Games that will be held in London.
Q: Which photographers’ works influenced you?
A: Robert Capa introduced me to the world of the documentary photography with his works for Time and Life magazines. Later, when I went to university, I had the chance to discover other photographers from the ‘50s and ‘60s: William Klein, Ed van der Elsken, Diane Arbus, Ferdinando Scianna, etc.
That said, the world of photography is a huge galaxy of ideas and emotions waiting to be shared, and since the ‘60s, thousands of fantastic photographers of all genders, age and cultural background have created a big body of spectacular works, and I am on the lookout for them constantly.
-Leica Internet Team