Interview ­| Guido Fuà about Street Photography

An interview for Eye Magazine.“Guido, you are a very experienced and busy photographer, blogger, and teacher Considering your various activities. We feel quite honoured to be able to conduct this interview with you!”

Please tell us a little bit about yourself to begin 

I’m a self­taught photographer, who never took a lesson of photography or worked as an assistant. Every thing I know comes out of experience, observation of the great photographers and study of all kinds of tecniques. But times are different now and photography schools help to reduce long learning experiences. Photography has always been an alibi in the depth of my soul. The special passe par tout that allowed me to get in and out different cultural and social contexts. It get me in touch with all kinds of people and personalities, justifying my intrusion or presence where I didn’t belong or I wasn’t supposed to be. 

Could you tell us how you first became interested in photography?

I can say that I feel to have hold of a camera ever since. My father was a dentist, who had the hobby of photography and family video, which assembled by himself with a mechanical moviola. I was already photographing at the age of thirteen, with an old 6×6 Yaschica with the viewfinder. During the high school, when I was sixteen I assembled the first dark room. There I consumed the raw passion in red light, sometimes until 5 in the morning, and then I went to school late with a self­signed justification. Today it makes about 42 years playing with images and cameras…. which I feel like a natural extension of my body. 

Your work is a vivid mix between almost every genre of photography from fine art, fashion, portrait up to street photography. I’m wondering is there a specific genre you personally prefer most. Yes, I feel photography almost as a 360 degrees challenge (except for sport and wildlife photography which I’ve never practiced). But at the end portrait photography always comes back and is somehow my base for everything. Lately I’m also really getting involved in street photography, which has a renewd and modern outburst as a genre. 

Credit photo: Guido Fuà
Where do you get your inspiration?

I have to be honest: my photographic heroes are not the great Robert Frank or Henry Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau or Rene Burri as it would maybe obvious for a western street photography lover. My first photography book was Jeanloup Sieff, an author between fashion and erotism. Helmut Newton was the second. Then followed Robert Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts for sensual love of the human body, Irving Penn for the expression and character traits that he was able to set in his portraits, Annie Leibovitz for her self­confidence in portraying celebrities. Ralph Gibson for his graphic playing with figures, Richard Avedon and Steve Mcurry for a certain kind of anthropological portrait and as precursors of the modern close­up.

These models of inspiration given it’s evident my attraction for portrait, aestethic and sensual photography. On the other hand, early in my mind the incarnation of reportage was Sebastiao Salgado with his strong accent. ​Lately, when I refined my tastes, I discovered Gordon Parks, Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey, Tomasz Tomaszewski, Randy Olson. 

Which are the differences between being a professional or ‘just’ an enthusiastic passionate photographer?

The last can have all the fun, nourishing their passion; the former may be be afflicted by aspects of the profession, which could be very far from what passion comes from and is based upon. When someone works with photography it’s not always a love affair! Unless having a japanese zen attitude, that is: no matter what, the important is to seek for perfection, even if one is sweeping streets. Also having spent half of my photographic activity both in analogic and digital age, paradoxically I can say that today analogic photography can be a field for serious amateurs, while digital photography is a must for professionals. 

Credit photo: Guido Fuà
Could you share with us how you first became interested in street photography?

When I began to work as a photographer I mainly covered celebrities portraits or reportage about social aspects connected with actual or long­life news. But in daily life, I could see something lighter, silent and anonymous, which agencies or press neglet. So during my agenda of specific assignements, I spontaneously started to collect some pictures which I named “Collateral”.

Credit photo: Guido Fuà

As a consequence of a repeated separation between photography as a profession and photography as an instrument of creative expression, these “side glances” were like a sudden jerk of the eye, attracted by an incongruous and irrelevant particular, to the side of the subject focused, out of the field of vision. Their only link was to be born out of a rebellious impulse of vision, who looks away from the scene of the professional routine and formal obligation. 

They would be part of the well radicated Street photography genre. Where everyone can taste all the needed freedom and depth of expression. Street photography always projects the “truth” that exists in society, in street, in people’s life. 

What makes Japanese street photography different to street photography in other parts of the world?

I know you’re spending time in Japan and I’ve been told that there are some interesting facts or rather differences about Japanese street photography. This question would be worth an entire essay as an answer. As a gaijin, (not very nice word indicating every foreigner as an alien) I lived Tokyo as street photographer’s paradise! From the red district lanes of Kabuki­cho to the high end ultra modern streets of the Marunouchi district, there’s never a dull moment for the shutter. The frenetic atmosphere of Tokyo never ended in an overwhelming experience. 

I believe my subjects show a fascinating mix of exhaustion and frantic energy with people seemingly unaware of the city humming around them. It is no secret that the japanese society marginalize those who are opposed to a rationalist, obedient and conformist lifestyle. Originality is suppressed for the sake of collective leveling, which also affects the aesthetic as well as behavioral. Like any self­respecting artist keep their distance. The anti­photographic style of Daido Moriyama.

It’s what we can consider the father of japanese street photogaphy, there is a trend of artistic opposition to the aestethic and social mainstream. Influenced by the art of sumi­e (a monochrome painting style that uses only black ink in various concentrations and traits with contours often blurred), his are, bure, boke, starkly contrasted pictures, often unbalanced and even casually framed, were a laugh in the face of what was then traditionally considered a good photograph. Through a richly toned, high contrast and rigorously black and white street photography they emphasize the silent daily struggle of people navigating in a massive urban environment.

Credit photo: Guido Fuà
Can you tell us about your work flow from the point you first step onto the scene (street) until you showcase the developed picture? 

Maybe it’s more interesting my workflow when I travel abroad, rather than when I go around my city. Call me insane, I’ve always felt the attraction of big metropolis out of my country. I would say urban street photography has always been an aptitude of my vision. During these stays, photography becomes a discover of another urban context and very seldom I go wandering around without a clue or a goal. I plan a weekly agenda, I look for things going on in different districts, look how to get there. It may be two or three different places in a day dipending on the distances. 

Street is enough freedom of expression compared to the rest of my works, but I need to feel productive and save the work. It’s mainly a work of development in Camera Raw, because I don’t like lightroom very much: although is a complete tool, I hate libraries. When I reach the final selection I start to work in Adobe Photoshop. In a way that resemble the zonal way of Ansel Adams. In order to determine the exposure and development process to make the optimal dynamic range of tonal nuances of a given scene. I might look for silhouettes and high contrasts, leaving details here and there. It was the same in the analogic world when I opted for different films and chemicals and multigrade values in the darkroom. 

What is it in your subjects that make you want to capture it?

Among the flow of everyday life, ​I ​attempt to capture extraordinary moments of excitement, beauty, dignity and humanity, with an approach that I hope sensitive to the subtleties and complexities of people’s life. 

Credit photo: Guido Fuà

Do you interact with your subjects on street and if yes, how do they react on you? As I said before, photography is also an alibi for me,then a mean to interact, but there are no rules. If I feel bold enough to step into people intimacy, when it’s proper I start talking to some of the subjects. Sometimes after the picture, sometimes before, if I feel that is better to ask. In this case it takes longer to shoot a spontaneous photography, because they need kind of forgetting you are there. Reactions are not predictable, there are culture which are less inclined to “have their soul stolen by a photograph”, or sometimes it’s a matter of rude habits. 

Have you ever had to face unpleasant or even dangerous situation on street?

A lot of times. But that happened when I was covering subjects more related to social issues, as immigration exploitation, chinese huge factories, rave parties. During reportage in tough places around the world as the garbage city in Cairo, in Mozambique during the civil war. Other muslim country where the culture is not exactly photo­friendly. Generally in this occasions problems have aroused when I didn’t have an introduced companion. During my street photography excursions I have faced problems very seldom. My attitude is not unsecure, and in the urban contexts I don’t look for trouble going in hazardous and risky area (as I said, it is my opinion that social reportage involves another frame of mind). 

What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other street photographers? Really, I feel uneasy in making comparisons: photography is the consequence of a point of view and thanks to God there are infinite visions. About my work: I think a mixed search of aestethic and reality characterize it. I try to tell stories with lightness. Otherwise I would go for some war or risky reportage. There must be some hope somewhere! I’m sure this is not an objective outlook (as every vision), but I tend to look for a world with some tenderness, where there is a bearable existence, even if with a necessary resilience. 

What do you think about colour street photography in comparison to B&W?

 Nature has created our brains assigning color to what we see. Black and white imagery started out that way because of technological limitations in assigning color information. Seeing things in shades of grey makes us pay more attention to lines, textures and shadows. At the beginning of the 90’, as a consequence of the market I was dealing with, I was forced into a color vision, and I don’t regret it. Today I use them both depending on the subject, the destination, the mood. I dont’have aesthetic convictions that push me to avoid it. 

Credit photo: Guido Fuà

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from shooting on street? Street photography is very challenging because you can never anticipate the perfect moment. The scene is always so dynamic that you have to keep your eyes wide open, look out for the slightest indicators and be really quick with your camera. There’s an entire world of colour, passion, emotions, feelings, fears, pain, unexpected irony and drama waiting out there. Streets are a theater where is not difficult for an expert eye to discover the intimate self, where it’s possible to catch the soul of unknown people and get closer to human kind. 

Based on your experience, what advice would you give people who are just starting out in street photography? I suggest perseverance and humility. Do lots of practice and repeated attempts to obtain the desired results. Assimilate photographic techniques to achieve faster execution; imitate the styles of other photographers to mature your own vision; study composition and if you are not interested in cool composed shots, then forget it and get to know people. Know your own limitations and inclinations. Become rapid in order not to remain behind the flow and capture the speed of the moments. At the end… run an extra mile when you think it’s impossible and see if happens something else.

Are there any special projects or exhibitions you’re currently working on and which you like to introduce here? 

There are a few, but I would like to mention two at this time. One is a work in progress about Hip Hop Italians rappers portraits. I’ve started mainly because I listen to hip hop music. I like to update myself on what goes on that scene in my country. Many pictures have already been published and there is a chance that may end in a big event next spring. The other is an accomplished project: “Creole World”, a portrait series of multiethnic italians, sons of mixed couple. The Umbria World Festival 2014 exposed my work at the “Fotoleggendo” Festival in Rome the past summer. National Geographic Italia issue published my portraits on a celebrating the 125th year of National geographic society. The place of pubblication was a similar project by the great photographer Martin Schoeller about New faces in United States, chance that doubled the honor. 

Credit photo: Guido Fuà

The goal of this project consisted in the will to step further the issues of massive immigration and integration. Italy and Europe are revealing a growing reality among the italian society components. Then, the intention was to show that Italy was socially upgrading to a more complex level. Nervertheless, this knowledge about this evolution is still poor. As a matter of fact I’ve been one of the few, if not the only one, photographing the subject up to now. Beginning with storytelling, I decided to change the photographic search into collecting a gallery of close­ups, where also my italian­japanese children appear.

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