By Anshul Raj Khurana
Gustavo has become one of the known names in street photography fraternity in the last couple of years. He has mastered the art of making pictures with some fantastic light, colors and shadows. His book, Maximum shadow minimal light, has already won quite a few accolades, and it’s a must-buy for all of us.
Anshul- Tell us something about yourself to our readers...
Gustavo- I grew up in a small town in Brazil in 1981, and I've been taking photos since 1997/98 when I was in high school and photographed our teenager parties and barbecues with a Yashica compact camera. Then I learned technics and darkroom during university in a journalism course, around 2001. But it wasn't before 2007 that I started getting serious about it. I was working very long hours as a reporter in a newspaper in São Paulo, including weekends, and this was killing me. I felt the urge to do something just to please myself, not related to money, just to give my life a more meaningful sense of adventure and of creation, so I bought a digital camera and started exploring the city and my everyday life. But I photographed very randomly, I was just experimenting a lot.
In 2009, I enrolled in a year-long course with Carlos Moreira, a classic master of Brazilian photography, and he changed my practice by talking of photography as a language, as a way of self-expression, a way of getting to know yourself and the world at the same time. I've been photographing almost every day since then, my daily routines and commutes, and my trips too. Today I live and work as a journalist in Brasília, but I always manage to get 2 or 3 hours every day to walk and photograph.
Anshul- What is photography for you?
Gustavo- It's basically the way I experience and register the world around me, and a tool to express how I see and feel things. I'm a curious person, I need to see new things all the time, and photography is the perfect companion. I never feel bored if I have my camera on me.
Anshul- Whom do you consider your guru (teacher for life) in photography? And with whom do you take inspiration from?
Gustavo- Above mentioned Carlos Moreira. He is a classic master of Brazilian photography, and he changed my life by talking of photography as a way of self-expression and as a way of getting to know yourself and the world at the same time. His unassuming posture toward photography was very inspiring for me. For him, photography is almost like a form of meditation, and I could relate a lot to this perception. Also, during the class, I got in contact with the work of colorists such as Harry Gruyaert, Alex Webb and Gueorgui Pinkhassov, and through the way they used light and color, they kind of changed the way I see the world, and I realized that I wanted to follow their path.
Let us talk a bit about street photography.
Anshul- What goes on your mind when you are in a busy street?
Gustavo- Ideally, no concrete idea or thought, only passing images. I prefer to be integrated and totally immersed in the flux of the city, to leave my mind as empty as possible to capture its essence in a visual form. Of course, composition and how one frames a scene are essential, but for me, it has to come more from your heart/eyes than from your brain.
Anshul- How do you make a frame?
Gustavo- It's a totally intuitive process, and it changes a lot depending on the situation, so I can't describe it precisely into words. Of course, light always draws my attention, and it's usually a starting point. For me, it's like certain lights could transform everyday people in film characters as if it could reveal their "aura." After spotting light and finding a character, I try to organize the rest of the frame, paying attention to the corners, trying to exclude or include more elements that could be distractive or add something of interest to the image. But sometimes it's simpler than that, I just pre-visualize a scenario, wait for someone to fill the space and click - but these are usually not so interesting.
Anshul- Tell us about your gear. What is your favorite lens and focal length & why?
Gustavo- I currently use a Fuji X-T2 and a 27mm f2.8, 41mm equivalent in FF. I think this lens is a good midway point between wide and standard, and I love the fact that it's a pancake lens. I keep my kit very compact and light with this set. Now and then, I feel like changing a bit though, then I usually go out with my 18-55mm or my 35mm f1.4 - but they both make the process a bit slower and not so pleasant. I feel more spontaneous and quick with the 27mm.
Anshul- Do you previsualize a frame in before clicking?
Gustavo- It depends. If the place it's not so busy, then yeah, I'll stop, prepare the frame and wait until some action happens. But if I'm in a busy venue or street, my process tends to be more dynamic, and I tend to respond more quickly to characters and actions taking place around me.
Anshul- You are an author yourself. Which top 5 photography books would you recommend, and why?
Gustavo- Lumières Blanches, by Harry Gruyaert, was decisive for me, I learned a lot about color and light from it; Saul Leiter's Early Work made a big impression on me too; Sightwalk by Gueorgui Pinkhassov; Valparaíso by Sergio Larraín, for both the images and the beautiful texts... and for the last one, The Suffering of Light by Alex Webb, Exiles by Koudelka or Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke.
Tell us about your book “MAXIMUM SHADOW MINIMAL LIGHT”? How did an idea of the book come in your mind?
Gustavo- Photobooks have always been my favorite way of looking at images. Nothing compares to sitting down with the work of a photographer you love and immersing yourself in it as you turn the pages. So I always dreamed about making one someday, though I wasn't sure about how to do this, where to start from. At the end of 2016, I got an email from Lois Lammerhuber, a photographer and publisher from Austria, suggesting we should make a book. It was hard to believe at first, but as conversations went by, I saw it coming true. In July 2017, I went to Baden, and we worked together in editing, sequencing, and design. We finished editing MSML in July 2017, and it was released in May 2019, with 3 or 4 changes from the original photos - a long wait. After waiting so long, I wasn't so anxious about it anymore, but it was a great pleasure when I finally held it in my hands. The quality of printing and paper is fantastic. I feel that this is the most significant representation of a cycle that started in 2009, but I don't consider it closed. Some images were not included that I still want to publish in the future. And sure, it's been great to receive feedback from many people around the world telling me they got it and they like it. It's fantastic being able to do something people can relate to, even if they're in entirely different places in the world. It feels good to know that I'm aware of communicating somehow through these images.
Anshul- Creative block is something that we all go through. Have you ever experienced it, and how would you suggest managing it?
Gustavo- Yeah, now and then I have them. But somehow, my desire to go out and to see life on the streets makes me overcome it. I can't stay home if there's good light outside, I really suffer when I have an appointment during golden hours. So, even if I'm not totally "inspired," I'll go out and shoot, and eventually, the crisis goes away. There's no better way to solve it than getting some work done. And sure, some inspiration always helps - be it a film, music, or revisiting your favorites photographers' work.
Anshul- What suggestions will you give to the street photographers on how to approach the skill?
Gustavo- If anyone keeps doing it for years, every day (or let's say, 4 days a week), without giving up, there's a big chance they'll be good at it, whatever they're doing. So, just keep doing it, empty your mind and let the streets show you what interests you, who you are, what kind of images are indeed yours.
You can see more of Gustavo's work here: