“Looking at these white spaces, it gives me a sense of relief, of purity and cleanness in the context of a big city. It also has something healing. It makes you wonder, what a city would look like without billboards.”
The story behind the pictures
This interview with Argentine photographer Diego Sandstede is about one of his series of photographs called Vacios (Empty Spaces). Talking about the creative process, Diego Sandstede does not only give insight in his way of working, but also shows that a photographic project doesn’t always start with a previous idea in mind.
Diego Sandstede, how did you start the series “Vacios”?
Actually it all began by pure coincidence. In 2006 my wife was pregnant, and the months before my son was born was a time of waiting for me in which I used to go a lot to the banks of the Rio de la Plata, early in the morning to take pictures of the sunrise. One day, it was still dark, I came across an empty billboard.
There was no picture there, just a white blank space. It somehow caught my attention and I took a picture of it. Not thinking about a series at that time.
Back home I developed the photo in my darkroom and I really liked the result and the emotions it provoked in me on paper.
From then on I always went out with my camera and whenever I came across an empty billboard, I took a picture. With time passing by, the number of pictures augmented and it became a small series. Throughout one year I did this.
There are photographers who have a more conceptual approach. They start out a project with a concrete idea in their head. In my case it’s often the other way around. Like in this example. The idea happened to come to me. It all began with one empty billboard that caught my intention.
What are you trying to express with this work? Do you see it as some kind of criticism towards mass media and consumption?
Not so much as criticism, but more as the expression of a wish, a desire that there won’t be so much advertisement around us. Looking at these blank, empty spaces is like saying:
“Stop a minute: How nice would this world be if instead of advertisements that try to make us buy things we actually don’t need, would be a space to be left blank or to be filled with art work?”
Looking at these white spaces, it gives me a sense of relief, of purity and cleanness in the context of a big city. It also has something healing. It makes you wonder, what a city would look like without billboards. An enormous public space would be available to display other things.
You take pictures with an analog camera, with black and white film and later develop the pictures in your own darkroom. Why?
I truly enjoy the whole process. It’s like craftsmanship; something very artistic that adds an extra to my work. I myself always enjoy looking at well done handmade copies of photographs.
The black and white is a way of abstraction. You take away something, that our eyes normally see: the color of the things around us.
In other series you deal with very personal themes. What does that tell about your personal vision of photography?
For me photography is a means to explore and reflect on my relationships with people who mean a lot to me. The camera is an excuse to spend time with them, be around them in different moments and situations.
“Photography is a way of getting to the core of things.”
There’s for example one series about my father. We’ve always had a very complex relationship. At one time I felt that we’d drifted apart a bit. So I started to take pictures of him. I had just become a father myself, so it was also a way of dealing with the question of what it’s like to become a father.
These series take a lot of time. You have to insist, and then the pictures start to come up. It’s a way of getting to the core of things. That’s great about photography, which allows you just that.
How do you see the role of a photographer in general?
The photographer is an artist. Just like anyone else who uses any of the different ways of human expression: painters, writers, designer, architects etc.
To me the artist is someone who looks a bit beyond what society sees. Maybe you can even compare it to the role of a shaman in old tribal communities. It’s his job to cure old wounds, or to reflect on the future, for example.
Diego Sandstede is an Argentine photographer, born in 1967 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied public relations, but always knew that he wanted to become a professional photographer. Even though he attended several courses about photography, he’s an autodidact. Diego Sandstede started out as a photojournalist, doing editorial work. Later on he dedicated more time at personal projects, like “Hermanos” (2007), “Tata” (1997 – 2000) or “Luisa” (1997 – 2000) for example.
He’s a traditionalist who loves analog photography, black and white and the whole process from taking a picture to making copies in his own darkroom in his studio in La Boca, Buenos Aires.
Diego Sandstede participates in the online photo-project “Cámara Oscura”.
Publications: Buenos Aires Bizarro (2008), Author: Daniel Riera, Fotos: Diego Sandstede.