“The power of the image is something that causes me a lot of interest and investigate its possibilities is a challenge that motivates me. For me is like therapy. It is a medium where I can express my concerns in a very personal way. I love being able to see beyond the image and reinvent itself.”
Francisco Reina (born in 1979 in Sevilla) is a Spanish conceptual photographer with a keen interest in political and social issues. Francisco Reina currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands.
Francisco Reina started out as an autodidact and later studied at the “Escuela de Fotografía y Centro de Imagen” (Efti) in Madrid, obtaining a master degree. Before that he had received the “Roberto Villagraz” scholarship of the same institution.
Interview with Francisco Reina
Francisco, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
My first camera was a Nikon FM10, which I later sold to buy a FM2 – it was my obsession from the beginning. I went into photography in a very superficial way, out of the blue reviewing the classics.
Why did you become a photographer?
Since my childhood, I loved drawing and after finishing high school, I decided to study fine arts specializing me in graphic design and engraving. There I started out as a painter and for four years I was trying to find my place within painting, which impossible. I am, one could say, a frustrated painter. At that time, I did not know to satisfy my needs using that medium. As I felt (and still feel) fascination for images, I thought of changing the discipline and start creating images with a camera.
At first, I tought myself, the autodidact way, very slowly. I photographed in black and white with film which caught my attention and tried to look for some sense, but the results didn’t convince me entirely.
After working a bit more with the medium, I began to notice that he missed the possibility of intervention within the picture and thought about incorporating pictorial aspects into the photographic process.
The computer could offer me this possibility with a number of very attractive tools. At last, I could work as I used to as a painter, just using technical help through layers. Removing and thinking and rectifying ultimately investigating the possibilities at hand with this new medium.
What does photography mean to you?
The power of the image is something that causes me a lot of interest and investigate its possibilities is a challenge that motivates me. For me is like therapy. It is a medium where I can express my concerns in a very personal way. I love being able to see beyond the image and reinvent itself.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
No one in particular, but if I had to name one, it would be Joel-Peter Witkin. Especially in the beginning, he was an author who really got me hooked on photography. I was attracted to the world recreated in his photographs. It was horrible and beautiful at the same time.
I think it has to do with the macabre of his images and my fascination for the extreme music, heavy metal, and its aesthetics.
“Life can’t look like a picture, but a picture can look like life.”
What’s your favorite photography quote?
You got me there. I can not answer that, because I simply forget quotes shortly after I hear them. In fact, it would be very easy to Google it, but I will not. I think more important than a phrase is a vision. In that sense, the work of Jeff Wall attracts me and causes me great respect. I think that he is a pioneer in the art of preparing the stage for photography. I love his relationship with the film world and the history of art – and his intelligent way to reflect on both in his photographs.
How would you describe your photographic style and way of working?
My style is heavily influenced by my background as a painter and my taste of music and film. On the one hand I like to relate my work to a subject that causes me special interest and on the other hand motivates me to build images to such extent that they adapt to a story.
In painting, you start out with a blank canvas, in photography you start with the image before you and the camera. So the challenge is even greater as you are conditioned from the beginning.
Reality gives me a material that is halfway between what I see and what I intend to express. My work begins with an image and an idea. I work with these two items until I get something solid enough to start the actual project.
Afterwards, I make a selection of photographs and I start modeling them until I get what I want them to look like. The images that I use were not necessarily taken with the intent of being used in a particular series. It is then when I group and select them so that they fulfill their purpose in a particular work or series.
Over time, I learned to enjoy the act of shooting just to shoot. I mean, I like to go out with the camera and take pictures of what catches my eye without being influenced by anything. Subsequently these photos could be used for a particular job, given that they are capable of adapting to the story I want to tell.
What’s important in order to develop a photographic style and how did you achieve it?
The style is a necessity since it identifies an artist within this competitive world. Don’t hurry to mark it, because it comes with time, quietly and without really noticing it. I think everyone has impregnated a way of doing and seeing things which is determined by experiences that have marked oneself in a special way. I do not mean necessarily a traumatic experience.
For example, in my case, the fact of growing up in the heavy metal scene of the 1980s and 1990s has given me expressive and aesthetic preferences that are undeniable. Over time, we will be influenced by other things, but there are some, which always stay with us. Daily work will refine our vision, and leave unnecessary ballast behind. Going through all this, making one’s own way of working, results in an own, distinctive style as time goes by.
Francisco Reina about his photographic project “The Art of Power”
“From the massive construction projects of antiquity to modern-day corporations both public and private, to armies, churches, unions, educational institutions, the mass media…we are faced with lopsided power dynamics that at times take on dysfunctional shapes, putting the well-being of the members of society at grave risk.”
What qualities does a good photographer need?
Above all patience, lots of patience! Photography is a path that never ends. For me, it is an infinite process and you are continually learning. The photographic technique, knowledge of the camera and how to use it, is something very simple. Everyone can learn that.
But being a photographer and artist is not just knowing how to take pictures. You have to learn to accept some working conditions which are very strict and unique. It’s a world of many sacrifices, because you face circumstances that present a continuous conflict of interest – both on a personal and professional level.
You are constantly exposing yourself to others. It is a discipline (like all art), where you are always being examined and judged. Sometimes it becomes tiring and that’s something you have to learn to accept. The rest is just hard work, perseverance and humility.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
That’s something I can’t answer. There are no magic formulas. What I do believe is that we must educate the eye, because that will make us be critical of our work and tells us where we are positioned within the photographic art scene.
My time at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Escuela de Fotografía y Centro de Imagen in Madrid has given me a very strong foundation. Good training will help your images to have a meaning and so that they stand out in some way from others. You end up working on with your instinct.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
From human beings. I think it’s an issue that goes a long way and offers plenty of aspects to deal with.
How do you keep up to date with new developments in photography, to keep on learning new things?
Thanks to the internet you have direct access to blogs and sites that form an endless file where you can learn a lot and be aware of what is happening all over the world. It is a great source of inspiration. This blog is a clear example for that. I also enjoy going to exhibitions and museums, where you experience art work differently.
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
In the past, I was working with medium and large format cameras. But now I’m using a digital camera, a Canon 5D MarkII and analog lenses. Still I like both forms, because you face the photographic act differently.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
Well, there are many, but I would recommend these three:
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
Be passionate about what you do and enjoy it to the fullest! That’s all that really is in our hands.