“I am a worker of photography. I like to work hard to get what I want or what I like. In street photography I’m very obsessive, meticulous and self-critical with my work. I do not like repeating myself doing the same thing over and over again. I try to explore all perspectives to reach a visual conclusion of the work or project.”
Marcelo Caballero is an Argentine photojournalist and street photographer. He studied journalism at the Faculty of Journalism and Social Communication in La Plata (Argentina) and worked in the newspaper Clarín, El País and the magazine Tiempo de Aventura.
After moving to Spain, Marcelo Caballero attended the Institute of Photographic Studies of Catalonia where he was trained by Rafa Badia (former editor of Altair, El País), Tino Soriano (National Geographic), and Jose Manuel Navia (National Geographic and Vu Agency).
Interview with Marcelo Caballero
Marcelo, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
My first camera was a Zenith with a 50mm fix lens. Then I went to a Nikon FM and FM 2 and familiarized myself with all great equipment of this Japanese brand.
Why did you become a photographer?
When I began to realize that photography was a better mean to express myself than writing, I noticed a qualitative leap in my documentary and travel works.
What does photography mean to you?
At this point it means everything to me in my life. I’m a photographer at all time. Photography brings me a great sense of happiness and thanks to it, I have great curiosity for life in general.
Which photographer has inspired you most and why?
There’s not a single photographer. At first, I felt great admiration for Henri Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment. I also liked the work of Sebastiao Salgado because of my bond with photojournalism. But eventually I discovered other schools, other photographers, other views. When I starting to experiment with black and white photography, I was inspired by Paul Strand, Walker Evans, André Kertész, Garry Winogrand and later Robert Frank and his work “The Americans”.
After shooting more in color, I began to inspire me, in particular, in some photographers which from the 1950s on used color as a documentary value and by that where pioneers in an era in which it was a complete betrayal to turn own’s back on black and white photography.
I mean Ernst Haas (first Magnum photographer shooting in color), Saul Leiter and Fred Herzog. Then I got interested in the work of Tony Ray Jones, Joel Meyerowitz and the American New Color school – and finally the street photography school of Magnum (Alex Webb, Harry Gruyaert and Georgy Pinhassov).
“A Look Behind the Lens” – Joel Meyerowitz, giving a lecture at “Barrett Honors College” (2009)
I think about photographs as being full, or empty. You picture something in a frame and it’s got lots of accounting going on in it–stones and buildings and trees and air–but that’s not what fills up a frame. You fill up the frame with feelings, energy, discovery, and risk, and leave room enough for someone else to get in there.
Finally, from Spain I have to include two superb photographers who gave dignity and identity to color documentary photography: Gonzalo Juanes (Group Afal, AlmerÃa) and José Manuel Navia (Vu Agency, National Geographic). Navia, in particular, taught me to look around for places in transition, these open in between spaces where at first sight nothing seems to happen. He is also a master of the use of color and to take pictures in low light situations.
In that sense, I discovered the work of American painter Edward Hopper whom I consider the best street photographer that never used a camera except to make an image that would later serve its purposes for pictorial works.
Over time, I drew inspiration from many different sides and looks. And I think it all serves to build your own perspective and perform different visual projects. And also for understanding photography itself and its visual languages and not to copy them. The influences must serve to stimulate you, not to do the same. And that is achieved through hard work and go out a lot on the street!
What’s your favorite photography quote?
I always liked a phrase attributed to Guy Le Querrec:
“Taking pictures forces me to be more curious about life.”
How would you describe your photographic style and creative process?
I am a worker of photography. I like to work hard to get what I want or what I like. In street photography I’m very obsessive, meticulous and self-critical with my work. I do not like repeating myself doing the same thing over and over again. I try to explore all perspectives to reach a visual conclusion of the work or project. I believe that the good photographs that are remembered throughout life are very few – and to achieve one of them one has to work extremely hard. And still many of use never manage to capture such an extraordinary image that will stand the test of time.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic style and how did you achieve it?
I’m not the most suitable to tell what kind of personal style I have. Perhaps people who observe my photographs have more authority to say anything about it. All I can say is that I spend a lot of work and hours with photography and that I am very curious about life in general.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
The focus of my photography is on people and cities in general. I like good light in the morning or evening. The color is essential in my photographs as it entails much more information than black and white and it also gives me semantic balance. I love dark and light frames with different perspectives and contrapicada overhead shots.
In terms of composition, I like to have a balance of shapes and colors and I like the observer to be drawn inside the composition of the photograph and to ask himself: What did he want to say by this?
I always shoot in RAW and use either Adobe Photoshop, or Bridge Lightroom. I make no manipulation. Only some corrections of brightness and contrast.
For example in my project “Colores Humanos”, the subject is none other than the street and what happens in it and it is my subjective attempt to transform certain daily events in extraordinary moments; certain facts apparently real, in surreal moments.
Thus, the corpus of the images is taking shape, consistency and ubiquity in this urban play that I intend to show and where the light hits in an exclusive way onto my way to see what happens on the street.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
A lot of passion, a digital camera, awareness, curiosity. One has to except to make lots of mistakes and be open to criticism from others. I also consider it to be important to be open-minded towards other points of view and to always show respect for others.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
It is that kind of image, that makes you want to take a look at it again. It hits you, you remember it, it makes you think, it moves you, it draws you inward, it takes you in, it stimulates a memory you have, it evokes a feeling. This is what a well made and strong image is to me – and the answer to everything has the person who observes the photograph.
I as a photographer can think my picture well and create a strong composition and theme, but if the message doesn’t get through to the observer, than it’s a fact, that’s the absolute truth. There is no magic formula or single answer to this very subjective question.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
From my favorite readings, from the works of some photographers, from life itself. From the feeling that life goes by so fast and that with my camera I can tell the story of my brief journey through this life.
What do you think is more important: a perfect use of the camera or photographic idea that is creative and a good concept?
A little bit of everything: excellent knowledge of your camera and accessories is needed in order to be able to act quickly and with precision in moments that happen rapidly before your eyes out on the streets and don’t repeat themselves. And be creative, intuitive when doing street photography. But there is something that escapes us with our rationalism: to have luck.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Nikon D300 and a 24mm lens, autofocus and maximum aperture 2.8.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
What photography book would you recommend?
Books by author:
“The Suffering of Light” by Alex Webb; “In the Face of Silence” by Christophe Agou; “Photographs” by Fred Herzog; “Color Corrections” by Ernst Haas.
“Street Photography Now” by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
To feel passion for what he or she is doing – and most of all: Have lots of fun!