“What I usually do is give a broad smile after the click and immediately distance myself or look away to reduce the chances of reaction, questioning or something.”

Marcos Semola (born in 1972 in Rio de Janeiro) is a Brazilian self-taught street photographer. Even though photography is his passion and takes up a great deal of his time, Marcos Semola doesn’t consider himself to be a professional photographer.

He’s a true jack of all trades:

“I’m an information technology professional, computer engineer, MBA professor, author of books on risk management information, father of two beautiful children and supporter of healthy living through sports.”

Marcos Semola is a member of “ABAF – Brazilian Association of Photographic Art” and the “London Independent Photography”.

“Street Photography Portfolio” by Marcos Semola

Marcos Semola, why did you become a photographer?

It all started in 2007, two years after I had moved to Europe, specifically London, to head a multinational in technology and was bitten by the beautiful landscapes and everyday scenes that the city offered – so different from what I was used to in Rio de Janeiro. The beginning was unpretentious and restricted to recording trips and family moments. The camera always accompanied me though.

That was until a different view on what was happening around me started to get me interested and so a process of studying and experiments began involving specialized readings. Starting with the trilogy of Ansel Adams, then going through old books I found in analogue photography bookstores in London while returning from work.

Naturally I thought I needed new camera equipment, because I believed the camera and technique to be primarily responsible for good photography. Gone through this turmoil and already inclined to shoot in black and white, I became interested in studying the optical and logic behind the production of the image, which led me to want to process analog 35mm film, and thus I went out there seeking old equipment that would allow me an exciting experience. I am a nostalgic person, I like the timeless feature that black and white photography usually suggests.

I soon discovered that it was street photography which fascinated me most. I enjoyed walking around aimlessly paying attention to the characters of the city, observing the variations of light and shadow, the drama of the sky in the “background” where I could insert a character who was walking on the street without even asking what I did.

Street photographer Marcos Semola and his photo of a woman sleeping next to a window on a train

Marcos Semola - www.about.me/marcossemolaWhat does photography mean to you?

Currently photography is my hobby, a pleasurable activity that keeps me away – at least for a little while – from the binary environment of technology and corporate environments, allowing me to dare more, where there is not, in fact, right or wrong, and especially where I have total freedom to do what I want, the way I want, and when I want.

It’s pure authorial photography and where I find space to interact with other artists, to learn other techniques, promote collective initiatives, model and produce new projects and still win geographical boundaries and language barriers, making me a more affordable and globalized individual. Anyway, my competitive streak and vision of business that has characterized me over more than two decades as a manager, made me also think of making my hobby not only sustainable, that is to say to be able to subsidize my projects and the development of my own photography.

Therefore, my current goal is the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment that offers the hobby photography, producing authorial images that may disclose the art of photography and to find their own channels to be seen, admired – and why not consumed through art galleries, advertising initiatives and multidisciplinary projects.

Which photographer has inspired you most and why?

I like to look at many expressions of art, even out of my aesthetic universe. I study the works of the great masters of classical photography like Henri Cartier-Bresson, especially in small format, black and white street photography. Henri Cartier-Bresson for being a photographer of street aesthetic that matches my personal interests, remains at the top of my list of inspiring references.

Interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

How would you describe your photographic style and creative process?

After changing course in the early years of my photographic practice, I can say that I seek to make street photographs to be dramatic; sometimes leaving space for supposedly appealing advertising text. Black and white, digital or film – and very important: you must have the human element human and a noir atmosphere of the environment.

In that sense the cinematography suspense rooted in German expressionism is a huge source of inspiration to me. That means that I usually try to shoot on rainy and foggy days, or in bright sunlight, to get a high contrast.

What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?

As I have different types of equipment – including polaroid’s, lomo, film and digital – I’m always influenced by the aesthetics of my photography, described above, and the conditions of where I will shoot: for example, if the streets are narrow, or if there are very few people under that specific light conditions and so on. All these factors come into play when choosing the best tool.

Anyway, in general, I go out with a wide-angle lens because I like to be very close to the subject within the scene. The light conditions and mostly the purpose static set for the day help me to determine if I will adopt aperture priority or speed priority, if I use the hyperfocal distance or climb or pull the sensitivity of the film or sensor. Tenure wide, commonly I place the camera at chest height and path in search of a character or scene, and so I move around the target to find an ideal background condition, and then firing without the use of the viewfinder.

Practice this technique and knowledge of the capture angle lens now allow me to see the captured frame without even looking at the display, even if I sometimes have to make a small cut in post-production. When the equipment in use is a 50mm lens or longer, use the display becomes part of the process. I like friends, but I always go out photographing alone.

I do not interact with the person photographed and I do not ask permission. I try not to interfere with the scene that I photograph. What I usually do is give a broad smile after the click and immediately distance myself or look away to reduce the chances of reaction and questioning. Again the practice of photographing strangers on the street is teaching us tricks and among them I can mention the one where you imagine an environment, and seeing your character getting closer until he or she stops “in the frame”.

Still, things may not always go as planned and situations might come up where you get a negative reaction or even aggressive one. I’ve prepared myself for that. I tend to show that person the picture on my display and give him my business card with a promise to send them a copy of that image. So far, that has worked really well for me.

Marcos Semola - www.about.me/marcossemolaWhat kind of camera and equipment do you use?

I do not believe in the fact that a good photograph solely is the result of great equipment. Generally speaking, each machine has a characteristic, and it has its limitations and the photographer has to know them in order to be able to evaluate the result. In other words, the photographer thus has to master the technology of the camera without thinking about the operation when shooting. During that moment, he has to focus on the subject, light and composition.

I like clear lens, wide-angle that can vary from 12mm to 35mm, also like fixed lenses especially 50mm objective. I like movies with high contrast and prominent grain. I enjoy silent and light equipment. I like practical straps that offer good balance of the equipment and give us mobility and quick action.

I like to think in black and white, exercising the vision in grayscale and monochrome, whether film or digital, because to me the mindset should be ready before you idealize the image and make click. I like to plan and think about projects, aesthetic issues in advance, but also abort them instantly just by finding all different when I’m actually on the streets with camera in hand.

My newest toy is a Rolleiflex MX K4 3.5f/ 75mm which I just bought. I’m excited about experimenting with medium format and developing my films at home.

Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?

Everyone has to find his or her own way of photographing. For me, the greatest gift of being a photographer is that I do not have to follow standards. I’m free to create. From my personal experiences I can name these things that I’ve learned about photography so far.

  1. Try to find the unlimited format, the practice and the first result that pleases you.
  2. Enjoy a variety of artistic expressions. This will broaden your perception of reality around you.
  3. Master the basics of photography and learn and handle your equipment instinctively.
  4. Anticipate recognizing the terrain, picture composition you want and get behind your subject.
  5. Walk around observantly, foresee a gesture, a trajectory, attitude and position itself to make a quick click.
  6. Learn how your lens sees around with the focal length and approach to achieve the goal.
  7. Be ready for more than one click to persecute the key moment. Everything is very dynamic in the street.
  8. Try to use light equipment, silent and supports to provide mobility.
  9. Post-processing is not a sin, but try to improve the result without distorting the originality.
  10. In principle, don’t be ruled by standard and collective opinions outside your own photographic intimacy.
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