Hello, Zoran. It is a great honor to be interviewing you today for the magazine. Tell us briefly about yourself and what you do.
I live, and grew up in Los Angeles. I’m 45 years old and I work in lighting in film and television, as well as doing some small photography jobs, mostly portraiture. I sort of fell into lighting after attending grad school at AFI for cinematography. I had an ambition to be a Director of Photography but while shooting shorts and building a reel, I realized that Directors that are truly collaborative are few and far between.
I realized that I am only really interested in the photographs that I want to make. I studied photography in undergrad at the San Francisco Art Institute and I think that your initial education informs who you are and how you go about how you approach any project. My initial education was at a place that let you do what you want, and what I wanted to do was shoot documentary and street photography.
In the bio on your website you mention that photography freed your power of expression. Could you tell us more about that discovery?
To answer your question (if you don’t already realize it, I’m not that eloquent with the written word), I don’t know how clear my photographs are but I’d like to think that they convey something about the place I am photographing while at the same time providing some proof that every place in the world shares certain commonalities. I can’t do this in any other form of communication. Some people are verbally gifted and some are visually gifted. It’s important for you to recognize your strengths and exploit them (note to the verbally gifted - just because you can operate a camera doesn't make you a photographer).
How did you arrive at street photography? What made you choose it over other genres?
I started in street photography almost immediately after I started shooting in high school, I was interested in documenting the world around me, but the unnoticed world. Posing or asking people if I can take their picture isn’t me. I didn’t really choose street photography over other genres, I shoot night landscape and portrait documentaries. Street is where I always come back to because it requires little or no planning, just walk out the door and look.
One could argue that street photography is the most authentic form of art photography. Would you agree?
I don’t know if street photography is the most authentic form of photography but with the death of magazines and newspapers it is definitely one of the most important since we are the documentarians of our world at this time. I will say that I find it quite disturbing that in the art world today it seems more important that you have a polished artist statement and project statement to have your work taken seriously (I’ve seen some really shitty photographs that were part of a project supported by great writing. If the photos aren’t good I don’t care about your ideas or reasons for taking the photos. In fact I think having an idea while taking street photos is counterproductive).
The streets can be pretty overwhelming. What qualifies for you as a moment worth capturing? Why do you point your camera at some things, but not others?
I really don’t know what qualifies as a photographable moment. I know it when I see it. I like the mundane. I will point my camera at anything that will not get me hauled into jail or get my ass kicked (both have happened to me). Generally I like to go unnoticed.
You snap a photograph of someone and their eyes widen, they are shocked, surprised. As a photographer you walk away with a photograph, good or bad, but nonetheless. What do your subjects walk away with? Is street photography a fair exchange?
Street photography is not a fair exchange, but when I look at the work of the greats from the past you can see that it provides a visual record of the time, and that’s more important than what someone may think for that brief moment when they realize they have been photographed (to quote Diane Arbus “One of the risks of appearing in public is the likelihood of being photographed”). If you don’t want to be photographed turn your head. With the amount of surveillance cameras in the cities of the world, does it really matter?
I was once walking in downtown LA and saw a crying boy on a busy street. I did not photograph him out of worry that taking his picture could be considered in some way exploitative of his suffering. Some time later I stumbled on a photograph of a crying girl by Vivian Maier and instantly regretted not taking a picture of the boy. In some ways, I now feel like I had a responsibility to document his crying, his pain. I think this is what distinguishes a seasoned street photographer from an amateur - a seasoned photographer would have taken that picture. Any thoughts on this? What is our responsibility as street photographers to the people we are surrounded by?
In my photo Boy With Gun, Hong Kong, that kid was crying and looking for his mother. I didn’t think for a minute. I took the picture. All kids cry, it’s what they do. There is really no reason to not photograph people doing what they naturally do.
How has the genre of street photography progressed in the last decade? Do you think viewers still have the same appreciation for the images, and the shooters the same drive to capture them?
I think street photography has progressed in the last decade greatly. Because of the internet there are now more places to view it and more outlets to show it, and slowly the general public are beginning to understand it more. That and more people are trying it and finding that it’s not that easy and not anyone can do it bringing more understanding and hopefully sales.
Many beginner photographers focus a lot on the tools and techniques versus content. Any advice you can give them about finding the right pictures, instead of finding the right tools?
I am not immune to collecting gear but my advice to a young photographer is - use what you have and change equipment as you can. Once you find what suits you, stick with it. Who cares whats new at that point. There is one piece of advice to young photographers that have the infrastructure in their city and the money to do it, start with film (I still shoot both). It will teach you discipline that you can never learn with digital (for example, unless I’m out of town I will never fill a 4 or 8 gig card on one of my 12 or 16mp digital cameras in an outing on the streets).
How did you develop your photographic vision? How did you learn to see as a photographer?
What would you say has been your most remarkable discovery via photography?
My photographic vision, I don’t know how to answer that question, I would say that my vision is informed by my environment. Where I grew up Los Angeles makes you look at the world in a different way. It’s spread out and you don’t shoot it the way as you shoot any other city. That transfers to the way I shoot any other place.
Do you have any advice for people who want to create meaningful art, but find themselves stuck and unable to do so?
Just do what you want and power through it. It will eventually work itself out, or not.