Gianfranco attended one of our Soho workshops last year and, although he’s a relative newcomer to the genre, his work has come on in leaps and bounds since then. I asked him 10 questions about street photography and here’s what he has to say . . .
1. How long have you been practising street photography? – How did you get into it?
About two years. Three years ago, I decided to learn how to use a “proper” camera, after a few years of snapping random stuff with point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones. I had been thinking about it for a while and it felt just right to start something new as I was turning 40. During the first year, I naturally focused on learning the ropes of photography/DSLRs with a rather intense combination of short courses, workshops, online tutorials and plenty of books. When I started to read about street photography and especially when I started to look at good street photographs (old and new), I immediately realized that it was the direction I should take. I was genuinely fascinated with it and I kept thinking that living in a city like London and doing photography without doing street photography would be a bit silly. In actual fact, street photography has completely revamped my then stale and somewhat uncomfortable relationship with this city. It’s as if it’s another city altogether, which is pretty amazing. That feeling has intensified over the last two years and nowadays I hardly ever leave home without my camera.
2. What is ‘street photography’? What does it mean to you?
Essentially, street photography is that creative outlet that I had been desperately looking for since I can remember. Although I come from a very humble and far from intellectually stimulating background, I have always been strongly attracted by whatever can be filed under ‘art’ yet in a very personal and non-academic way. My oldest obsession is music (let’s not even go there) but I remember reading Wilde and Hemingway when I was barely a teenager. Or going to the cinema at the age of 13 and falling in love with the work of Kubrick, which I still adore to this day. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be myself without all those “things”. It’s a relationship which has only become stronger and wider over the years. However, one can only listen so much without wanting to add their own voice to the choir. As I got older, I realized that my genuine lack of interest in all things practical (including the so-called ‘career’, a word that never fails to make me cringe) which often resulted in uneasiness and apathy was in fact just a cry for help. It was but my own voice, or creativity wanting to come out. My own deep desire to try and put some order in the chaos that is life. To make sense of it. In one of his extremely rare interviews, Stanley Kubrick once said: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light”. That sentence means absolutely everything to me. Sometimes I wish I had come across photography and in particular street photography earlier but then I’m sure that everything happens for a reason.
3. Which street photographers do you admire – and why?
I really feel like I’ve only just started to scratch the surface in terms of getting to know great street photographers old and new. Moreover, I am a disaster with names so I’ll mention the first three that come up to mind. I definitely like Alex Webb a lot. Not only because he’s an absolute master of colour (which I prefer to monochrome, as a medium) and he tends to shoot in the places I love the most (Mexico, Turkey, Cuba…) but mostly because of his magic ability to conjure up very complex yet very poetic images out of very ordinary situations. It’s as if he really manages not only to see but to capture a higher, gorgeous, flawless order beyond and above the every day chaos. His photography stuns your sense but is essentially very spiritual, bordering on the religious. In a similar way, I like Saul Leiter’s photographs of 1950s NYC an awful lot. In his case, I mus thank The Photographers Gallery: I try to check their program of exhibitions regularly so at one point last year I went to see their retrospective on Leiter and came out of it transformed. I simply fell instantly in love with his lush muted palette of primary colours, his spectacular framing and composition and most of all with his absolutely ingenious use of layers. Although he’s made his name thanks to his black and white photography and it’s a bit hard to find anything traditionally poetic or sensual in his work, I do look up to Bruce Gilden too. I particularly like his work in Haiti but his now classic shots of 1980/1990s NYC are also brilliant. His eye is fierce and he knows how to startle and provoke in order to conjure up a reaction which, at the end of the day, is necessary in order to create something beautiful and lasting. I have always admired a certain ‘punk’ attitude towards privacy and the status quo because I love to provoke and unsettle too although not all of the time. Ok I know I said three but I cannot leave Martin Parr out. Martin Parr is a master of irony, which I value greatly. He’s an absolute genius of photography. But there are many more whom I admire, from well established names to amateurs like me.
4. How would you describe your own style of street photography?
Poetic, unsettling, ironic and dark.
5. Has that style naturally evolved or have you made a conscious effort to steer yourself in a particular direction?
It has evolved very naturally. I am a total disaster at making conscious efforts of any kind. Like I have attempted to explain above, street photography is a journey of self-discovery. It’s my true self coming out of the ordinary and boring so why direct it? My street photography has got a life of its own. It’s got its own direction. I’m just trying my best to follow it.
6. What challenges have you faced as a street photographer?
A few technical challenges at the beginning which have been largely solved when I decided to purchase a small mirrorless camera. Other than that, getting used to the idea of taking photographs of strangers in the streets took a while. But I’m ever so pleased that street photography has made me a much more confident person too. Sometimes I fear I’ve become a bit too confident. However, the main challenge is to stay true to your own vision. While it’s crucial to look at the work of others (especially quality street photography) and although it’s absolutely fine to be influenced by the photographers one loves, one should never emulate or – worse – replicate any existing work. Again: this is all about one’s own and unique voice so honesty is key.
7. What camera / lens do you like to use?
Fujifilm x70, aka my baby.
8. What’s your workflow and preferred post-production method?
I always shoot RAW + JPEG and organize my work in and around Adobe LIghtroom. Once I’ve transferred the day’s shots to Lightroom, I usually ignore them for a few days if not weeks (I tend to shoot daily so that’s not too difficult). When I go back to them, I edit them down and try to be as tough with myself as I possibly can (it’s an on-going process which I’m enjoying a lot). As far as post-processing the keepers goes, I keep it to a minimum because I don’t enjoy post-processing. I usually tweak mid tone contrast a bit (Clarity in LR), modify shadows, highlights, whites and blacks only if absolutely necessary and even more rarely touch the exposure slider. However, I always increase sharpness a little bit and if ISO is higher than 800, I may consider reducing noise.
9. How and where do you share or display your images? Any plans to do more?
My digital portfolio is at www.gianfrancogentile.co.uk – I update it every few days.
Other than that, I’ve recently created my first street photography book (which is but my ‘best of’ so far), as you can preview and purchase here.
I would like to publish one ‘best of’ every year but I also hope to start working on projects at some point and maybe publish project-specific books. The ultimate goal would be a little exhibition somewhere. That would be amazing.
10. What about the future of street photography – where do you see it going?
I don’t care where it goes as long as I’m part of it.