Photography can be a very personal subject. Artists feel emotions that they want to share with their viewers. We got in touch with London-based photographer Unai Mateo Lopez for a quick chat to learn more about his style, the message he wants to get across with his photos, and some other things. When words fail, photographs take over.
Hello, Unai! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine! We’re so glad to have you. Please, introduce yourself.
Well, thank you. Glad to be here.
My name is Unai Mateo and I'm a 25 years old photographer from the Basque Country (North Spain) but currently based in London.
How did you start your journey with photography?
I've been interested in visual art and communication since I can remember. I was that child sketching all the textbooks at school, and that teenager drawing cartoons of the teachers. The medium came afterward.
Art, and especially painting, have always fascinated me. Thanks to my parents, I visited lots of museums when I was young and that certainly helped in the development of my passion. But it wasn't until my late teens when I discovered photography. Suddenly, I found something I could use to say all those things I wasn't able to say with words. It blew my mind. I haven't been able to separate myself from the camera since then.
How would you define photography?
The act of saying things with light.
What’s your favorite thing about it?
The way it fulfills the need I have to express my feelings towards life.
In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
The one created with true passion. It's those ones that reach to your emotions and make a difference. Clearly, everyone has its own taste in art but you can really tell when something is able to get to your heart and mind at the same time. That’s when the magic happens.
What’s your favorite subject?
I’m not that into subjects really. I’m driven by light. Anything bathed in the perfect amount and quality of light can be a good subject. Note that most of my images central subject are everyday objects. Like sheets, glasses, curtains, water… I just happen to be often around them. But sometimes, when certain feeling or emotion is reflected in the light or the texture or the mood in the scene, I just have the need to capture it.
What are the things that influence or inspire your style/images?
I just let myself be inspired by true emotions. And as I said before, I am mainly driven by concrete moments when suddenly everything comes together to build a scene that I perceive photogenic.
Which artist had the most significant effect on your style/work as a photographer?
I will have to go with Saul Leiter. He was an amazing photographer and artist and was incredibly talented regarding color and composition. But more importantly, he lived his life the way he thought was most truthful towards his creative impulses, as he never pursued fame or wealth, just fulfilling his artistic soul. That’s one of the things I respect the most in a person who does art.
Also, he really embraced the magical moment I was talking about before. He would go to the street and shoot only when the moment and the light formed the best combo, creating some stunning works of art.
If you could have a dream collaboration with an artist/photographer/painter etc, who would it be?
Writer Haruki Murakami
How do you stay creative?
Mainly watching other artists works. Art is something that has to be in constant evolution, so I do believe it is really important to look back to artistic movements and tendencies from the past. They show us the path to follow.
Apart from that, staying creative is not something I do. It’s just something that happens to me. An inevitable state of mind, fortunately.
How do you deal with creative block?
Convincing myself it's just a phase that will eventually end. There is no other way.
Your photos and the stories behind them are intimate. They blend personal photography with fine art photography in our opinion. How did you come up with that unique combination?
In my creative impulses, I’ve always had the influence from two sides; Fine art in general and everyday photography. So whenever it comes to create my own work, it just happens to come out that way. I’m also a person who enjoys solitude, so the idea of an intimate visual diary in form of an artistic project has always taken the lead in my work.
How do you come up with your shots? Are your always inspired when you shoot?
Based mainly on the trial and error, with time I’ve learned to develop my own creative process. I have always disliked the idea of thinking and then shooting. Somehow, I perceive the preconceived ideas as an imposition to the visual stimulus and in the end, as the catalyst of an imposture. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire some of the thoughts that led to several great series of photographs. But I don’t want to make an image based off an idea; I want the image to be the idea itself. That encouraged me to follow my instincts and explore my impulse-driven shots, making my unconsciousness the leader of my decisions. I always allowed myself to be driven by immediate sensations, so I can go through the thinking process afterward while exploring and analyzing my work and ultimately discover what I’m trying to say.
My work is nothing but an honest diary. The most genuine version of me.
What would you like your audience to take away from your photographs?
Just a glimpse of an emotion. An instant of a quiet and pure heart-warming feeling.
What can you say about photography as an art and photography as an expression? Do any of the ideas ring true when it comes to your personal work?
To be honest, I have no idea what photography is, nor I have the intention on defining it. I just consider it my way of expression because it helps me to express things I don't know how to express in any other way. Whether if it's art or not I guess that's a debate other people need to have. It doesn't bother me too much.
What other areas of photography are you looking to explore?
I’ve always feel attracted to photojournalism. And that’s something that, even if the golden photojournalism years are long gone, would be amazing to experience. Traveling to capture reality just as it is to show it to the world sounds like an amazing plan to me.
For you, what is the most challenging thing about being a photographer in this day and age?
Trying to figure out how to adapt to these digital globalized times. Photography is in constant evolution and we are living in a time where communication has become one of the key factors in society. Images are more powerful than ever and have never been so spread than now, so they have become really useful tools. Just understanding the current reality is extremely difficult, and like it or not, it’s a thing that any photographer must do.
How would you describe your style in five words?
This is what I see.
If you could replace photography with one thing, what would it be?
How does a perfect day look like for Unai Mateo Lopez?
The one that doesn't look perfect.
What song, movie, and book inspired you the most?
Ojalá by Silvio Rodríguez
Boyhood by Richard Linklater
The Sea by John Banville
Any photographer/artist that you follow religiously?
I don’t really follow anyone religiously. I just bump into many.
What would you be if you weren’t a photographer?
A guy who stares at things too long without a camera.
If you could have one camera/and or film to shoot with, what would it be?
I’ve been looking forward to shooting with the Pentax 67 medium format camera and some Portra 400 for example.
In your opinion, how should people handle failure and success?
Failure is definitely a more helpful experience that success for someone whose definite goal is to keep learning new things. So I think it should be handled with a cold mind and normalizing the fact that everybody fails all the time. Actually, I think failure -- it’s just a social construct, we call it failure when we don’t get our main goal instantly. But we forget about the learning process that we have to go through to get anywhere.
Regarding success, it is as well a very relative concept. We never get the chance to experience the feeling of success as our goals grow proportionally with our achievements. So, in my opinion, it’s just a useless term to explain something that simply doesn’t exist. I think the best way is to ignore it.
Any last words for our readers?
If my images make you feel a certain way I would be happy to hear about it, so don’t hesitate to contact me and telling me what you think.
Thank you for this interesting interview, Lomography.