Luis Garcia aka strongblue is a New York City-based street photographer, we've recently crossed paths with so much that we simply had to sit down with him to talk about his work. While he can normally be found, wandering through Manhattan in search of fun and interesting shots, he recently took a trip to explore Miami on Lomography Color Negative 800 film. Here's what happens when you let a New York street photographer loose on the beach in Miami.
Welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Please introduce yourself real quick to our community and readers.
Hi. My name is Luis, I’m a street photographer. I came to NYC when I was 11 years old, lived in Manhattan forever, now I live in Brooklyn. I love espresso and the color blue.
What fascinates you about street photography and what brought you into it?
I've always loved photography, but in my early teen years, I didn't even know about the whole street photography movement or much about photography in general. My first camera was an Avantix film camera, that didn’t last too long since digital was coming on strong around the same time. Photographing in the streets always fascinated me. Even though most of us do the same things, take the same pictures, and almost everything looks the same, etc., there are some people out there pushing the envelope. Photographers that make street photos worth stopping and zooming in on your screen; that’s what fascinates me and makes me go out there to find the next picture. I think I'll always have an archive of these kinds of photos, hopefully, they'll age well and I'll look back and be glad I was there to witness and document.
Where does the name "strongblue" come from?
Strongblue comes from when I was a kid growing up with my grandparents. I come from a really small town and growing up I guess the word for jeans didn’t really exist or they didn’t know it. Their name for jeans was fuerte azul which translates to strong blue, meaning strong denim. Every time my grandma wanted me to wear blue jeans she would tell me in Spanish to wear my fuerte azul. That's where the name comes from originally, but really I also love the color.
Who are the artists or photographers you follow and who's work inspires you?
There’s definitely a number of people out there that really inspire me and I always get excited to see their work. But if I had to pick, I would choose Chris Voss and Brian Karlsson as my favorite street photographers. I really like that he has fun taking pictures, exploring photography shooting with flash, low light, day time, inside, anywhere! I'm not a fan of people who stick to the same thing always. I think it's important to challenge yourself and to explore the unknown, things that sometimes are uncomfortable or hard to capture, I think that's what makes it exciting.
When it comes to shooting strangers in the streets, you seem to be pretty bold and not afraid to upset people and capture their reactions. A type of photography that's pretty controversial. How do you feel about the moral question of it?
I think it is important to experience humanity as phenomena, to kind of use photography as a mirror. I also think it is more effective to ask for forgiveness than permission. I don’t pay much attention to what people say or how they react, I just take my picture and keep going! It's sometimes strange to me because people forget they are being recorded 24/7 everywhere they go, what they say, what they buy, what they look like its all being recorded without question. I guess it's different to have a real person recording you or taking your photo in the street, but in reality, something is recording all of us most the time so I don't really see how it's different.
How do you typically justify yourself if someone screams at you after taking their photo? How do you deal with these situations?
It's really a gamble out there, I constantly have to be reading people's emotions and personalities but even taking this into account you really never know; the person that you think might flip out on you might just smile and vice versa. I've had a few intense moments if the confrontation escalates or people follow me I handle it with a smile or my business card if that doesn’t work maybe it’s time to invite them for a coffee.
You took a trip to Miami to shoot all Lomography Color Negative 800 –– why Miami and why that specific film stock?
Lomography Color Negative 800 is the perfect speed for all situations. I love the color that film produces. I also like that the cartridge is black and white. It matches my gray and black Ricoh GR1s where you can see the film speed on the cartridge. Why Miami? Who doesn’t want to go to Miami? I mean since my first visit a few years ago, I was impressed with the mix of people there. It is such a destination city, you can find people from all over the place and in that way it reminds me a bit of NYC but with a Caribbean mood. In Miami, everyone is speaking Spanish, which is my first language, and it feels like a way to interact and approach people there.
Taking photos was interesting, obviously, it's not the same energy and motion you can find in NYC, so sometimes you are walking for a while and nothing happens. Some areas are actually pretty desolate, but you are kind of guided along by the colors and the architecture. You have to let yourself be surprised, the moments that actually end up being great photos were things I totally stumbled upon. You go to Miami with an idea of what photos you're looking for but in the end, you have to let yourself be surprised.
As a film photographer, how do you feel about social media like Instagram and everything that is going on in these platforms.
Social media is really tricky, on the one hand, I feel that it is a great platform to connect with photo-friends and to share your work and photos but at the same time I feel that it gets cliquey and selective, people only support and associated with certain followers and it becomes more of a thoughtless action of "like for like" and "follow for follow". Fewer people are actually stopping to look at the pictures but instead, they're thinking of it as oh this part of my gang I’ll go ahead and like because they also like my pictures. In the end, it becomes a big game, everyone wants the most likes, the best followers, reach 100K, etc. By doing that you don’t know who is real or not- some people won't give you alike even though they love your pictures, there's a big illusion there. It feels like such a competition but the reality is that at the end is just a big game; everyone is trying to play and win. I think there is value in likes and follows but it is uncertain how much that currency is valued at.
What advice do you have for people who'd like to go a similar route with street photography but might be too afraid of confrontation?
First off never ever turn off your camera, have it on even when you go to the bathroom. Be brave, don’t think too much about what people will say or how they will react, and stay in a safe zone. Read people's emotions and character and just take the picture. Either you do it or you will come back home with no pictures. And remember street photography is not only pictures of people, but you also have a whole canvas to fill out.
Follow Luis through the streets of New York on his Instagram to see more of his work.