Lomographer and dream voyager RODRIGO a.k.a. heymars has won several awards for his photography, approaching it with a starry glint in his eyes in which reality looks misty and dreamlike with the soft greys of monochromatic film. Though RODRIGO also shoots with color negatives, we delved deeper into the mysteries of his black and white shots, all of which look straightforward and direct, yet hold subtle profundities of the real world. In this interview, he also shares some never-before-seen works from his next project.
Hi RODRIGO! How are you lately and how's life as a photographer nowadays?
I am very well, thank you. A little bit uncertain like everybody else in this particular period but I take advantage of it to purify, rework and reflect on my photographic works. How to value a project, exchange with artists, organizations, people. To document myself!
To be honest, I like to take my time with my work. I prefer to make a successful photographic project, which will last for a long time and will interest the public, than to share episodic photographs with little research. Our era pushes a culture of hyper-productivity and over-consumption of images. It is everywhere. I am not sure that it is good for the photographic practice to encourage this. It is necessary to take distance. So, I prefer to immerse myself in long-term projects.
May you share with us how you got into film? How did it all start?
Well, my practice with film began when I was self-criticizing and reflecting on my work. The times ask us to produce more and faster. Film seems to slow things down.
Then, I wanted to document my city (Marseille) differently. I wanted to bring other types of photographs, other sensations, other creative energies in my work, especially this series. So yeah, my journey with film began with my observations of the photography market, the trends carried by social networks, festivals, or magazines, and then the self-criticism of my projects. And finally, it birthed the series called HEY MARS, where I document my city, all in film, black and white and color.
I like digital, I think it should not be rejected and live with our time and its technology, but the technology will probably never achieve the unique rendering of the film! So film, its process, and its way of deepening the images as much on the theoretical level, really pushed me beyond my limits and brought me into another artistic dimension.
In your bio, you mentioned how your Columbian roots and your French upbringing influence your photography. May you elaborate this more with us, such as which subjects attract you the most?
I really love this question because it helps to refocus an artist's creativity on their personal experiences and not on those of others... I'll take a concrete example:
My long-term project, La Vida Real won the grand prize for best photojournalism at the OFF du Visa Pour l'Image in 2020. International Festival of photojournalism! La Vida Real is about the resilience of a country, which is Colombia, through the dynamism and empowerment of its population, more or less helped by organizations, associations, and public institutions. I was immersed for three months in the favelas of the city of Medellín to follow "life" in there. But for me, it was also the first time I stayed so long in my origin country since my uprooting. I re-discovered my roots, finally, through the lens of my camera and the encounters I made thanks to this black box. So, within La Vida Real, you can find autobiographical elements. Colombia is simply an inexhaustible source of inspiration for La Vida Real, which will probably never end.
This desire to tell the face of Colombia has literally put the spotlight on my photographic practice, bringing me into another dimension. But would I have had the desire to do this project if I lived in Colombia? No. Or would I have had the necessary distance to document this country? I don't think so. France brings me this distance and all the cultural, artistic, technical, theoretical, historical acquisition of photography thanks to its festivals, its art schools, its agencies, its magazines, and its photographers for me to successfully carry out a project, such as La Vida Real.
One of the most striking things we noticed in your body of work is your careful compositions in black and white. May you tell us your thought process when it comes to monochromatic photography?
I like straight, street, and documentary photography above all and I am very fond of photographers like Elliott Herwitt, Henri Cartier Bresson, or even Lindbergh. I also like the New Yorkers Andre D. Wagner, as well as Jonathan Mannion. This last one made a lot of covers for the American hip-hop artists (the street culture influences me a lot), all of them, master the black and white wonderfully.
So, using mostly black and white when I practiced film photography seems natural to me, I find that it allows me to be more focused on the subject, to purify his image, to capture authenticity, and especially to play on the timelessness of the moment. Nevertheless, there is a "color" film which attracts my attention, it is the LomoChrome Metropolis which can have a very urban rendering... very street, very straight, very… as I like!
I care about my images that remain in time so I pay attention either to its aesthetics or by the subject taken, sometimes by both but also especially so by its chromatics. Sometimes I have photos taken in color, that I would have liked to take in black and white.
You've won several awards for your photography. Does it factor in how you personally measure artistic merit?
Indeed, I have been able to obtain prizes, recognitions, and competitions. All this simply flatters the ego, which is not a bad thing, it can also push one to do even better and it's also a start to earn respect from colleagues. Still, it's good to be self-critical of one's work... But basically, I think there are no good or bad photographers, moreover, it may be necessary to redefine what is a photographer...
On the other hand, I think that there are simply good or bad photographs, I fail a lot of them. In short, all this does not change anything on my vision of the photography which must remain what it is: A medium to show an epoch, a slice of life, in monochrome, with filters, retouching or not, double exposures, voluntary cuts in short... An art!
May you share with us an image or two that you took that you are proudest of?
I have two, three photos that make me proud, but I am going to share with you a fragment of a series meant to keep the authentic memories of my wife's maternity, as well as the first two or three years of my son. Moments that he will have forgotten but... that he will be able to find in our photographs... I don't have any photos of my childhood in Colombia and I confess that it is a sentimental heartbreak.
By the way! For this shot, we chose the Lomography Simple Use Reloadable Film Camera because it's really practical, you can take it everywhere and I'm thinking of getting a second one for my personal projects. Title of the photo is extracted from Lomo'ther hood series, Solecito:
”The eyes riveted towards the celestial vault and the new moon, as if we could touch the limits of our sphere as if we could hear the howling of the wolves in the middle of winter, a wind freezes us and slips between our fingers. Phalanges that we try to tighten gently as if to retain the present, already yesterday. An owl and its eyes tinted of pink overhangs on its dead branch, the scene, announcing big news. It is 2:05 and you appeared like a snowflake falling delicately on the cheek. Esteban. Our son. Dad and Mama”
Please share with us a tip or two that has helped you greatly in photo reportage.
I would say that to make a photo reportage, it is necessary to be interested in the past of the subject, to have respect for the memory of the place or the people, to go on the ground, to meet people, to discover projects. Just leave the camera aside! I also think that it is important not to always follow what the big magazines or the media dictates. In short, keep your identity, dare and try to make discover a new aspect.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
What are you up to next, RODRIGO?
Well, I'm working on the second part of La Vida Real before heading back to Colombia for the third part! I will edit a photo book for the first part of the project and my wish is to showcase it in the United States -- for the Colombian community, the immigrants! By the way, I love the project "The Bronx Documentary" which works with grassroots communities in the Bronx and across generations, which I love!
I would also like to continue_HEY MARS_, which finally has enough and great support to start a documentary on Marseille, because HEY MARS was born from this desire to show the city from a different angle than the one that the French or Europeans know. We may say that I like to take against the current collective consciousness, but in reality, if we think about it, it is not against the tide, it's just another way to inform. HEY MARS is fully in analogue! In color and in black and white, maybe soon also in LomoChrome Metropolis! Who knows?
But above all, I am creating a great event in Morocco, partners will be there but also other artists, emerging talents, enthusiasts, or simply amateurs who have qualities of being a photographer. Moreover, we are looking for partners and sponsors for the event and the workshops. And also to promote this cultural and artistic meeting!