Gustavo Minas: “I Love Being in Crowds, It’s Great For The Mind”

Brazilian street photographer Gustavo Minas on why does he love Sao Paolo, how to secretly shoot people on the streets and why do fashionable old ladies draw his attention

Gustavo Minas, 32 years old

A native of Cássia, lives in Sao Paolo (Brazil). In 2013, he was a runner up in the International Street Photography Awards, which got him an exhibition in London and in Oi Futuro, a gallery in Rio. A member of SelvaSP and International Community of Street Photographers .

How did you start doing street photography?

At first I got interested in photography during my journalism course at university. After graduation I lived in London for a year, working as a waiter and just spending time traveling around. I bought a handicam with miniDV tapes and started filming everything around me, later editing with Windows Movie Maker and making short films, very poor, of course. I was inspired by those late boring Godard movies, which are mostly about apparently random images. These were the origins of my street photography, but the process was about the same – wandering alone and watching people.

I came back to Brazil in 2007 and got a job as a business journalist with a popular newspaper. It was boring as hell and was killing me, so I started photographing to tried and make my life a bit less boring. I shot everything: long exposures, my then girlfriend, landscapes, macros… a very random “production.”

Later, I attended a year-long course under master Carlos Moreira. He’s been photographing Sao Paulo since the 60′s, and was (still is) a master in every sense. He showed us BW masters first, and then colorists like Harry Gruyaert, who’s been my main influence in terms of use of light and shadows, space and color. Then I started shooting on the streets a lot, to get to know Sao Paulo neighborhoods better and to venture into the city. I didn’t look for any specific subject matter, I was simply attracted by the effect of low sunlight over urban surfaces.

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Being a street-photographer means what?

It’s not only about photography itself – it’s about being a venturer in an urban jungle. It’s a lot about interacting with the cities and their people, going places you’d never go, and it’s about the odd experiences you have because you decided to leave home to wander around with a camera. To be a street photographer, one must love long walks. I love being in crowds because I forget about myself for a while, which is great for the mind, a true relief from my thoughts. Like meditation. Street photography will hardly give you any money, so one has to learn to take pleasure from this kind of priceless and non-obvious retribution.

What streets you love the most?

I love photographing in Sao Paulo, it’s a very busy and dynamic city with many interesting and different neighborhoods to explore. But maybe any street can be interesting if you’re open minded and open to happenstance. Personally in photography I’m very attracted to sunlight, vivid colors, gestures, geometry, women legs, colorful dresses, light and shadows, harmony in chaos… the list is endless.

There can be beauty in almost everything you just have to be in the right mood to recognize it. I go out shooting almost everyday, as long as the sun is out, and I think faith is important in street photography. If you go out and you’re bored, thinking that nothing special will happen, then that’s what you’ll get. On the other hand, if you’re excited about the possibilities, it’s very likely that you’ll come home with something interesting.

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Is it difficult to shoot random people on the streets?

Reactions are very widely varied. Some people love posing, others hate seeing a camera pointed at them and can even be threatening. I try to feel their reactions in advance, and most of the time you can tell if someone will be angry or not beforehand. Sometimes you risk it, other times you think it’s better preserve your life and your camera. The most important thing is trying to be as discreet as you can. Or being able to pretend you’re photographing anything else. Sometimes I wait for someone to pass to a certain spot behind a tree or something, pretending I’m doing any other thing.

What makes you turn to dark alleys or follow a stranger?

Light and colors, most of the time. Really, sometimes I cross paths with very interesting characters, but if the light is not good enough for me, I tend to take just one or two shots and leave it. On the other hand, I can shoot a boring situation for minutes if I find an interesting shadow play or compelling colors. Interesting characters are very unpredictable, and that’s what makes them interesting – fashionable old ladies, stylish beggars, mysterious guys in suits, the list is endless.

There are so many street photographers now, I wonder where all this contemporary production will go in the next decades.

You see the all of the situation but just one shot is for the viewer. We have to guess what more you have – or does your cut stay as it is?

I like complex frames with many layers and lots of information, but all this has to be framed in a concise and efficient way, otherwise the viewer feels lost in a confusing frame. It’s not a rule, and sure, sometimes it can be interesting to not give too much information so the viewer can create his or her own story from what he or she sees. A sense of mystery is generally welcome in photography, but, as Winogrand said, “There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.”

Your photos are in flickr and they are exhibited offline; where else can people see photos of street life?

I don’t think that contemporary street photography is very decorative. Generally they’re not the kind of photo people would hang on a wall in a living room or see in the wall of an art gallery. But this tends to change as time passes by – street photos from the 60’s, for example, now have a patina of time which adds a lot to them, and makes them closer to “art” photos. For me the ideal way of looking at a street photographer’s work is by browsing a book, preferably edited by the author.

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What does the future hold for street-photography and for your work?

I wish I knew, really. There are too many street photographers now, producing mostly in digital, I wonder where all this contemporary production will go in the next decades. But I do think that good street photography tends to grow in importance as time passes by, and it will be an important source of information from our society in the future. Personally I’m not very interested in documenting anything, but still, I think that my photos are inevitably loaded with information from my surroundings, besides my personal view.

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