Can you tell me when you first took pictures and what they were off?
I started in 2017, and for months I took images of anything I could see while walking around Valencia (Spain) with my camera. Architecture, flowers, animals, my dog, my wife and people passing by. At that time, I was more concentrated on learning how to use the camera so that my left side of my brain and fingers could learn how to do the work automatically, and my right side of my brain could concentrate on what I wanted to represent.
Once I was comfortable enough, I started to do portraiture on the street and sometimes in the studio.
Where do you seek inspiration for your photos?
This is a complicated question; let me try to answer it in a few lines.
Inspiration comes from a multitude of factors, all mixed together. Music, art, readings, and what is going on in my life and in the lives of people I meet all influence my photography.
Sometimes also, images are taken by other photographers, maybe in a more hidden way – I guess getting inspired by other work is also part of every creative process.
Can you let me know what you think the most challenging part of being a photographer is?
To be able to analyse my own feelings and visualise them as images is the most challenging aspect of what I do.
What captures you most about black/white photos over colour?
From what I learned in the language of photography Black & White is used to express emotions, while Color is used to represent reality.
From the beginning, I have been aiming to create images able to convey emotions to the observer – even though at that time I wasn’t aware of the language of photography – I chose B&W unconsciously but coherently with my goal.
With time the meaning of B&W in my images became more profound and more a philosophy than a “simple” matter of following the language of photography or a mere chromatic choice: we are somehow all dual, and B&W, in my opinion, is also a good graphic representation of duality – even though in B&W images there are also greys, that also can represent the complexity of us, human beings.
We all are dual, and we are dual at different levels both inside and outside – and, if I think this well, inside and out is already a duality.
Think for example about the female and male sides each of us have.
Then there are more obvious dualities: last year I met a muse that has oriental “almond” eyes and an African-look mouth.
Think also about more sneaky duality as a fragile soul in the strong body of a bodybuilder.
On a more philosophical point of view duality is also “touching” our lives daily. It seems like that we, as human species, are evolving but I’m not actually so sure if we are going to the opposite direction. In fact there are dualities that are the result of economy: some people have so much money that they will never be able to use it all for generations while some other people do not have a bowl of rice every day.
Of course, this is my personal point of view, but it is true that the images everyone creates reflect what they are, their story and what they think.
There are many more examples but I guess is better if I stop here.
I see you favour pictures on paper over a screen; why is this?
I’m probably not a quick learner as it took almost four years to realise that photography must be “consumed” on paper.
To answer from a practical point of view, you can make the following simple experiment.
Take one of your photos and print it – use a service if you do not have a printer at home, be sure to print it at least as A4 (or US Letter) format.
Now look at your image on your phone and then the one printed on paper: can you spot any details on paper that you are not able to see on the screen? Also, can you spot any issues on paper not visible on the screen? Move the (paper) image to get it illuminated by different lights: the window, a led, an incandescent light bulb. Does the image become something different, somehow alive? Being able to hold your image in your hands does add a dimension to your experience?
Now, if you answered yes to at least to one of the questions, you know why I think printing is a must to anyone willing to create images.
And, if you like to know about the philosophical side of the story, keep reading.
The world is “evolving” and digital is part of the process: initially it happened with music and now everyone is able to shoot an image – we reached a point that phones need a psychologist as they are so confused about being phones or cameras 🙂
But photography is not about shooting.
Is about using a tool (the camera) to represent ideas, concepts, emotions by creating images. And, if not done for a customer, it should be done to express ourselves, not just to have something to share with other people on a social platform 🙂
During a workshop I attended in 2019 I was told that every day people post more than 9 millions images on Instagram: I’m wondering how many of these images are true photographs and how many are shoots?
After all the fantastic projects you have done, which one are you proud of and why?
Thank you so much for your compliment!
Well, I love all of them as each one talks about one aspect of me. If I have to say which one I am most pride at the moment, I guess it is the last one I started: “Appunti di viaggio” (“Travelling notes” in English).
In each of the volumes of “Appunti di viaggio” I tell a story, one of the stories of a person’s life.
Each book begins with an introduction where I tell how the person and her story are intertwined in my life journey as an “almost-photographer.” The story is then told “four-handedly” by alternating images with texts written by the person portrayed.
The images presented in the series are all exclusive and are not available in digital format – emphasising that photography should be enjoyed on paper.
Beside the first issues where I used material that I had already produced before starting the project, the images produced for the next issues were being created following a much more planned way compared of what I’ve done in the early years.
It is important to know that, even if they are available on Amazon, my books are not conceived as “products to be sold”: they are simply the result of brainstorming, studies, ideas, experimentation and all the energies I live daily.
The process behind the production of each book allows me to learn something new every time: once it can be how to better use light to create an image, another it can be what to look when selecting the images for the book, or simply how to use a feature I never used before of the software used to create the layout.
All in all the process of creating a book is much more complex than “simply” creating an image and I think it is still part of being a photographer. This entire process – and not only this – is something I do aiming to become a “true photographer”.
The majority of my books are offered at a very reasonable price: meaning less than a drink in most Countries. I decided to go this way daily for these two reasons: first I am still learning how to create a book (and believe me there is a lot to learn) and second I believe this is a great alternative for people willing to sponsor my work compared to platforms like Patreon – also because it is much more in line with what I am and my vision.
What current camera and lens startup are you using?
At the moment I use a couple of full-frame mirrorless cameras – my dream is to be able to upgrade to medium format but, beside the cost, I’m still not totally motivated as the weight of the gear is an important factor for me.
About lenses, until the last year I only used prime lenses as “the gurus” always taught me that using zoom lenses we learn less than using primes – and I somehow agree.
Last year I realised that a 24-70 zoom could help me in some situations and now it is always mounted on one of my cameras – I’m not lazy, it is just practical when you shoot in a forest and have to carry everything on your shoulders: you know I’m 61 this year.
However I also like to keep experimenting with lenses and creating images “against the rules” – for example creating portraiture with a fish-eye lens.
So, all in all, when preparing the bag for the session I can choose between a good collection of prime lenses ranging from 15mm to 500mm – some are modern autofocus and some are old full manual lenses I buy on eBay for cheap and that still have “something to say” – I always shoot in manual mode, the only automatism I use is the autofocus: these old lenses are a good way to learn manual focusing.
If you could please your perfect shoot without restriction, can you describe it to me?
Well my drawer is full of dreams… One of them is to be able to create nude art on the streets of a big city like Tokyo, Paris, London or New York!
If you don’t mind, can to tell us about any projects you have up and coming?
This year I was finally able to buy a professional printer, now that I can finally print in my studio the idea is to prepare a catalog of my best images and offer them on the web site as fine art prints.
I’m still learning about printing and of course the process is not as simple as it might look like but I’m starting to see some good results so the print shop is something that could go alive next year.
Lastly, if a friend came to you asking for advice on the best way to become a photographer, what would you say?
Well, beside the fact that I don’t consider myself a photographer yet, let say that based on my actual experience I will offer the following list of suggestions:
- Education is more important than gear: on YouTube follow photographers that talk about photography (not gear) and present the work of renowned photographers – better if these photographers used to work in analog;
- Buy books by photographers you like and that produce images of the same genre you wish to produce, for example, landscape, nature, animals, etc.;
- Subscribe to one website that offer online classes: a good one I still use from time to time is creativelive.com – if you do not want to subscribe just buy some classes on the topics you want to learn;
- Start with one low-cost mirrorless camera and one lens, of course better if it is a prime – with time you will understand what you need to buy pending on the type of images you want to create; for your first camera/lens don’t invest more than 1000~1500 Euro/Dollars as you will not use this gear for your entire life; when deciding what to buy, never trust suggestions of items to buy on YouTube: the majority of people presenting gear are there just to earn money with affiliate commissions are not real photographers and, for sure, have no idea about what kind of photography YOU want to create – ideally, if possible, rent gear before buying it and buy only if YOU enjoyed using the product and it works as you expected;
- Be aware that while it is safe to buy second hand lenses, it is not so safe to buy a second hand camera…;
- If you need a flash and/or a tripod buy a good quality one: it will last forever; anyways start by using natural light and avoid a tripod if it not strictly necessary – for example if you are into astronomy;
- Buy a low cost printer, just like the Epson Expression Photo XP-55 – forget about fine art papers with such a printer but it is a good one to start with and A4/US Letter size is enough to see the problems you don’t see on the screen;
- Instagram is not a place where to look for photography! Open an account on 1x.com and start following photographers there – you will also find really good images on strkng.com and artlimited.net – all these sites have free plans so you can start finding inspiration and learn by looking at other people work at no cost;
- You are going to need a computer to “develop” and retouch your images: if you don’t have one yet, buy an Apple Mac; subscribe to the photographer plan on adobe.com: you will be able to develop (Lightroom) and retouch (Photoshop) any kind of images you take at an affordable monthly subscription – to be honest, I use different software to develop my images, but it will take a lot of space to describe all the caveats with my choice, and this is not the right place to do it (moreover it cost quite more than the Adobe bundle that you need anyways as you need Photoshop for retouching your images);
- Print your images, print your images, print your images…
Did I say print your images?
There are many other aspects to talk about with someone willing to start a path in photography, but I don’t want to get boring 😉
To find out more about Ugo Grandolini please check out his website or Flickr. You can also purchase his books on Amazon
I have interviewed a wide range of other photographers check out photographers’ interviews.