Gloria Salgado Gispert, originally from Barcelona, was awarded two DFA Series Awards for her series Childhood Memories and Life Pieces. She has spent the last 7 years living and photographing in Perth, Australia and recently moved with her family to Nice, France. In the following interview Gloria shares an inspired view of her relationship with photography and the world around her. She talks about her approach to documentary projects, street photography and conceptual photo series.
Molly Menschel: Can you give a little background about who you are and your history with photography?
Gloria Salgado Gispert: I am simply someone that loves to go out and take pictures in this world. Life is too short; this is something I learned at an early age when I lost my father after a long illness. This has influenced my way of seeing life. In photography, you materialize who you are. I just try to enjoy every minute. Those who know me well would say that I am a passionate tiny person.
At the age of seventeen I was given my first camera, it was the same camera my mother had used to document our childhood, she used to photograph our everyday and create family albums that I have looked at hundreds of times. My childhood memories are like photographic frames, everything that I am able to remember starts in a tiny photo.
Without really knowing or thinking about what I was doing, I took photographs of my high school and university years. I started doing the same my mother did, recording my everyday, mainly the people around me, my family, my friends, people I met on my way.
From looking at the different series on your site, you seem like a photographer whose work is deeply inspired by the world around you. This isn’t something that comes easily to everyone. What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
I have been an observer ever since I can remember. When I was a teenager my exhaust valve was to get out, walk and carefully look at everything that happened around me. In my 50’s I still do the same, everything that happens around me inspires me. I must say I’ve never felt uninspired, I am mostly interested in living and capturing life and it’s beauty and that you can find it everywhere.
I am intrigued by your photo series, Recuerdo Infantil, and the portrayal of the school children in your photos. What’s the story behind this series and how did you get access to this story?
I have my family, my job and my photography falls somewhere in between. I don’t normally plan my photography projects ahead of time, they come with the flow, which is what happened with the series “Recuerdo Infantil”. My two daughters participated in a short movie and I volunteered to photograph behind the scenes. Soon enough I realized the incredible opportunity I had in front of me to photograph children in one of their most natural environments, the school playgrounds.
For me the tone of this work is the dynamic between the kids, I want to be in there, engaged and witnessing on their level. The work is not as strong or interesting if we remain in the position of adults looking down into the world of kids, and that’s most probably what I would have gotten if I had been commissioned.
On your website you share your Recuerdo Infantil series paired with a poem by Antonio Machado. What’s the relationship between your photos and this poem?
I remember going through my archive some years later and being very surprised when I realized some of the pictures felt like tableau paintings in the way they are arranged; timeless scenes like the ones Antonio Machado’s poem projects inside me. It brings the nostalgia of childhood and at the same time powerful symbols of a circular time, stagnant, without progression.
I would be lying if I said that the poem was an inspiration while shooting, I am afraid I am not that intellectual, but those scenes brought up my school years again which Antonio Machado was a little part of.
When you’re shooting a documentary story such as Recuerdo Infantil, what kinds of emotions, moods or moments do you find yourself gravitating towards? Do you find that the way you tell a story is influenced by the parts of the story that you are personally drawn to?
I am drawn to showing the beauty in our ordinary every day and that’s something directly related to the way I am. I am a positive person by nature. I look for gesture and emotion, for those illuminating moments, because photography lets you look around and see others in a better light.
When I see a bit of myself in my pictures, when my memories arise somehow, I certainly know I have a potentially good project, because it is personal, it is something only I can express and it is going to be unique and different but at the same time universal. When I was in front of those kids I felt as if I was one of them and part of their everyday, sharing their little moments.
In your series, “It had to be that way,” you write: “Street photography came naturally, it had to be that way. The process of photography is so beautiful, it makes you see things in such a different way, that pictures present themselves to you wherever you are.” The idea of seeing the world around us in a new way is a part of every photographer’s experience, but I still think a lot of photographers struggle with the idea of “pictures presenting themselves” where-ever they are. Can you give advice for someone who doesn’t naturally have this experience?
Photography makes you see things in a different way because you are always connected to the world, to everything that happens around you, it can be the light, a simple gesture, an emotion. I guess it has something to do with the way you are. I am an optimist who smiles when the most ordinary scenes happen in front of me, I always find them extraordinary. A passion for living, an appreciation for beauty, this is it, the magic formula.
When did you start shooting street photography? Did you have to overcome any sort of fear or apprehension in regards to photographing strangers on the street?
I don’t know when I started but I certainly remember when it became an obsession, five to six years ago. Whenever I have a minute out of work and with no family commitments I get out and walk the streets. I want to show life, and life is people, and the people you find out there. I am also a firm believer that the key is, to just do it. If I want to show life, I have to walk the streets and learn to be a good photographer, because I love the process more than the outcomes I may get.
In the streets you have to let go of guilt and be adventurous, but always with profound respect towards others. If you photograph with fear, you will end up being noticed. It is a learning process, you have to spend a lot of time walking the streets to find the way you feel comfortable and take pictures in a natural way that makes you invisible. I love it, it makes me very happy and people around me can tell. “Did you just take my picture?” “Yes! I took a picture of a very beautiful scene and you happen to be in it, want to see?”
There is a sense of artistry in your street photography, particularly your black and white street photos. Is this artistry an inherent part of the way you see the world? How does a person develop this over time?
Photography is indeed an art form and I always try to show the beauty within reality; to make ordinary things look extraordinary. I have my own magical way to see the world around me, and through my photography I try to transfer this vision through a two-dimensional image. To become a good photographer, you need to find your pure vision and your own magical way to tell stories. This is what I am constantly looking for.
I’m curious how much of your photography is conceptualized beforehand, and how much is a natural response to what you see happening in front of you? When you set out to photograph in the street, do you set out with anything particular in mind?
Not really. Life in the streets happens everywhere. I go out with an open mind and allow things to happen around me. Maybe the only thing that will make me go left instead of right is a particular light. I will always try to move towards the good light.
I would say most of my photography is a natural response to what I see happening in front of me.
Are there times where you know you have captured something special the moment you clicked the shutter? And do you ever feel connected to certain photographs before you take them?
In my case, it does not really work like that. I am normally more connected to the scene in front of me than to the actual photographs I may take. When I am really connected, when I am really enjoying it, then I become a part of the scene and can take all the photographs I want. It is like I am not an observer anymore.
I am someone used to seeing the world through the viewfinder, and I certainly remember every single time I have captured something special. Although I normally remember more about the moment than the pictures I may have taken.
But of course, there is a special picture in my mind. It happened in Ampangorina village in Madagascar where I was working in the field for a couple of very intense weeks. Every afternoon I would jump out of our boat and run for my camera before the sunset. “Salut la journaliste!” you would hear the kids say. One afternoon I stopped in front of the village laundry area. Three girls were refreshing themselves in the fountain. I got close, enjoyed the scene for a while and took the picture. It was a very special moment for me.
There’s a real sense of affection that I feel for your subjects in your series, “Summer Down Under.” You could easily poke fun at people in their swimming suits on the beach but instead you photograph them with kindness and a sense of dignity. Do you find that how you feel about your subjects directly influences the way you portray them?
Poking fun at people in their swimming suits would be the easy side, the catchy Instagram picture that would get lots of likes. This is not what I am looking for. I look for beautiful people going about their daily lives and I do it for the love of it, always trying to be kind and open. If I ever had an issue, it’s been my mistake, it means I’ve done something wrong and I work on it.
I feel everyone out there deserves to be photographed, everyone out there is part of the moment I am living, part of the scene I see in front of me. People are what make me want to be there, I want to photograph how beautiful and fantastic they are and I will always try to do it with respect and show the opposite of the gloomy side of the scene, show the human tenderness.
I think my photographs are both a reflection of who I am and the world around me. I photograph the world around me, the way I see it. I photograph what is familiar to me and try to make it beautiful, fresh and different to others.
Your series “Life Pieces” won third place in the DFA series category and a Judge’s Choice award. Can you talk about this series? A lot of parents photograph their own children, many without much direction. How have you been able to find direction within the photography of your daughters? Does having a theme in mind influence the way you shoot them?
From my experience, being creative with your own life is what makes you a better photographer. At home, you have your own studio where you can play with light to make photos three-dimensional and experiment at the same time to make design and composition become primary subjects within the frame. It all started for me as a way to play and experiment with all these ingredients and of course, my two daughters being the most important characters in the story.
While in front of the lens the girls were performing their lives and I was showing elements of their relationship and highlighting the bond between them. The two girls living together but each of them having their own girlish world. Having a theme in mind, the two rooms, certainly influenced the way I was shooting them but at some point, it became a limitation.
By having so many images with the same concept, the separation of the frame into two halves, I was underlining more of their differences rather than their co-existence. Somehow, I felt bound by a necessity to include both of them in the same frame. It was at this point of the project when I decided to write a well-developed statement about my inspiration and intention for these pictures. This helped a lot to move forward.
Documentary photography nowadays doesn’t need to be precise or too informative. What counts the most is the personal filter. From the beginning I wanted the viewer to be an outsider looking in and the lights, darks, and rich tonality made them look real, three dimensional and served to elicit emotional responses. I wanted to create an emotionally powerful group of images that were also powerful as stand-alone photos.
Your series Childhood Memories, which won first place in the DFA’s series category, is such a visceral portrayal of childhood. Can you tell us about this series?
Childhood Memories is my most personal project and also my favorite and the project statement itself is the most personal essay I have ever written:
For the first few years after my dad’s passing, it was really hard to talk about him and even harder to recall memories. Because with the memories came the obvious grasp that my dad is gone, that my family’s best years had gone.
But as the years went by, remembering and recounting tidbits from my childhood started doing the opposite: they started bringing me a sense of peace. I found myself going again and again through my childhood photo albums and somehow, my childhood memories became frames.
As a mother, I have been going through those memory frames again and again, thanks to my children. They brought my childhood again, my memory frames and somehow made me realize that I continue to have a deep connection with that part of myself that so many adults grow out of.
But my memories remain somehow mysterious, I cannot see faces, but mainly cheerful moments, the wonderful, playful, romantic, free spirited world of children, of childhood really.
When did you have the idea for this project to be a series of triptychs? Were these photos that you found and puttogether, or was there a certain point where you started shooting for this series?
I spent years taking those pictures and you probably will not believe me, but the truth is that I produced the whole series in an afternoon when something “clicked” inside my brain and I finally understood why I was taking them. Those were my memory frames and it all made sense the moment it crossed my mind to combine them in the form of triptychs. The first draft was the final series, never changed anything and from that day on I stopped taking that kind of picture.
What is the process for you in general, when working on a project? What has been your experience with how a project or series unfolds?
If I have a story to tell, I will always prefer to work for a series of pictures and this is a project that requires a lot of reading, discipline and routine. A project for me unfolds slowly and in a natural way. If you try to speed the process or influence the process, it will not work.
There is a great quote by Jacqueline Woodson, “The more specific we are, the more universal something can become. Life is in the details. If you generalize, it doesn’t resonate. The specificity of it is what resonates”. I try to keep this in mind when starting a new project.
Both of your winning series include photos on your website that you weren’t able to include in your submission to the DFAs because of the 8 photo limit. Do you have any advice for photographers who are trying to narrow down a series to submit for an award?
The most important aspect of a series is the cohesiveness. There has to be a strong cohesiveness among the pictures both thematically and aesthetically. At the same time, each picture has to be completely different and offer something fresh and important to the overall content.
When working on a project, this is what I am trying to get and, in my experience, you can build a cohesive group of images in several years or in an afternoon, the process being the same.
As someone who won two series awards, what advice would you give to photographers who are thinking about submitting a series for the first time?
Only personal and sincere works can resist time and win a more permanent acceptance. And only a consistent photographer leaves its mark. Stay faithful to your concerns and beliefs, show your personal view on reality and never follow trends and likes, because the
most important feature of your work is its personal character, it increases its authenticity.
Go for portfolio reviews and show your work to others, because the best thing a reviewer can do is to inspire a thought or reaction in you that feels relevant and helps you see the photographs in a new and constructive way.
But don’t rush a project, things take time.
Do you have a favorite photo that you’ve taken?
I know this may sound strange, but I do not have a favorite photo taken by me. In my case it would make more sense to ask, what is your favorite scene to photograph and why. And my answer would be, I love to photograph those scenes when you can see the unposed; what I watch for are the unnoticeable moments. Backstage versus on stage is the best example that comes to my mind.
Can you articulate for us what purpose photography serves in your life?
I recently read a very beautiful photography book by Julian Germain that starts with the following quote “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness”. I think that my photographs reflect exactly that; there is always happiness that comes from living and understanding life.