Gustavo Minas is a brazilian streetphotographer born in 1981.
I had an interview with him about some of his projects, what he feels defines streetphotography as a genre, the role photography plays in Brasil and much more…
How did you start photographing? What are the major turning points in this sector for you?
I’ve been taking photos since 98, when I was in high school and photographed our teenager parties and barbecues, my girlfriend, etc. Then I learned technics and darkroom during university, in 2001. But it wasn’t before 2007 that I started getting serious about it. I was working very long hours as a writer in a newspaper in São Paulo, including weekends, and this was killing me. I felt the urge to do something just to please myself, to give my life a bigger sense of adventure, so I bought a digital camera and started exploring the city.
In 2009, I enrolled in a year-long course with Carlos Moreira, a classic master of Brazilian photography, and he changed my life by talking of photography as a way of self-expression and as a way of getting to know yourself and the world at the same time. I got in contact with the work of colorists such as Harry Gruyaert, Alex Webb and Gueorgui Pinkhassov, and through the way they used light and color, they kind of changed the way I see the world.
What is the state of photography in Brasil, your country? What are the aesthetic features that come to your mind thinking of your homeland?
It’s very hard to define “photography” in a country like Brazil, which is actually a continent. What kind of photography are we talking about? The one which is getting more attention (from galleries, grants, and awards), is very close to conceptual photography – where the photographer goes after images to illustrate an idea. Then we have many photographers who are very into a documentarian tradition, which is very strong in Brazil since the 60s. And we have many people pursuing personal projects as well, doing it with feeling, that’s what interests me the most. And of course, we have quite a lot of street photographers too, which is nice too.
What is your definition of street photography? What are the elements that most intrigue you of it?
For me, street photography is about wandering through cities with a mind as empty as possible, trying to capture what calls my attention in a visually pleasing way.
What intrigues me most and keeps me going is the fact that I never know what I’ll find when I get out of my house, and also the fact that if I leave 15 seconds earlier or later, of if I turn this corner instead of that, I’ll come out with totally different images. But at the end of the day, images don’t matter so much – it’s more (or it should be more) about the experiences and situations you face because you decided to go out to photograph your surroundings.
São Paulo is where you made two series out of (São Paulo e Rodoviària). What is it about this city that intrigues the most? How would you describe it to someone who has never been there?
Ops, sorry, the Bus Station series is actually made in Brasília, where I’ve been living since August 2014 (I lived in São Paulo from 2007 to 2014).They’re very different cities. Brasilia is much more relaxed and can be very contemplative, there’s a lot of empty spaces, which can be very boring to photograph. You have to look much further for a street scene, and you can walk for hours on empty sidewalks. At the same time, this makes it much more relaxing. Also, it has a fantastic light during winters. They’re very dry, and we hardly see a cloud in the sky for 3 or 4 months. Summers are humid though.
São Paulo is a multicultural and multilayered city, the scenarios can change a lot from one neighborhood to another. I could walk through the city all day and still wouldn’t see enough. It has a lot of busy areas, with many different people, and always something going on. On the other hand, it can be a very stressful city, it can take hours to go from one region to another.
“O parto” (The Childbirth) is a very interesting photo series…where did the idea come from? What do you want to deliver with your images on the subject? What did you discover about the matter thanks to photography?
Like all my other series, this one came out “organically”. Besides photographing in public spaces, I’m always registering my personal life and people close to me as well. So I was photographing my girlfriend Priscila a lot during her pregnancy – which was unexpected for us, and some moments were a bit tense. The birth of Violeta was very long, it lasted roughly 20 hours, so in the moments I couldn’t help any other way, I took pictures for us. Priscila always enjoyed watching films and seeing photos of other women giving birth during her pregnancy, it gave her courage. Despite having the labor at home, we had the help of a doula and a pediatrician, so it wasn’t like I was leaving her helpless. I didn’t want to make a statement about childbirth at home, I was just registering our family, but of course, these pictures are totally open for multiple interpretations. The whole process just confirmed the role of photography in my life – a companion for every hour, easy or hard, and a way of registering my existence and a tool for trying to understand the world around me.
“Frente fria em Havana” (Cold Front in Havana) is about the Cuban capital. What has the journey left to you? What aspects is the photo series about?
I went there in January 2018 expecting the sunny days we usually see in Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey’s work, but there was a cold front coming from the US, and this changed the whole scenario. I hadn’t taken winter clothes on me, so I just spent a lot of time inside bars, smoking cigars, drinking rum. talking to locals and photographing some people after having a conversation, which I generally don’t do. In the beginning, I felt frustrated because of the lack of sunlight, but hopefully, I managed to take advantage of this adverse situation by trying a new approach. The images came out much more melancholic than I’d expected, maybe revealing something about them and about me as someone traveling alone too. It’s all about my short experience there. I definitely want to return soon.
How has this pandemic affected your photography? What have you developed in this period?
Of course, it affected it in many ways. The most obvious one, being unable to travel, I’ve been photographing only in Brasilia (except for 2 short trips), and my city is very limited to street photography, so I felt my production somehow stagnant. There’s a lot of tension on the streets these days, and everyone is even more suspicious of someone with a camera here. And of course, you can’t see people’s faces now, so all the expressions have to be captured through their eyes, which can be very tricky. Also, I have a day job, and I’ve been working from home since last March, most of the time with my wife and daughter, so during this time I increased my production of family photos too. I’ve been documenting the daily life of Brasilia during the pandemic, but as usual, I haven’t done so with a specific idea in mind…I just walk around and photograph what catches my attention.
A photographer you want to give a shout out to? Why?
It would be impossible to mention just one name, so instead of it, I’ll recommend readers to check my recent posts on here. I’ve been showcasing and making short comments about some Brazilian photographers there lately (from June 11 to June 22nd, at least).
An artist that has influenced a lot? In what way?
Carlos Moreira. He taught me to photograph for my own satisfaction and to use photography as a way of self-expression, a way to get to know the world and myself. And he would always talk about how photography is fiction and creation above all. Besides this, he taught me a lot about composition, light, color, everything I needed to know as I was starting to study photography as a language.
Next and upcoming projects?
No idea, I just hope this ends soon so we can travel again.
There’s some exciting news though: my Bus Station series will be exhibited in Brazil’s pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale, starting in May. But I probably won’t be able to see it.
Credits: Gustavo Minas