August 16, 2023
WALKING BUENOS AIRES
Photography by Alex Gottfried Bonder
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Buenos Aires is a vibrant city known for its unique culture and colorful nightlife, and is home to street photographer, Alex Gottfried Bonder. Since his arrival in 1994, Alex has explored the urban landscape of Buenos Aires through his work, capturing moments in time that are both mundane and extraordinary. His love of street photography is driven by his curiosity and creativity; it encourages him to wander through neighborhoods that are often overlooked to discover the hidden beauty of this dynamic city.
Alex’s portfolio is expansive, including participation in various exhibitions, and even a book, “Caminando Buenos Aires”, published in 2018. As an artist, he is uniquely drawn to irony and the absurd, and his photographs reflect this aesthetic. Alex has drawn inspiration from many figures in the field, but particularly admires Elliot Erwitt for his ability to capture a moment with such humor and poignancy.
This interview will take a deep dive into the journey of Alex Gottfried Bonder - an artist who has spent many years uncovering the soul of Buenos Aires through street photography. Join us as we explore Alex’s creative process, inspirations, and the unique perspective he has on this historic city.
“I am convinced that the pillars of my street photography are curiosity, the capacity for observation and creativity. If any of these elements were missing, it would be very difficult to obtain satisfactory results.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH ALEX GOTTFRIED BONDER
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Alex, welcome to The Pictorial List. Let us begin by telling us about yourself.
ALEX GOTTFRIED BONDER: I was born in 1962 in Santiago de Chile. For family reasons, in 1977 I left for Israel. Since I was 15 years old, I was greatly attracted to art, so at 17 I left school and went to study fine arts at an institute in the city of Tel Aviv. I remember that I was the only minor, since due to the compulsory nature of military service, all the other students could only start studying once they had finished.
In 1981, I left for Italy, also with the hope of studying fine arts. And for the next two years I studied at the “Accademia di Belle Arti de Carrara”, doing a little bit of everything, painting, drawing and sculpture.
And while I did take some photos, photography was not a priority for me at the time. 1983 it was my turn to go to Switzerland, where among other things I had the opportunity to learn Vitraux techniques and also begin my experience with black and white and laboratory photography.
During 1994, I moved to Buenos Aires. Although at first, I thought of dedicating myself to tourism services, things turned out differently, and shortly after I started working as a photographer at the Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Buenos Aires, doing what is called “dental photography”, and for the next 23 years I dedicated myself almost exclusively to that type of photography.
My beginnings with street photography occurred in 2013, when I was able to buy my first compact camera, with an interchangeable lens. It was the only way to overcome the fear of going out on the streets of the city, with a camera in hand without fear of being a victim of insecurity, or of risking too valuable equipment, since it gave me the chance to put it away almost immediately, in my jacket pocket.
Currently I dedicate myself almost exclusively to teaching photography courses and workshops.
TPL: What would you say first drew you to photography? What is it about this medium that you still have a passion for today? How did street photography find you or how did you find street photography?
AGB: I remember that from a very young age, I felt a great attraction to cameras and the magic they produced. Added to that, I always felt a need to develop creative activities, both drawing and painting, sculpture, printing, stained glass, and I even made Super 8 films. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I was only able to start practicing photography seriously as an adult.
I think that street photography attracts me and helps me in particular because it allows me, on the one hand, to satisfy that curiosity that I have to discover new places, observe people in their surroundings, feel those aromas that are so varied depending on what part of the planet you come from, perceiving colors, etc., and on the other hand, being able to generate something creative with everything I see.
TPL: Could you tell us what living in Buenos Aires has inspired in your work? What special qualities unique to this city influence your street and the way you portray your community?
AGB: Buenos Aires is a fascinating city, like most big cities. There is not much to add. Each city has its own idiosyncrasies, and Buenos Aires is no exception.
But once again, what moves me the most is the need to get to know every corner of the city, and of course I take pictures along the way. On the other hand, I always like to repeat that Buenos Aires is the Argentine capital of the “absurd”, since we constantly find ourselves facing situations that would surely be impossible to explain, with words, to someone from another place.
At first I try not to take documentary-type photographs, but rather to think that I can invent from what I call “the elements available to the photographer” which is everything I see, starting with people, buildings, advertisements, graffiti, lights and shadows etc.
That is why I say that creativity is essential for my type of photography.
TPL: Where do you find your inspiration to keep photographing?
AGB: I don't know if the correct word is “inspiration”. But what moves me is surely the expectation of ever, one day getting that unique, unrepeatable photo, better than any of the photos I've taken so far.
TPL: There are two techniques that are colloquially referred to as ‘hunting’ and ‘fishing’ in street photography. When you are out on the street taking pictures, are you a ‘hunter’ or a ‘fisher’, or is it a combination of both? Please describe your process.
AGB: I believe that I can be both a ‘hunter’ and a ‘fisher’, and this is clearly seen in the photos that I shared with you.
The most spontaneous or candid photos are the product of a more ‘hunter’ attitude, always with the camera in hand, attentive, observing from all sides what is happening and predicting what may happen. Waiting for that ‘something’ that can happen at any moment unexpectedly. On the other hand, when I see something striking, such as a mural, graffiti, architecture, a shadow, or anything else that my imagination turns into an image, I become a ‘fisher’ waiting for someone to pass so that I can eventually finalize the ‘construction site’. There are photos like the one of the dentist with the tweezers, which has taken me several days to achieve the imagined result, since it doesn't just happen by being in the place, having the camera in hand and taking the photo.
And here let me emphasize that in my humble opinion, at least in my case, both one mode and the other require a large dose of luck to accompany me, since, without it, surely I would not be able to take photos, so to speak.
Then there is also the geographical factor. There are parts of the city, such as the financial sector, in which, having a high population density, it is easier to assume the ‘hunter’ mode. It's like fishing in a troubled river...
On the other hand, on a Sunday morning, on a less-crowded avenue, it is surely more feasible to have a ‘fisherman’ attitude since we will have more time available to imagine and mentally assemble possible photos.
Personally I think that the ‘hunter’ type photos tend to be more original and unrepeatable, while the ‘fisher’ type are usually more creative but not so unrepeatable.
It is for this reason that I do not show several of my photos until a few years have passed, when it is totally impossible to take a similar shot.
TPL: What is the most rewarding part of being a street photographer for you? What are some of the challenges that you have faced?
AGB: I think the most satisfying thing that can happen to me as a photographer is to see my photos framed on a gallery wall, appreciated by viewers. See the smile on their faces as they look at my photos.
When it comes to challenges, there always are. Daily. It may be gathering enough courage to go and discover marginal neighborhoods, considered unsafe, or having lost the fear, or rather the shame of asking permission to take a close-up portrait of strangers.
A daily challenge, and enormous, is to try not to repeat photographs already taken a thousand times, not to turn my photography into a kind of craft. Look for originality.
The construction of an image does not only involve the person or people who are in the frame, but also the environment that accompanies it.
TPL: Is it impossible for you not to be constantly on the lookout for a moment to be captured?
AGB: From the moment I leave my house I become a 360° camera. 😉 The question is how long one can be 100% focused on street photography.
TPL: Where would you say your curiosity for people comes from?
AGB: Some people are naturally curious and some are not. I am curious. And that includes curiosity about the behavior of people, in the environment in which they are. But again, the construction of an image does not only involve the person or people who are in the frame, but also the environment that accompanies it.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance? If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day..., who would you choose? And why?
AGB: Yes of course. First I would put Elliott Erwitt. His unique gaze has always fascinated me. His sense of irony is incredible. Then, there is something in Sergio Larraín's work that I also like a lot. And I cannot fail to mention André Kertész, Josef Koudelka, etc. But normally I try to refrain from making this type of list, since it is impossible to name all those who in one way or another deserve to be named.
AGB: Well, if the question is about photographers from the past, surely Elliot Erwitt. But I would also have liked to be able to share with Richard Sandler a tour of the New York subways in the 80's.
TPL: What was the first camera you ever held in your hand, brought to eye, and released a shutter on? What is the camera you use now and your preferred focal length? Is there anything on your wishlist?
AGB: 1980…I bought my first camera. An Olympus OM10. I currently use the micro four thirds format with a 35mm (equivalent) lens.
With respect to wanting to buy something more modern or different, the truth is that I am already at that stage in which I realize that no new camera is going to improve my photographs in any way. My limitations are in myself, they are not technological (I read it somewhere...).
TPL: Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about? What are some of your photography goals for the next 3-5 years?
AGB: If it can be defined as a project, it could mention being able to have (remarkable) street photos taken in each of the 48 neighborhoods of the city.
Another project that I am slowly starting to work on is the publication of my second book on street photography in Buenos Aires.
TPL: “When I am not out photographing, I (like to) ...
AGB: When I'm not taking photos in the streets...I'm deleting most of the photos I took…haha...but I like movies and rock music.”
Thank you very much TPL for the opportunity to exhibit my work.
Alex Gottfried Bonder has been capturing the life and soul of Buenos Aires for many years. His work is an interesting mix of the mundane and extraordinary. Through his curiosity and creativity, Alex has created an expansive portfolio of images showing the hidden beauty of his city. Street photography has been a great source of inspiration for Alex, and he enjoys uncovering the truths of Buenos Aires through his lens. To learn more about Alex and his work, we invite you to reach out to him and view more of his portfolio through the links below.