May 6, 2021
Photography by Jose Manuel Castañeda Castillo
Interview by Melanie Meggs
In the bustling energy of the streets of Mexico City, one man stands out among the hustle and bustle, armed with his camera and an ever-present eye for the beauty of the transience of life. For Jose Manuel Castañeda Castillo, street photography is his passion, and since his chance discovery of this artform two years ago in New York, he has been using it to capture unique perspectives of everyday life, as well as to tell powerful stories of fleeting moments.
Through his photography, Manuel looks to highlight the subtleties of life that often go unnoticed, to showcase the artistry of the mundane and to immortalize those moments that otherwise might have been forgotten. His latest project, ‘Ephemeral’, showcases his signature style of capturing emotion in each photograph. It is a celebration of life’s precious moments, something that has become especially important during a time when we have all had to slow down and look at the world differently.
In this interview, we talk to Manuel about his work, his approach to street photography, his project ‘Ephemeral’ and the unique way he tells stories through his photographs. A journey through the streets of Mexico City with Jose Manuel Castañeda Castillo is a surefire way to be captivated by the beauty of our everyday lives.
“I was born in Mexico City, living in that city for 15 years, now I currently live in San Luis Potosí. I am a fan of black and white street photography, a lover of art in general. My interest in photography arose suddenly and out of curiosity during a vacation in New York in 2018, I was in the Grand Central Terminal and I saw a group of people with cameras, I approached out of curiosity and they asked me if I was in the workshop, which turned out to be about street photography. Clearly I was not in that workshop but they invited me, and I participated with just my cell phone...from that moment on it seemed like a revealing experience, seeing how each of the photographers had such a different way of appreciating and interpreting what was happening in front of them. I liked it so much that I decided to buy my first camera.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSE MANUEL CASTAÑEDA CASTILLO
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Manuel, what do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
JOSE MANUEL CASTAÑEDA CASTILLO: Today, everyone is striving for perfection, which means that the blemish is disappearing, especially on social media, making it even more interesting to show the blemish. Without this, we would end up with a wrong view of ourselves and the world, that everyone is happy and feels good. If people feel something when they see my photos, and maybe reflect on things, then it is worth everything to me.
I always try to isolate the main subject of the entire scene, where the face is not fully visible and so that details such as their clothes or accessories stand out from the rest and remain open to the personal interpretation of whoever sees the photograph. I don't worry about composition, for me it is better to have an interesting subject before any composition rule.
TPL: Tell us more about your series EPHEMERAL.
JMCC: This series EPHEMERAL is about Ignacio Rangel, an enigmatic piano teacher in the region, very dear, I wanted to capture the very meaning of the title of the series, all our lives we are not aware of how fleeting and momentary life is, until we are done...how beautiful and cruel time is, it can give or take away everything in the blink of an eye, from the company, loneliness or emptiness that can be your environment when you no longer have anything, but also It makes you see who really cares about you at all times.
The series had to be improvised, because in reality it would not be anything similar to how it turned out, due to the professor's medical issues and the current pandemic, I could only be at his house for 10 minutes.
I would like the viewer to see these photographs, feel that they are present in that room and think that the person who is in that bed, prostrate, whether happy or sad, might be them tomorrow, and they may become aware of the time they really have.
TPL: Where do you find inspiration? Do you have any favourite artists and photographers? Talk to us about your printing series about your favourite photographers on IGTV.
JMCC: I usually watch many documentaries about iconic photographers of all times, see how their work evolves, how they interact with people, the great travels they undertake to get a photograph, it inspires me ...but ultimately, many of the people I've met relatively recently are friends of mine, they inspire me every day.
My list of favourite photographers is very long, from Graciela Iturbide, Vivian Maier, Isabel Muñoz, Manuel Álvarez, Cartier B, Sebastiao Salgado, Gerda Taro, etc.
My series on IGTV is to make prints of the photographs of my favorite photographers, they are friends of mine who, in addition to my admiration for their work because it is wonderful, have been crucial for my learning. Unfortunately for time reasons I cannot do as many as I would like, but I still have more to be done.
The quarantine gave me the time to learn many things, among them different quite old alternative processes to printing a photograph, which give amazing and special results, because they are unique pieces and no two are alike.
TPL: Do you have a favourite place to go photograph?
JMCC: I don't have a favourite place, but I love big cities, they are a challenge for me, because among so many people who want to be different, finding someone who genuinely stands out is difficult. The small city in which I live has given me many surprises that I did not imagine finding, and they have an important value for me and nowhere else would I have done something similar.
TPL: What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
JMCC: In the USA, photographing "looking like a tourist" is definitely easier, but when you don't look like it, it's complicated and it's something I have to deal with here in Mexico, people get scared, no matter how friendly you seem, they always think of the worst, but I've learned to read the environment and know when it would not be a problem, because I do not like to hide that I am taking a photo.
If people feel something when they see my photos, and maybe reflect on things, then it is worth everything to me.
TPL: When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
JMCC: I only photograph what captures my attention, it can be good or bad, but if it is interesting for me, I take the photo. I do not come up with ideas in particular, but I look for something interesting in a small part of light, I always walk without stopping, trying to capture that fleeting moment, just as life itself is, in that way it is more real for me... I do not stand in a place waiting for something to happen, at least for me, it does not make sense.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
JMCC: Totally, more than the performance of the camera, I feel comfortable and I like it. Fujifilm makes beautiful equipment and the experience you get is fantastic that in my opinion no other brand has. I use a Fujifilm X-T1 with the 35mm f2 lens, so portable and small, you can easily take it anywhere. I also use an analog camera, the Rollei 35, another very beautiful, interesting and peculiar camera to use.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
JMCC: I would like to do exhibitions in at least one city on each continent, I would love to have a printing laboratory for personal use and special orders for those who want unique pieces and dedicate myself to photography completely.
In the next 5 years I see myself making long trips for future projects and keeping my peculiar way of seeing reality.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
JMCC: Yes, I have two photographic projects but I postponed them due to the pandemic, but my current project is to improve and learn alternative techniques to print my own photographs in Gum Oil, Carbon Transfer and Platinum Palladium.
TPL: "When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
JMCC: I actually enjoy the simple things...riding my bike, listening to music and watching a series or movie."