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April 26, 2024


Photography by Rafa Rojas
Interview by Melanie Meggs

Rafa Rojas, a photographer based in São Paulo, Brazil, has captured the essence of the city through his vibrant and colorful images. He is the co-creator and editor of the Brazilian magazine “Imagem Vertigem” and the curator of a small publisher known as “Selo Vertigem.” His work has been featured in numerous publications and exhibitions, showcasing his unique perspective on street photography.

Rafa’s interest in photography began during his second year of college, but financial constraints prevented him from buying a camera until the rise of smartphones. A few years later, he purchased his first camera and started pursuing photography daily, exploring the streets of São Paulo, drawn to the city’s sheer size and diversity, making street photography a natural fit for him.

From initially being intrigued by the streets of São Paulo, Rafa has evolved into a skilled photographer, driven by his passion for capturing the constantly changing city. Despite the challenges that come with living in such a large and bustling city, Rafa has found a way to highlight the beauty and culture that exists within São Paulo.

Rafa’s photography project was inspired by a single photo that captured a pop of color amid the city’s greyness. This led him to seek out similar scenes and eventually transformed into a series. The main focus of his work remains the vibrant colors that bring life to the city, no matter where they are found.

In this interview, we delve into Rafa’s journey as a photographer, his love for street photography, and how he has successfully captured the colors of São Paulo through his lens.

“There is a very active street photography scene in Brazil, especially in São Paulo. São Paulo is a city with great cultural diversity, as well as social contrasts, which makes it very rich for photographers.”


THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hello Rafa…welcome to The Pictorial List! Let's start by telling us about yourself.

RAFA: I live in São Paulo, but was born in a city called Santo André, located in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. I'm 35 years old, a photographer and editor.

TPL: What would you say first drew you to photography? Explain the importance of photography in helping develop your narrative in your visual stories. How big a role does ‘color’ play in your work.

RAFA: Since I was a kid, I've always been fascinated by cameras, and I've always been very attracted to art in any form. When I was a young, I loved to draw, but I don't think I'm talented enough in this kind of art, so I think photography was the way I found to express myself artistically.

When I started street photography, I mainly shot in black and white, but I never had a preference for using color or black and white. Actually, the choice of color or monochrome depends a lot on the work, place or type of photography I'm doing.

But for this series, the colors were what allowed me to create a different vision of my city. Which has always been called the 'Grey City' (Cidade Cinza).

TPL: What is your takeaway from the work you do? How have you grown as an artist, visually and intellectually?

RAFA: I believe that the search for knowledge, coming from any kind of art, can help my photography grow, even if it comes from subjects or themes that may not be my favorites. And it certainly helps me to grow artistically and personally year after year.

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.

RAFA: I honestly don't have a single process. Every day I shoot on the street is a different experience, and consequently a different process.

Some days I go out with the aim of photographing a particular subject, some days I'm out with my camera and I just take a shot of something I found interesting that day, which may have nothing to do with a series I'm already working on.

TPL: What is the most rewarding part of being a street photographer for you? What are some of the challenges that you have faced?

RAFA: The possibility of capturing small details and people that often go unnoticed by most people. The lack of security is one of the difficulties of photographing in Sao Paulo. The city has changed a lot since the pandemic, some areas have become almost impossible to photograph unless you are in a large group of photographers.

TPL: Is it impossible for you not to be constantly on the lookout for a moment to be captured?

RAFA: I guess for any street photographer.

Even in situations where my goal isn't to photograph, it's inevitable to watch the world around me and eventually find an interesting image.

Photography was the way I found to express myself artistically.

TPL: How do you manage a work/photography balance?

RAFA: You need to have a balance in everything in life and not let go of the things you like to do. No matter how messy my routine gets, I never stop going out to do street photography.

TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?

RAFA: Wes Anderson's cinematography is a big influence on my work. Edward Hopper's work is also a great source of inspiration.

TPL: If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why?

RAFA: That's a tough one. I don't know if I could choose just one.

I could put together a team with William Eggleston, Vivian Maier and Fred Herzog.

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?

RAFA: Probably an old Olympus Trip 35 that belonged to my father.

For street photography, I shoot with an old Nikon D3400 with a 35mm lens, sometimes an 85mm.

I'm interested in a more compact camera, but cameras are extremely expensive in Brazil, and that's a big issue here too.

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?

RAFA: I've just had an exhibition of my series "Colors of São Paulo" at the MIS - Museum of Image and Sound, which was a fantastic experience. I have plans to release a book with this series in the next year or two.

Apart from that, I continue to work as an editor at Selo Vertigem, and this year we'll be publishing the 3rd edition of the magazine “Imagem-Vertigem”, two books and a few photo zines, all showing the work of different artists, and a little of mine too.

TPL: When you're not creating your visual stories, what do you do for leisure?

RAFA: Movies and music are a big part of my life.

What began as a fascination with his surroundings blossomed into a lifelong commitment to capturing São Paulo's essence. Armed with his first camera, Rafa Rojas embarked on a quest to uncover the city's hidden gems, guided by an unwavering desire to showcase its beauty and culture.

In Rafa's images, we witness the convergence of passion and purpose, a visual ode to the city he calls home. His photography transcends mere visuals, serving as a mirror reflecting São Paulo's spirit—resilient, colorful, and infinitely captivating.

As we bid farewell to this narrative journey through Rafa Rojas' lens, we are reminded of the power of art to illuminate the ordinary and celebrate the extraordinary. Through his vibrant and colorful images, Rafa invites us to see São Paulo anew, through the eyes of a passionate photographer who has captured its essence with unwavering devotion and boundless creativity.

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