in conversation with: JASPER TEJANO
For Jasper Tejano, street photography started as a result from reaching a plateau in his creative growth in photography. After discovering the works of some Magnum photographers such as the greats Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey and Harry Gruyaert, he was inspired to start seeing the world through a different lens. Jasper uses strong colours, light and emotion across several planes of focus and action to make his subject/s emerge from the frame.
When did you start getting interested in photography?
I started exploring photography when I was in my pre-teens. I used to borrow my mom's Minolta Pocket Autopak 450E and would use it to photograph school and family events. I was always the designated photographer during family events. However, photography took a backseat when I was in high school and college. It was actually my wife, who was then my girlfriend, who rekindled my interest in photography. My first serious camera was a Pentax Auto 110 which I borrowed from her. She was also the one who taught me the fundamentals of photography. When we got our first DSLRs, this was also the time when my wife discovered the joy of travelling. Since then we never stopped photographing our journeys together.
When I got really serious in photography in 2008, I started experimenting on various lenses and researching on settings that can bring out the best in my photos. I started to appreciate the importance of light in creating drama in my images when I attended a workshop on portraiture and creative lighting. However, there was at some point between 2010 and 2011 that I felt that my photography was on a plateau and needed a 'creative jolt'. Most of my photographs were in the category of travel photography – which for me were too manicured, too clean and technical. Nothing wrong with that but I guess I was looking for something else. For a while I explored portraiture, still photography and even fashion photography but none of these were giving me fulfillment. I wanted something different something raw and edgy that somehow defies convention that could bring out my style. It was perfect timing that I started to get interested with the works of Magnum Photographers. The photographs of Henri Cartier Bresson, Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey and Harry Gruyaert blew me away. In 2012, I started seeing the world through a different lens. Street photography has become my genre of choice.
What is your favourite quote that resonates with you the best?
As a street photographer, I am grounded by these quotes from Alex Webb and Robert Doisneau.
“I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner.” – Alex Webb
“The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street " - Robert Doisneau
They both clearly describe the uncertainty of capturing an interesting street photograph and yet they also tease you that there will always be something exciting that you will capture if you are out there on the streets and ready to witness and hopefully document what humanity will reveal to you in a split second.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has mostly influenced your style?
When it comes to learning and appreciating photography, I would go straight to studying the photographic works of my favorite Magnum Photographers. My curiosity would always be about what made photographers like Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey and Harry Gruyaert stay in a particular street or public scene and decide to press the shutter button. What was it that they saw? What was in their minds? What emotion was prevailing during that moment? What personal battles do they need to set aside for them to focus on their work? So many questions to ask. I don’t have their published hard copy books but I do have their photographs indexed in my hard drive and several of their works are in my mobile as my 'quick inspiration recovery tool'.
Since you have begun your street photography journey since 2012, how would you describe the way you shoot now compared to then? And what characteristics make a street photographer?
Before, I interpreted street photography as photojournalism (telling it as it is with objectivity) or documentary photography. In the recent years, my street photography has become really subjective. What matters to me now is how my subject interact with the scene considering light quality, how the colors would compliment my subject, how the other details would strengthen my subject and lastly, what fantasy would my finished frame reveal to me. Though I admire many street photographers who present their work in black and white, color street photography has its way of presenting life with much more realism and dynamism. Especially with my work on silhouettes, the blackness of my subjects will just drown in the different shades of gray. I need color to make my subjects emerge from the frame.
As a street photographer, what will make me go out and hit the streets and capture moments is the thought that there will always be a new opportunity to experience 'magical moments'. You anticipate with excitement what you will be capturing. Sometimes, you will go home with nothing – not even a single image worth keeping; but there will also days that you have an SD card full of beautiful photographs. Having patience and diligence play an important role in your development as a street photographer. The reward of your patience and diligence is joy. Joy in street photography is when out of randomness in making multiple frames in a scene, I was able to capture a meaningful moment that has a story to tell. I know that, that moment will not happen again and I was very fortunate that I was there in the right place at the right time to witness and record that magical moment. Awareness of your surrounding is crucial as you will need to be comfortable in the scene that you are photographing, making sure that you stay focused and be less distracted when doing your studies.
Street photography will always be a reflection of yourself. It reveals who you are, your imagination, your hopes and even your fears. By presenting your work to the world, you are also opening a window for people to see who you really are. Question is, are you ready to reveal yourself to your audience? That window will reveal to everyone that you are either authentic with your vision or a mere copy cat just trying to get 'likes' from photography communities. I learned that to define your vision, you need to build a solid body of work that your audience can say is your signature work. You can only achieve this if you are consistent with your outputs. Being serious about practicing street photography is studying the works of Magnum photographers, going out often and making lots of photographs by exhausting your street scene.
Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
At some point, you need to look for your equipment or gear that will work seamlessly in translating your creative vision. Of course budget is considered highly as I don’t really believe in the idea that expensive gear is the best gear when it comes to bringing to life your photography. Always go for what you can afford based on your budget but this purchase should be backed up by good research of the system and positive consumer and expert reviews. For me, photography is never about the gear and how massively it is endorsed, but about your creative vision and output. It’s all about making the most of whatever camera you are using. Photography is never about how cool or updated your gear is, but about your creative vision and the commitment and dedication that you put in your work to develop that vision. Lastly, it is also about being consistent with your outputs because from these will eventually emerge your style that will define your work and provide identity to your brand of photography.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
When I see an interesting traffic of people and light pockets, I would go on a state of 'creative restlessness' (that’s how I describe it) and before I know it my camera is turned on and ready to shoot almost instinctively. I’d go to urban places where there is a busy flow of people traffic and decent lighting. When I finally found a good spot, I will exhaust that spot until I feel I already have a good photograph.
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
When I was a kid, I did a lot of sketching and painting of animals and sceneries. I was also into playing the acoustic guitar that led me to do performances back in my college years.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on?
I’ll be launching a regular scheduled live broadcast via Facebook Live called Street Talk. This is a program with Street Photography in mind which will feature guest interviews, critique and feedback, portfolio review and insights sharing.
If I wasn't photographing what would I be doing?
I can only think of one wild thing and that is making my own house or trance music and playing it live in front of a packed crowd!