Photography by Rpnunyez
Interview by Melanie Meggs
IN CONVERSATION WITH RPNUNYEZ
Rpnunyez is a Spanish documentary photographer who does not photograph what he sees but what he is. He never thinks of his photographs as art objects or consumer items, and as he states, they have nothing to do with ephemerality either. Rpnunyez thinks of them as tools at the service of a simple idea so masterfully summarised by American photographer, Wayne Miller's words - “the universal truths of being human”. Rpnunyez firmly believes that, “the value of a photograph is shared, at least in equal parts, between the photographer and his models, who tolerate and accept his presence, who endure on many occasions his intrusion and insolence, and who in the end, are converted into paper and unaware of the passage of time, allow themselves to be observed, returning to us. like mirrors, some unknown part of ourselves.”
In a certain sense, the photographer's job is none other than to compose stories where the central character and various visual clues to weave a tapestry of sensations, of emotions, that give voice to that story. However, according to Rpnunyez, on many occasions, this can turn against us, forcing a subtle and unconscious prejudice about what we contemplate. The purpose of this series of portraits by Rpnunyez is precisely that: the decontextualization, the elimination, as far as possible, of those clues, including deliberately concise titles, that paradoxically take us away from the true essence of the model. A decontextualization that initially throws us into uncertainty...where? when? how?...but that finally pushes us to focus on the essence of the human being in front of us.
“We tend to focus on the where and the how, and perhaps we should focus our attention on the who? Certainly, we share neither country nor language nor religion, but the blood that flows through our veins has the same red colour and perhaps that should be enough.”
Hello Rpnunyez, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in a small town in Zamora, Spain where I grew up until I completed my higher education at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. My working life has been spent in equal parts as an engineer and technology teacher in high school. Nowadays, retired, I dedicate myself completely to photography.
When did you first consider yourself a photographer? How did you get your start?
My first great trip was to Senegal, it was a dream I had in my mind for many years that I thought would be impossible to
realise but that in the end happened. That trip has been a turning point in my life for several reasons.
The first reason is that it was the first trip of many other trips to Africa, I always say that when you travel to Africa you are marked for life. Everything happens as if you made a trip in time and at the same time a journey towards your interior.
The second reason why this trip was so important to me is that I discovered my passion for photography during the trip, a passion to which I now dedicate most of my free time.
How much does documentary photography in particular play a role in your overall photography experience? What is it that you love about it?
Documentary photography is essential to me because when I met (for the first time in my life) cultures and people so different from what I had known until then, I began to believe that contrary to what one normally tends to believe, there are many more things that make us similar than things that make us different.
I believe that emphasising this last idea is necessary and even essential. The opposite idea, that’s normally accepted by western societies, is based precisely on overestimating differences between countries, differences between cultures, differences between religions, and differences between economic statuses which separates, confronts and generates the pain and suffering in the world.
Travelling, as a Spanish philosopher once said, is the best vaccine against intolerance. Travelling expands your geographical horizons and as a consequence inevitably enlarges your mental and personal horizons. Traveling allows me to better understand human beings, both the good and the bad, and I try to transmit that understanding in my photographic projects.
Introduce your series "Red Blood" to us. When and how did this project first manifest for you? What is the full story behind the project? What was the inspiration?
Red Blood was basically provoked by the two years of pandemic during which it was impossible to consider a documentary photographic project due to the restrictions. It responds to the vital need to remain immersed in my own photographic world, but seen now from the perspective of a completed project I realize that it is a true statement of how I understand the world and how I try to express that vision.
If there is one constant in the life of a photographer, it is the thousands and thousands of encounters, some of them fleeting, whose permanence in the memory is based on the photograph taken, and others accompanied by long conversations or true stories lived in common. Be that as it may, when someone enters the frame, when you manage to catch that split second by mocking time itself, what has just happened there, inevitably becomes part of yourself. That and no other is the human dimension of my way of feeling photography and that is the meaning of my relationship with the people portrayed. Maybe we don't share a way of life, religion or country, but, no matter how much time has passed, they all accompany me wherever I am and, even though they are blurred by the passage of time, they populate my memories. Almost without realising it, they have ceased to be "the others"; they are something like my extended family. We tend to focus on the where and the how, and perhaps we should focus our attention on the who? Certainly, we share neither country nor language nor religion, but the blood that flows through our veins has the same red colour and perhaps that should be enough.
Talk to us about your method and experimentation before the final images in your "Red Blood" project. Did you know how you wanted the project to look? How long did each image take to create?
Red Blood, like all my previous projects, only started its path when its idea and concept are perfectly defined. I never undertake a project without a meticulous previous planning even though I am aware that this planning can become, as in fact it does, obsolete because the project itself comes to life and leads you, sometimes, to unsuspected paths.
I couldn't say the time for each image, but for the overall project I spent about a year and a half.
How does "Red Blood" differ from your previous projects? Is this the type of visual storytelling something you would like to pursue again in future projects?
I would say that Red Blood is effectively more of a photo essay than a documentary photography project. And it is the only one that isn't in black and white. It has been the only time that I have not considered color as a kind of mask that prevents me from seeing the true reality of things.
Beyond the scientific theories about color and how we perceive it, but without disdaining them, when I photograph I imagine the world dressed in an infinity of layers of colors. I imagine it hidden under those layers - that immense palette of chromatic colors - which distract my brain and hide from me the elusive essence of things. An essence that I am only able to apprehend when I remove them, letting the forms, in their full nakedness of grays, show themselves in all their splendour.
In this case I considered that the color red, symbol of blood, would visually convey the essence of the project in an effective way.
Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
From Ansel Adams, I learned the secrets of analog photography and despite all the technology that surrounds us I still think of his zone system when I shoot and I maintain the firm decision to use the current software as if I were in my old analog lab ignoring the immense amount of new digital tools.
From Wayne Miller, I am captivated by the confessed humanistic dimension of his work and the undeniable emotional force of his images.
From Marc Riboud, I am inspired by the impeccable, austere and apparently simple construction of almost all his images as well as the neatness in the treatment of the whole range of grays.
If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why?
Cristina García Rodero, whom I know personally and who is, from my point of view, one of the best Spanish photographers of all times.
Do you have a favourite photography/art quote that has been an inspiration to you?
Sometimes we tend to disdain the power of a simple phrase. Not so for me when I first read this quote by Wayne Miller - "We may differ in race, colour, language, wealth and politics; but consider what we have in common: dreams, laughter, tears, pride, the comfort of a home and the desire to love. If I managed to photograph those universal truths..."
A quote that is always present in my projects, in my travels and in my life.
What camera/s do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length? Is there any particular equipment that is on your wishlist?
I never liked zoom lenses. I like to zoom with my feet which allows me to get not only physically but emotionally close to the subjects I photograph.
My photographic equipment is small:
A Nikon D810 with a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens.
A Nikon D7100 with a 20mm f/3.5 manual prime lens.
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I never think about myself as an artist but as a photographer, faithful to my principles, alien to anything that has to do with fashion or the ephemeral and always looking for new projects that speak of the human condition. Thinking about what will happen in five years...Can anyone hold that answer in their hands? Yes, we tend to have that temptation, but I prefer to focus on the now in a way that every project I carry out is always the best possible.
Are there any special projects that you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
I am currently preparing my next project about the legacy of the Sufi mystic Molana and as a continuation of one of my series of DIARIOS PERSAS & TALKING WITH MOLANA.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
Usually read, enjoy my family, do some sports or go hiking.”