Carlos Escolástico is a very talent artist who lives in Madrid, Spain. I stumbled upon his website and thought, “Yup, I have to chat with him.” His photography http://www.carlosescolastico.com/ is very poignant and stunning. He’s also a cool guy. Here’s our chat …
“… I take these pictures because it’s something I need, almost physically. Sometimes, just out of the blue, an idea, an image, pops up in my mind and … the idea starts “screaming” and bothering me all the time until I decide to create …”
MICHAEL: Carlos, Your work is incredible. Your photographs seem almost like a social experiment or maybe a documentation of lost or forgotten people. What inspires you to create this work?
CARLOS: Hi Michael, Well, inspiration... good topic! I think in my case it comes from very different sources. First, watching art, not specifically photographs, but painting, comics, movies or performances. Second, I have an inner curiosity for people. I consider myself quite shy and introverted and I have a lot of difficulties to meet and have relations with new people, so photography is a perfect excuse to connect with people that, in any other case, I would never have the opportunity to chat with. It seems I need an excuse to talk to an stranger. Third, I practice zen meditation every day. My ideas usually don't come during meditation, but I do feel that after meditation, while working in other projects, new ideas just pop up in my mind.
MICHAEL: Your work is also so respectful of humanity. It's really a celebration of humanity. Is that what you're doing? Celebrating humanity in your pictures? Is there a story in your pictures?
CARLOS: A celebration of humanity? Well, I did not think like that about it, but maybe it is, but not consciously. What I see in my work as a whole is more a celebration of contact. As you can see, most all my models are looking directly at the camera. “Eye contact” could be a title for my work. Eye contact is something that seems very easy but it’s not. Just try to look at somebody in silence for one minute and look at all the feelings that start to emerge. Probably sweat, blush, laugh, shame, you never know. Even if it’s a close friend or family, something moves when you just look in the eyes of a person. When this happens with a complete stranger, those feelings and emotions are much stronger. In my work, I wonder why it’s so difficult when it seems so easy.
I never “steal” photos, I ask permission first and chat a little bit (sometimes a lot) and that implies that there's a story behind every single picture. A relationship. And that means, literally, thousands of stories. Some very short, others still going. This is the part I am more proud of; all the people I met doing the pictures. This is one of the main things that give meaning to my life.
MICHAEL: Wow. So you photograph people on the street? Cool. Do you ever photograph people inside a studio? What kind of camera do you use? Do you use Photoshop?
CARLOS: Yes, although they have this “studio look,” most of the pictures on my website are made in the street. Usually, I create a street studio with a background and a strobe. I think this way the final picture “breathes.” It's alive.
Sometimes I use the real studio, but only when I don't have any other option. Usually when people enter a professional studio, they feel very threatened by all the paraphernalia and the result tends to be very artificial. I don’t like it at all. The street, or the model's house, adds a lot of unexpected options. It's impossible to control all the light or the possible events and the model is more relaxed and feels more secure. I think all this can be appreciated in the final image.
I use a Canon 5D Mark II, but I could use any other. 99% of the time, I use a 50 mm lens. I don't have any emotional attachment to the machines. I think any professional camera would give the same result. I really don't care about the camera very much.
I use Photoshop for cropping and very basic adjustments of contrast, but I never do photomontage nor delete anything of the picture nor add anything that wasn't originally in the file.
MICHAEL: Wow, I've never heard a photographer say they don't care much about the camera. That proves that you are really concerned about the person. How did you become an artist? Why do you take these pictures?
CARLOS: Well, I don't think there was a day when I decided to become an artist. I remember when I was gifted with my first camera I put my little sister behind a big abandoned tire in my house and lighted her with a table lamp. I think I was ten years old at the moment. Before that, I remember I used to draw compulsively. So, I don't know. Maybe I was born like this or maybe everybody is born like this, but I was lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged me to express myself.
I take these pictures because it’s something I need, almost physically. Sometimes, just out of the blue, an idea, an image, pops up in my mind and just stays there for a while. If I don’t listen, the idea starts “screaming” and bothering me all the time until I decide to create, to make the project real. When the image is done, I can relax in peace. So it’s more a question of looking for peace.
MICHAEL: I understand. I also get ideas about things to write and sometimes these ideas scream at me. Your use of lighting is beautiful. It's very cinematic. How do you figure out your lighting?
CARLOS: Thanks a lot. Photography is all about light, lighting is everything. Since I work mainly in the street or in people's houses, it’s not always easy to get the light I would like to have, but I think this is part of the challenge. Working with available light makes it more difficult and unpredictable and I like it. Usually I don't have a previous idea of what I want. I like improvising, but I always tend to set very basic settings of light; a main light, usually a strobe or a natural source of light, a fill light, usually a white reflector and in very few cases, an extra light for the background if I find it interesting. This “three light setting” is very typical in movies from which I have a lot of influence. On one hand, I see a lot of movies and on the other, sometimes I have worked as a still photographer in shootings of films. Although not consciously, this “cinematic” lighting is probably always influences from my background.
MICHAEL: Where are you exactly? Barcelona? Madrid? Spain still seems like a very romantic place to many Americans. How is the country doing? Is the economy getting better? Do people have enough money to buy art?
CARLOS: I used to live in Seville, but two years ago I moved to Madrid, the best city in the world to live. It has the perfect balance of cultural life, personality, hospitality and open minds. It’s a big city, but not huge enough to lose humanity. The economic moment is not good if compared to ten years ago, but it’s very good compared tob20 years ago. So, if we don't compare, it is what it is. It always depends on the specific cases, on how each person is living. For me, it’s a good moment. I'm not doing business as I used to, but I'm doing many more personal projects. I have more power to decide which projects I want to involve and that makes me happier than I use to be when the economic situation was better. So, crisis? What crisis?
I don't think the average Spanish person is an art-buyer, but I have the feeling that this is really changing. A lot of artists have changed their point of view and have started producing stuff that can be sold more easily. Instead of producing a 3x3 meter photograph, it’s a better idea to produce a nice, limited edition, photo-book for a good price so more people can buy and store in a small house or give it as a gift. I think that art, traditionally very elitist, is becoming more popular, more “realistic” and people are starting to think that buying art is something you can afford once or twice a year. I think it’s more a question of mind than economics.
MICHAEL: Finally Carlos, What is the purpose of art? We never know when people will buy art and life for the artist is very hard. Also, art is not curing cancer or helping the homeless, so why should people even care about pictures?
CARLOS: Well, everyone might not have an answer to the purpose of art, but I do know that sometimes we have to do things even if don't know the purpose - just because we have to. What's the purpose of being alive? We don't know, but we just don't want to die, right? With art it’s the same. I just can't stop doing it. I feel better when I do it and I enjoy when I see it.
I do think art can change the way we see the world. Art helps us to understand ourselves and the world we live in and this, my friend, believe it or not, can cure cancer and can help the homeless. Understanding ourselves and the world, we can even AVOID illness, homelessness or any conflict you might think about like delinquency, addictions, aggression or even wars. So, what is art worth? Each one should look for his own answer. I have mine.
MICHAEL: Thanks Carlos. This has been a very cool chat.
CARLOS: Okay. Thanks a lot, it's been a pleasure.
Check out Carlos Escolástico at http://www.carlosescolastico.com/.