Reflections from a photographer in Colorado Springs

To be honest: a deep look into my photography heart

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After spending a year and nearly 1500 hours in 2015 on a personal project the resulted in a book in 2016, I started visiting my heart asking what did I really learn that I could bring daily to my life, a quiet but strong reminder of where did my time went and was it worth it?

When I moved to my America, the land of my dreams since my childhood, I had a very different life than the one I live today. In my first 4 years here I only photographed in black and white. Black and white evoked a strong memory of growing up seeing black and white photography in my grandpa’s house and it was a strong call for me to simplify my vision: get rid of the color and you really look at your subject. 

Almost 10 years after that, I find myself not only loving photography even more, but also questioning the why, oh, why do I photograph, and why do I approach photography the way I do. 

As a night owl, it is again almost 1 am in the morning when I have my deeper epiphanies. I decided to write again.

About a month ago, I was having a self talk with myself and I wrote, quoting myself:

“Why do I choose to photograph images in such a dramatic way, with minimalist, low key lighting that often shows a deep set of eyes or seriousness? Because it is in the absence of light that we show who we are and what we are made of.”

Looking back, I see some reflections and influences. As artists, we do not create in a vacuum: we bring “luggage” the sum of our experiences, principles and values, and the beliefs under which we grew up. 

Well, I moved to my America when I was 32. I do not have any family here (it was my dream to be here, not my family’s) and I took some time to assimilate the culture and habits, although I was lucky to be fluent in English because of my background as a translator. 

Without the support system of my beloved ones I lived in black and white for a while because there was missing color in my life, meaning I deeply missed my entire family, even when they all talked all together at the same time. In order to deal with that I did what I knew: I channeled my energy into one thing: black and white photography. And I translated my subjects with light that brought up character, personality, expression, seriousness. I photographed people to bring some light from within.

In the process of growing up as an artist I shook some black and white away and kept some. I added color, I learned studio lighting, I got out of the house and started to teach photography and talk to strangers. I started a photography group.

After all this process I still think like film. I think of how it is going to look like when it is ready, what emotion or personality trace I want to capture as a people photographer. Then, I light for that idea and interact with my subject, asking questions and giving subtle directions - or not so subtle - until I capture what I had in mind.

Even though today is very different than 14 years ago, I feel like my photography kept the core of who I am and the experiences I brought with me: I grew up in South America under dictatorship, where it was dangerous to talk about politics and we could not vote - we had no voice. There was some heavy air in the streets, where black coats and quietness were common. 

Today my images have much more intention.  And while I use a mix of color and black and white in my imagery I use a dark, dramatic, low key style to bring my subject to life. I realize I need very little light to bring the real star to the spotlight. 

Lighting is my voice. I think it is beautiful to create light that shows emotion, power, determination, pensiveness, character, personality and shows sometimes some raw emotion. 

Photography today is so underestimated: the fact that we have never had so many images taken all over the world at the same time gives us the false idea that the “instant” and “online sharing” is a memory, when as a matter of fact photography is more transient than ever before. It is only when that memory becomes special, useful, and appreciated that we have a memory, a glimpse of time the makes us recall and relive the experience, or the moment.

In my heart, I still believe like some ancient tribes: the moment I captured your picture I stole your soul for a fraction of a second, but I made you immortal!

To be honest, every time I look deep into my photography heart I create honest portraits that I am proud of and they usually state something real about my subject, and about who I am.

So what did I learn by listening to my heart after writing my first book? 

I learned to check myself, to question my choices, to listen to other people while still keeping my voice. I learned to trust more, but to listen carefully to my gut. I learned the it is ok to be afraid and cry sometimes. I learned that the mirror can be my friend when I say: you did good today and tomorrow will be even better.

Sometimes a small trip becomes a journey. And the road becomes bumpy. But being able to look at yourself in the mirror in the end of the day and be true to who you are is the ultimate self-check. 

If you are looking forward to a personal growth as an artist, look no further than your own heart: the answer is closer than you think.

Simone Severo