Cayetano González is a talented Spanish photographer and cinematographer who found his calling when his grandfather lend him his Leica. Since then he has directed commercials and shot several covers of major magazines. His work is influenced by the painters he admires like Sorolla, Velázquez, Rembrandt and Delacroix. We asked him a few questions about his life and work:
All About Photo: What does photography mean to you?
For me, photography is all about magic. It's about making someone believe a story, and even so, if that story looks real to you. We often wrongfully think the camera captures the reality, but shutter speed, aperture, angle, framing, position... they all alter that reality, and in the end it's you who is making all these decisions that will impact your final result. Photography becomes then a construction, built from all these elements combined.
On a personal level, photography is a tool I use to express my ideas, to communicate with other people. It gives me a voice and makes me feel free and fulfilled.
Does it affect in any way being a photographer and cinematographer at the same time? How do you cope with this?
Before 2006, my cinematographer work consisted of low budget shoots, using minimal or available light. On the other hand, my photography work consisted mostly of portraits lit with studio flashes. In 2006 I started a portrait project called aboutlight. I wanted to learn how to deal with natural light in order to have more freedom and less dependence on artificial light. This project could also help me define a style and give me some consistency throughout both of my facets. It turns out now, that most of my still work is now based in natural light and this helped me improve tremendously my cinematographer skills.
Now motion and still photography for me are almost the same thing. I center most of my effort and creativity in telling a story and creating something meaningful.
Do you find shooting with natural light more interesting than with artificial light?
You are very limited when shooting with natural light, but you have other advantages over artificial light. I feel everything very real, less staged. The subjects are more relaxed. Most of the time I find myself having a conversation with them because there are no lights to move or cables to connect. If something isn't working I just move around freely. It's completely natural.
I realized that working with limitations helps me later on when shooting something I have to light artificially. I have no limits here and I can almost do anything I want to. I also believe feeding my brain constantly with natural lit spaces definitely helps me when I have to recreate these atmospheres.
If you weren't a photographer, what would you be doing?
Leaving all the arts aside, I would picture myself as an astronaut!
I love to learn astronomy and discover in minutes what we have been struggling to figure out during centuries. Being an astronaut and leaving earth is a feeling that I can only dream of.
Analog or digital?
I work every week with both of them, digital, 35mm, and 120mm medium format mostly. They are all different and unique. In the end, it all comes to the project, budget, and style. It is never about which is best. I love film, but I also love shooting at dusk, almost at night. In these cases or when shooting indoor with barely light, analog becomes impossible.
Who were your biggest influences when you started? Now?
When I started using cameras it was all about technique, I wanted to do all I saw, and learn how to do everything I could, every style. I was checking a lot of photography magazines the bad ones. Once I overcame this technical step my influences widened up. I started visiting old master painting museums, watching movies, and learning about DP's. I started following the work of fine art photographers, reading photography books, and catching up with general culture and history.
Some of my influences are now Terrance Malick (Dir), Roger Deakins (DOP), Suzi Gablick (Writer/artist), Marina Abramovic (Artist), Ansel Adams
(Photographer), Nadav Kander
(Photographer), Velázquez (Painter) and many more.
Do you remember your first shot? What was it?
I don't remember my first shot in particular. But I do remember my first set of portraits. I was studying film, and I couldn't afford strobes, so I set up a studio in an empty room. I was using the window to light my subjects. I'm still very happy with the lighting I achieved, but not so much with my editing skills, the subjects, and the final results. Sorry!
What advice would you give a young photographer who would like to become a portrait photographer?
You can learn how to use a camera in less than a week. So better study Culture, Psychology, Fine arts...
But you're also a teacher. What is your approach to photography when teaching?
Yes, I teach in film schools as well as art schools, and I also host workshops.
During my classes and lectures, I always avoid speaking about what is good and bad, what to do and not to do. I prefer to give examples of how other artists dealt with situations and how they took advantage of mistakes in order to create their own message. This image is underexposed, It is out of focus, the framing is incorrect, the image is tilted, it's noisy... I get this many times. It's not about being correct or not, it's about asking the right questions: Is this mistake helping you tell your story? Was it intentional? Why are you making this decision? Could you do it in another way? What implications does that have in the final image? Every tiny decision we make has an implication, we just have to figure out what those implications can be.
What inspires you?
People. Inspiration begins for me when I see the subject I'm about to photograph. Before this happens, I can have some ideas, or save photos I like, create moods... But it's only when I see the face that I feel inspired.
How do you prepare for your projects? Do you picture beforehand in your mind the images you take?
Yes, I normally prepare a mood, treatment, or references before the shooting day. But that doesn't mean I don't improvise or I even change everything. The idea Is just a starting point so the team can understand what we're about to do.
Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
My favorite work is the one I just did or I'm about to do. Every work for me is a step. Sometimes you go up, and sometimes you go down. Before taking the next step, you never know what will happen, a lot of things can go wrong. Once I finish my work I already know if it was a step forward or backward. If everything goes well I feel very happy, it becomes my favorite work because I, or we, made an effort to make that possible.
How has your work evolved over the years?
Exponentially I would say. And not better, but broader. I'm always trying to adapt and incorporate new ideas. I want to maintain a style, but sometimes I feel that it might trap me. I'm still figuring this part out. I never know where I will end up in the next few years, and I like it.
Do you spend a lot of time editing your work?
I do. Since I shoot digital and analog, I spend time color matching both of them. I also spend time with the selection. It's a long process.
If the shoot went well, I'd enjoy this process badly. If the shoot went bad then It's quite disappointing and even frustrating. When you take risks sometimes you fail, but it's part of the process!
All about Cayetano González