The Social Experiences of Street Photography

All images by Chris Leskovsek. Used with permission.

“Black and white also helps with this as it strips the photo from unnecessary and distracting information.” says photographer Chris Leskovsek about his love of black and white street photography. “We live in an over informed society, so I try to keep it as simple as possible it is to me.”

Chris is a Chilean born Designer and Photographer, currently living and working in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s a graphic designer and took up photography partially as a tool for him to explore his surroundings. When photographing his subjects, he loves chatting and interacting with the people he photographs though he loved the idea of being the invisible photographer for a really long time.  It shows in his work as he’s been featured on The Huffington Post, Japan Camera Hunter, Olympus Magazine, D-Photo, ProPhotographer as well as in NZ Geographic Magazine.

And beyond that, he loves small cameras and comes across as incredibly real and candid about his work.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Chris: I guess I picked it up in my early 20s, maybe a bit before, but not because my family was into it or anything like that, in fact was quite the opposite, I picked it, because I was interested in the camera itself and the snapshots you could get. Later one, when I started my career in graphics, photography was also a big tool I would use all the time. But I guess it was not until I moved to New Zealand (I’m originally from Chile) 6 years ago, when the camera stopped being a tool for my graphics and became a medium/format on its own for me to explore and document my new surroundings.

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Phoblographer: What made you want to get into street photography?

Chris: Moving to New Zealand was a big personal change for me. A big cultural shock, new everything, homesick, etc It was both sweet and sour, and at times quite depressing. That’s when I saw myself picking up the camera just to head out of the door and go explore this new place. Maybe it was an excuse just to head out and clear myself while documenting the process.

I gotta say I was not aware of the term street photography until I started sharing a few of those photos online and then people mentioned that. I don’t mind the title, but I guess what I mean is that when I started taking my camera out, I was not aware, interested or purposely doing it to fit or try a certain type or style of photography. I just wanted to roam endlessly and shoot my camera, alone.

Phoblographer: A lot of your work make us feel very up close and personal while using high contrast black and white to really show us and emphasize what’s going on in the scene. How did you hone this creative vision for yourself?

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Chris: I don’t know, maybe it all comes from my fascination for smaller cameras, which usually sport a fixed lens, therefore you need to get close to ‘fill the frame’. I also like to keep things as simple as possible and focus on the moment, details or the mood and get rid of the rest.

“I think photography belongs in the real world and not on Instagram or other screens (I do understand it’s purpose though).”

Black and white also helps with this as it strips the photo from unnecessary and distracting information. We live in an over informed society, so I try to keep it as simple as possible it is to me.

Phoblographer: Your use of lines, negative space and just the right lighting is also what helps to define your work. How do you feel it’s evolved over time into this?

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Chris: I guess that has to do with my work in graphics. Personally I’m a huge fan of poster design. Posters in the early 1900s were a tool of information and propaganda on the streets. You needed to portray a very clear idea/message in less than a minute for all the passersby. So I try to somehow replicate the same philosophy in my photography, I try to keep things as simple as possible, it’s like I ‘crop’ in real life by getting closer and leaving things off the frame until I get the core elements of what I’m looking at. When I can’t, I try to use the environment to help push the eye towards what I want to see in the frame.

Now, it’s not like I have ever thought of this when I’m out shooting, I just go and shoot, but now that I think about it, It makes sense to me that way of seeing things might come from that background.

Phoblographer: From what it seems, many of the people you’re photographing either don’t notice you or don’t care. How do you go about making deliberate movements to ensure you don’t get noticed?

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Chris: I used to care about invisibility, a lot, now I don’t. I guess it’s also a matter of being very clear to people what you are doing if someone asks and move quickly. Other times I simply approach someone, engage into a short conversation and shoot the whole thing. But that usually doesn’t work for me. Sometimes when I feel something is happening or about to happen I just stop and wander for a bit, until everyone is aware of me and they forget, then I shoot and move on. Slow enough to capture something and quick enough not to get weird looks or questions…

Phoblographer: What motivates you to actually go out and shoot street photos?

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Chris: It’s my excuse to be on the move and get to know the world, my world. I’m attracted to people, I like culture, human behaviours, travel, etc. I would write about it, but I find it easier to say things with a camera. I’m lazy in that sense. I treat it as an everyday journal where I’m constantly sketching ideas, and thoughts.

“I used to care about invisibility, a lot, now I don’t. I guess it’s also a matter of being very clear to people what you are doing if someone asks and move quickly.”

The camera is my excuse to go out but it’s also a personal conversation with myself about life, my life.

Phoblographer: You’ve made quite a name for yourself as a street photographer; so how much time is spent shooting vs marketing and all the other stuff required for some sort of fame?

Chris: Haha, I’m not so sure about that. I suck at editing and putting my work out there. I do believe that the work should speak for itself, but I also understand that in this day and age is not really how good you are but who you know and pushing the work out there.

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Personally I shoot a lot. almost everyday. And try to be as brutal as possible with the editing, which I fail miserably all the time. I’m always toying with sequences, ideas, edits, etc. If I had to put it in numbers, I would say I do 80% shooting vs 20% marketing. Maybe is time to fix that?

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How does it help you get your creative vision across?

Chris: I prefer compact simple cameras.

“I do believe that the work should speak for itself, but I also understand that in this day and age is not really how good you are but who you know and pushing the work out there.”

Since I moved to NZ, I switched to digital completely. I currently use a Ricoh GR and a Sony a7 ii with two lenses. Even though I adore the Sony’s output it still feels quite large for my preference. I have used pretty much everything there is out there and I have settled on those two for the past few years now. The Ricoh GR is the best though, even though it took me quite a while to adapt myself to seeing in 28mm.

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Phoblographer: Where do you want to be as a photographer in one year and what’s your goal to get there?

Chris: I want to print and publish my work much more. I think photography belongs in the real world and not on Instagram or other screens (I do understand it’s purpose though). Photobooks are where it’s at for me and my work. I love the format.

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I live in a small country, with very limited places to exhibit and people interested in seeing photography hanging on white walls, so I’ve been pushing other ways, such as self publishing photobooks. Also doing screen-prints, posters, tshirts, etc. I want to push the work passed the white walls for people to see it.

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