“It started has a hobby that soon developed into conceptualised way of approaching new things.” explains photographer Jorge Serra in an email to us before we interviewed him. “I started with film cameras, disposable and what was around. Then moved into digital with a point and shoot, bridge cameras and then moved up to M4/3.” Now, Jorge shoots Sony, with only prime lenses. But of course, gear isn’t everything and you can see in his images. Jorge is a genuine creative that finds ways to tell stories in a single frame. For this project, he explained that part of the creative process was working with City Number Nine–who he is good friends with. And so the comfort they had with each other helped things just flow.
“…a camera felt like the ideal tool to connect those personality traits with my creative drive. From then on, it became, as cliché as it might sound, and extension of me, and something that I would bring anywhere.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography. What made you really want to start picking up a camera more often?
Jorge: From a young age, being introverted in a social space, I’ve always considered myself an observant; someone that carefully looks at his surroundings and tries to draw meaning from them. And, since I grew up in a family that dabbled in photography for a couple generations, a camera felt like the ideal tool to connect those personality traits with my creative drive. From then on, it became, as cliché as it might sound, and extension of me, and something that I would bring anywhere.
Phoblographer: When you first started out, what photographers do you feel really had an influence on your creativity? Do you feel like their influence is still alive and well in you as you’ve evolved as a creative?
Jorge: Like everyone else, in the beginning I was fixated on the greats, the most popular and available names like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, Robert Capa, among others. Not only did I admire their work, I wanted to learn and grow from it and the analysis of their work became something important – in fact, one of the most important photography books I ever got my hands on was Magnum Contact Sheets, where not just the final photo but the creative process is featured. Nowadays, all those names serve as a foundation of knowledge that was built based on their legacy. Even though I don’t relate to them the same way, they’re part of my own building blocks.
“We always had a shared love for retro futuristic films, be it the first iteration of Blade Runner or Tron, and those films have a very specific atmosphere to them with their use of colour, light and texture.”
Phoblographer: City Number Nine, at First Sight is a super creative piece involving light trails but blurring music, man and machine. How did you come up with concept for the series?
Jorge: The initial concept came from Bruno Garcez, City Number Nine himself, he had a clear vision of what he wanted his music to be. Now, how to translate that into visuals? We always had a shared love for retro futuristic films, be it the first iteration of Blade Runner or Tron, and those films have a very specific atmosphere to them with their use of colour, light and texture. They also reflected in a very particular but exact way the concept of blending Man and Machine in one cohesive element.
Phoblographer: Before your stepping into doing the project, was there any sort of storyboarding involved? What was that like?
Jorge: Me and Bruno are really close friends and the project was born out of that close relationship. As soon as he talked about his music project, we started discussing ideas about how it could look like and then we just took it from there. As it was something truly organic in nature, there were only ideas and rough plans, nothing too set in stone or a planned formula.
“One of the main advantages of working with someone you are truly close with, is the freedom to explore and take chances.”
Phoblographer: There’s been a big trend of using neon lights and all that stuff for portraiture but you took it a step beyond and did some more long exposure work with it. Do you find this project to be sort of a turning point in your creative mind set at all?
Jorge: One of the main advantages of working with someone you are truly close with, is the freedom to explore and take chances. Since I’ve always been more focused on street photography, anything but natural light was unfamiliar territory but this project needed that central element, a mix of lighting that could be reminiscing of that retro futuristic atmosphere. The neon lights, which are extremely affordable led light strings, became an obvious choice, a way to recreate the resemblance of a human figure in a more machined way that, through long exposures, helped blur the two distinct concepts into one element.
Phoblographer: Why the choice to make some of these images cinemagraphs and others still photos?
Jorge: We had always set out to create artwork for the album and that required still photos but the added choice of cinemagraphs came as a natural evolution the work. It’s hard to condense movement into a single long exposure frame and a clip wasn’t what we were after, so that left us with a cinemagraph or GIF. Besides being a fan of the whole GIF genre, it was the more mechanical structure behind it that draw me in, a robotic away of movement, the mimicking of electronic circuits, their frequency and repetition.
“There was a lot of experimentation in that shoot, a lot of ways of trying to recreate and balance those two elements – man and machine.”
Phoblographer: When you were putting the project together and editing what made it into the final body of work, what was going through your mind? What determined whether or not an image made it into the series?
Jorge: There was a lot of experimentation in that shoot, a lot of ways of trying to recreate and balance those two elements – man and machine. While editing, it came down to trying to understand what each image could be after edited and how would they work as a set, as artwork, as album covers. We were looking for the set that better represented the idea and the concept behind the artist and the music.
Phoblographer: Were there any really funny candid moments or times of experimentation where you and City Number Nine just decided to wing it with the project and see how the experimentation went about?
Jorge: I think the whole shoot was built out of candid moments. First of all, the photoshoot was set in a basketball court, in the woods just outside Lisbon, after an afternoon picnic and basketball game with some friends. We were all hanging around, I had been taking unrelated photos and, as night fell, it just evolved into creating the image we had in mind – one of the great things about it was having 8 assistants on site, not usual for me.
“I just think that the roots of Comics, Sci-Fi and video games from which that genre derives from are pretty close.”
Phoblographer: Any influence at all from that DC series The Flash? I totally see some of that in there.
Jorge: Not directly (I don’t think I’ve seen more than a trailer) but I can see what you mean. I just think that the roots of Comics, Sci-Fi and video games from which that genre derives from are pretty close.
Phoblographer: So how the heck were these photos actually done?
Jorge: I’d love to have a really convoluted explanation but it’s a really simple process. First, we dressed Bruno with the neon lights, trying to find the best way to recreate a body shape we wanted. Then we tested some movements, not just poses but the whole movement in order to get light trails. Finally, we choreographed it so the movements were synched with the duration of the long exposure, creating the shapes we intended.
Phoblographer: Do you feel like this series influenced any of your future pieces?
“…we choreographed it so the movements were synched with the duration of the long exposure, creating the shapes we intended.”
Jorge: As a photographer, artist, creative, there are projects that consolidate your work and others that are a breakthrough. This, for me, was a breakthrough, a jump towards a new and creative style of photography that embraces experimentation to the fullest.
Phoblographer: What sort of gear did you use? How much post-production was involved?
Jorge: The list of gear is simple, a Sony A7 with a 55mm lens, a tripod, a set of led string lights and a lot of time and patience. There was quite a bit of post production, not excessive but just enough to find the balance between highlights and background, colours and texture – the final image had to be striking, this was an important aspect but we weren’t looking for something blatantly loud, rather something a bit more muted, layered, that would keep offering new details the longer you looked at it.
Phoblographer: What’s next for this project and you as a creative? Have you planned out any sort of way to take this concept further and run with it?
“The list of gear is simple, a Sony A7 with a 55mm lens, a tripod, a set of led string lights and a lot of time and patience. “
Jorge: This was a great, interestingly creative project to be a part of and, since then, me and Bruno have collaborated in quite a few other projects. But, for now, City Number Nine is exactly where it needs to be. I feel like this concept and image are intrinsically linked to Bruno, since this has always been a collaborative effort, and I’ll pick it up as soon as new music arises. Currently, I’m more focused on projects with a clear social message – I’ve been collaborating with an Ensemble of dance and performing artists that identify with disability. To me, it feels like another step forward, the art should not just be indulgent but have message and meaning, something that feels even more pressing nowadays.