Daniel Anez Discusses His Colorful Street Photography

All street photography images by Daniel Anez. Used with permission. 

“There is value in pushing yourself creatively not just skillfully,” says Daniel Anez. He’s a street photographer who wants to think outside the box. He wants to go beyond the fundamentals and create street photography that encourages his audience to build their own narrative. Through the use of color, varied angles, and story-telling, Daniel has created an aesthetic that belongs to him. It’s his vision of the world, a world that he invites us to explore with him. Although his work suggests otherwise, Daniel is relatively new to the world of street photography. He spoke to us to share what his journey has been like so far.

Phoblographer: How did you first get into street photography, Daniel?

DA: I started back in 2016 when one day, I started taking pictures of people candidly not knowing what street photography was. I was on a trip to Atlanta, and I had planned to take photos of the trip with my wife. I had been feeling a bit bored with shooting flashy landscapes and urban scenes. I remember posting pictures on Instagram and automatically killing it with my audience with every post of a canoe sitting on the edge of a lake or a crazy sunset. I quickly realized it was enough of that and that there had to be something more challenging in my photography.

So, I started to take headshots of people around me. Eventually, the people around me got tired of me taking pictures of them. It was then when I said, “well, I guess I’ll just take pictures of people on the streets.” That time in Atlanta I had a 16mm lens on an APC camera which I used to take pictures of people, and somehow it clicked. I felt like it was something that would challenge me and keep me interested.

Phoblographer: Your captions are brief and there’s no ‘about me’ on your website either. Do you like to keep a mysterious feel about who you are? Or do you prefer to let your photos speak for you?

DA: I am a visual artist; In my head, I can make a whole story up, but when I try to say it out loud three words come out. I believe in the power of photography and the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I am a full-time visual designer, and I started my career creating book covers. I always found funny a story from Designer Chip Kidd about a book called “Dead Bird” and the cover was a dead bird. I think street photography, unlike other types of photography, has the power and flexibility of going beyond that accurate documentation of things. So, when I take a picture, I try to achieve some sort of “simplexity.” The idea, at least for me, is to have enough elements in a frame that could lead to express a different story to different people.

Most of the times I get good photos is when the unexpected happens.”

The dead bird book cover example explains the phenomenon every beginner photographer experiences. They see something exciting, and they take a picture of it, dead center. I trust the viewer to create their own story, hence why I try to not sway the narrative too much by giving too much beyond what the photo shows.

Phoblographer: How long did it take you to find your creative flow? What challenges did you experience in the process?

DA: I am still looking for my creative flow. I think I need to search for it every time I go out to shoot. It’s something that accompanies me on every walk. But I have to get in the groove of my unique flow. This flow can also leave me at any given moment. However, I have identified a set of personal circumstances that kind of help things come together to bring me back into the groove. It could be something as simple as seeing the light changing suddenly or perceiving the rhythm and the beat of the street, meaning I have to predict the unpredictable as best I can.

I think the challenges I still experience are often expecting something out a photo walk or thinking I will go out to shoot something specific. I’ll focus so much on that, that I miss other moments. Most of the times I get good photos is when the unexpected happens.

Phoblographer: Encouraging you to blow your own trumpet, as a street photographer, what’s your biggest strength?

DA: Bruce Gilden and Robert Capa were some of the first photographers who instilled in me the philosophy of pushing the visual hierarchy of a scene to an extreme. I began playing the game of “how close can I get to my subjects,” so I think I developed that skill somewhat early in my photographic journey. I then became really comfortable photographing people up-close, however, as exciting as it was, I started to fall back on the dead-bird cover conundrum, “Oh look! Interesting character filling my frame”. I am now working on improving layering dimensions to create a more in-depth narrative and using my graphic skills to introduce more geometry and cleaning out my frame of extrinsic elements.

Phoblographer: You make most of your work in New York and Florida. Tell us how these two cities differ from each other when creating street photography.

DA: Most of my photography, to be more specific­, happens in the city of New York and Central Florida, seemingly, two polar opposites in every possible way. I do love that I can create a body of work that is so contrasting and shows the way of life. And perhaps sometimes there are a few similarities which are surprising as well as it’s unexpected differences. A problem can be to approach these places generalizing and thinking you know a group of people because of their region; this can throw you off so much. I think I can instead throw out the window any preconceptions and let reality surprise me and inform my decisions when capturing photos in these places.

“I think I have a few keepers a year. I’m happy with a couple of real photos a month.”

Individually, I love the romanticism of New York Street Photography. I have heard photographers refer to it as a genre of its own. I recommend to anyone who can to take at least a couple of days (actual days, not just a couple of hours walking down 5th avenue) to experience what is like to photograph the big apple. It is a boot camp for many trying to find their rhythm. When I go to shoot in NYC, for example, I start by putting on my walking shoes, make sure I have all the batteries and memory cards/film I could use in a day, and then I begin at someplace like Pen Station or Grand Central around 8 am and follow the commuters ( the least problematic and careless people you can find.) Then I work my way up to Central Park North and then start going down until I get to Wall Street – Wall street around 4 pm is golden, in my opinion. Timing being in a place at the right time can make a massive difference in the kind of photos you will get.

Florida, on the other hand, dances on a different rhythm, for starters places are more spread out, I love the colorfulness and vibrancy of the people and the streets. It inspires me to continue shooting in color. I find myself walking slower, observing more, and shooting less. Inadvertently I have gained experiences and skills that somehow complement each other. For instance, something I may have learned in Daytona Beach could help me think of shooting something differently in SoHo and vice versa. Yet each photo brings its own defining flavor.

Phoblographer: Shooting on the beach, where people tend to be half-naked, do you run into any creative barriers? Are you ever worried people might mistake your intentions?

DA: I do think about that every time, but I don’t dwell on it a lot; otherwise, I get into my head, and I would not get in the right frame of mind. Yet, it is all the same somehow, people react the same regardless of what they are wearing. The same way I let myself “be seen” on the streets is the same way I would on the sand; also, smiles and “thank you” or a meaningful compliment go a long way. Obviously, one has to be cautious and choose their battles when shooting in a place where one may be perceived as an intruder. I would definitely lean more toward taking the photo than skipping it altogether. I have had confrontations of turf while none on surf.

Phoblographer: How many hours a week do you spend shooting and how many “keepers” do you tend to get?

DA: I try to go on a photo walk at the very least twice a week for a couple of hours. Any other time I always have a camera hanging around my neck. I can take my camera on a simple run to the supermarket behind my apartment building to get some bread, for example. The way I see it, genuine moments happen every second everywhere. I may get a great photo on one of those grocery runs as well as get nothing from a long walk. I think I have a few keepers a year. I’m happy with a couple of real photos a month.

Phoblographer: Do you spend much time studying the work of other street photographers? Which ones have given you the biggest lessons?

DA: A significant source of inspiration right now has been “Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image.” It’s a beautiful book with vignettes from Alex and Rebecca’s’ experiences that have led them to enrich their journeys. I believe there is a great deal of knowledge in that book that reveals how Alex and Rebecca’s work is created. There are insights to how they perceive their world and how they interpret it, the way they observe is genuinely incredible. One lesson I learned was to rely on intuition and spontaneity. I could go all day talking about how important this is to me in street photography. But I think every street photographer must experience this on their own to really get a grasp of what this means.

“My goals in life are to continue enjoying every moment as it comes…”

I also try to see what has been done or is being done. Santayana once said,” those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How many times have I “heard” the story “the silhouetted man with a hat walking by (fill in the blanc) wall.” I believe every photographer interested in honing his or her skills must take/tell that photo of the mysterious man and know how to create it–but move on. Let’s be creative and define our own moment in time by creating genuinely great photography that will be remembered as defining as Henri Cartier-Bresson was in his time, for example. Sometimes other than photobooks, social media becomes the source of those types of repeated stories/photos.

Phoblographer: If you could spend the day shooting street with any camera and lens combo of your choice, what would it be and why?

DA: A rangefinder with a 35mm (full-frame equivalent). The rangefinder has been instrumental in making me observe my frames in the same way my eyes see the world. The most important thing a camera can do for you is to respond at your command and to allow you to frame what you saw before raising the camera to your eye. I can’t get that feel from an SLR.

Phoblographer: And what do you shoot with currently?

DA: I currently use a Leica M240 with a 24, 28, 35, or a 50 (prime lens). I’ve recently learned to love the 50mm and harness it; It seems like everyone is shooting 35 and virtually everyone shoots with a 28 nowadays with the iPhone. Ultimately, I just pick a lens depending on the physical space I will be shooting in. Both Florida and New York can get crowded in their own way, and I ran for the 28. 28mm is a lot of fun.

Phoblographer: Finally, what are your goals moving forward? Both in everyday life and photography?

DA: My goals in life are to continue enjoying every moment as it comes and be ready to react to it based on previous experiences. But even more importantly, would be to take the time to observe the seemingly mundane events the same way I try to celebrate those moments that make photography great. On a less metaphysical note, I’m working on a book of my favorite photos and a short-run zine. Soon enough, I will have enough images to compile a set of books based on the two “cities” I shoot the most. Eventually, I’ll share that body of work with everyone.

You can enjoy more of Daniel’s work by visiting his website and Instagram.