Good Chat: Rafael Gonzalez
Rafael Gonzalez has the vision. If there's a photographer whose head we'd like to clamber into for a day to peep the world, it would be Rafa's brainpan.
The man can compose an image in his mind before meticulously constructing it within his viewfinder; his perfectly positioned leading lines suck the viewer into his frames, leaving them to explore his monochromatic world. Rafa's specific use of contrast, light, shadows, and composition has forged his signature style that encapsulates any environment, culture or scene he point his lens towards.
He began his photographic journey as a student of the magazines his work now graces, pouring over the pages and studying the compositions he'd later incorporate into his own image making processes.
Rafael's impeccable technical ability coupled with his passion for analogue photography has seen him produce work that has pushed him into the realm of highly commended global photographers. Obviously, we couldn't wait to feature him in our Good Chat interview series.
Hey Rafael, great to connect. What was the catalyst for you picking up a camera?
The catalyst was the curiosity to document what was happening during skateboarding sessions with my friends and what I was seeing while traveling. I decided to buy a cheap point and shoot film camera just to have some memories of my trips. I realised I couldn't cover most of the photo principles with that camera, but it helped me a lot to train my vision through the viewfinder (framing and composition). I then purchased a full 35mm film camera and started learning the technical aspects.
How has skateboarding influenced your photography process?
It has taught me to observe, be patient, and pay extra attention to my surroundings. Even the most regular and mundane scenario could work for a photo (or a skate spot).
Pol Cantena - FS Boardslide.
Nice, it pays to take in the scenery. So, how much time do you spend researching or observing certain environments to get the shot?
It depends I guess... there are days I go out and I don't see anything that catches my attention, so I don't force it. For me, it's not like I have to shoot something no matter what.
What do you look for in a frame?
I usually look for a good light, patterns, shadows, contrasts or any other element/subject that fits in my frame.
The things that draw me to your photography are your compositions and the incredible use of leading lines. How would you describe your aesthetic and did you develop your photography style?
Before I started taking photos I studied everything I saw in the magazines I purchased every month (for years). I preferred certain photos, especially in the "Photo Annual" issues, where the subject wasn't always front and centre of the image but more positioned with a perfect balance of what was going on around it. When I bought my first camera, I used those photo references as my inspiration. I shot photos of everything around me. I slowly started to focus on certain elements within my approach such as contrast, shadows, grainy textures, and framing, as I liked the outcome. Over the years it became second nature to me to take photos in that certain way. However, I keep my eyes and mind open to trying new things within my photography - such as different formats, developing & processing methods to get a specific look, and so on.
There's the recurring juxtaposition of darkness and light in your work. Is there a certain time throughout the day that you prefer to shoot?
Not really. If I'm home I usually shoot in the afternoon. However, if I'm travelling I prefer to start shooting pretty early, especially if I'm in a place I haven't visited before and I know nothing about it.
What cameras and film stock are you running at the moment?
I usually carry either the M6 or the XPan, and the Hasselblad 500CM – all loaded with Ilford HP5 and/or one with colour (usually Portra 400) and the other with b&w film.
Ok, when skating and shooting, shooting and skating, what's your go-to kit for on the move?
If I'm just skating around the city and shooting (not like on a serious photo shoot mission), I just take the M6 and a Half Frame camera (Olympus Pen FT). I've got a new super 8 camera as well, which I have been taking to the streets lately.
Saul Silgado - Half-Frame
That is a heavy arsenal of cameras at your disposal... If you could only shoot one camera and one film stock for the rest of your life, what's in your hands?
I'd say the Hasselblad 500CM loaded with Ilford HP5 since I have shot some of my favourite photos with that set up.
Victor Cascarigny - Backside Kickflip.
Have you ever dropped or broken a camera? What happened?
Yeah, my M6! The shutter curtain ribbon broke in the middle of a shoot. I don't know what caused it, it just got stuck. It took me like a year and a half to get it repaired (covid lockdowns, looking for a technician that didn't charge me half the price of a new body). Luckily, it's in good working order now and the camera is still being used daily.
You mentioned you've been shooting a bunch with the XPan... has the ability to capture full 65mm panorama format changed your approach to shooting landscapes?
I think it has changed my approach since it's a pretty wide format. It takes a bit to get used to looking through the viewfinder and composing frames. However, after using it for a while, you start to see images in your mind that you know could work in a panoramic format.
You have a permanent collection hanging at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Panama. How did this come about?
Yeah, actually it's one 24" x 65" XPan print from a panoramic series (6 photos) called "Urban Landscapes" I showed back in 2015. Every year during September, the museum curates a photo exhibition on a specific subject. That year the theme was called "Otros Territorios" (Other Territories) and included a photo exhibition and art installation on the whole second floor of the museum. At the end of the month, they chose a photo from the series to be part of the permanent collection of the museum, and it's under rotation and exhibited on their walls from time to time among some other artworks from different artists.
What do you vibe most about shooting on film?
I enjoy the whole process. Loading the camera with my favourite film stock or trying a new stock. The thinking before composing and shooting a photo. Developing a roll and seeing the photos for the first time on the negative... and then there's the printing!
So you develop and print all of your own film?
Nice, can you talk us through this process and the equipment used?
Yes, it's not as complex as it sounds. I have three Patterson tanks and reels for 35mm, 120 and 4x5 film. For black and white chemistry I use HC100, Kodak Stop Bath, and Rapid Fixer. Though I have been using Ilfotec DDX lately and I really like the results. For colour film development I use the CineStill Cs41 kit, and that's pretty much it. For printing, I usually go to the local darkroom, but I'd like to set a proper space at home and print every day.
I've noticed you've recently been shooting a bit of colour film (Kodak Portra160 + CineStill), should we expect to see more colour analog photography through your lens?
Ha, yeah, I load some colour film into my camera (not so often) to trick my mind a bit and get out of my safe zone. Also, there are just some photos that must be shoot in colour because of their elements (tones, temperature, light, coordination, etc)... definitely expect more colour works in the near future.
You have your own publication Interstate, which is dedicated to skateboarding culture, travels, and film photography. Can you please tell us a little more about this project?
Interstate is a print publication focused on skateboarding, its culture and visual arts. My friend Constantino Carneiro (designer) and I started it in 2017 as an independent medium to showcase our point of view of the culture we've been a part of for years: skateboarding. The entire magazine is shot on film and every issue is printed in limited quantities and numbered. Some of the artists/photographers/skateboarders that have been featured are Soy Panday, Benjamin Deberdt, Nich Kunz, Connor Kammerer, Octavio Barrera, Josue Watts, Victor Cascarigny, Maxi Schaible and more. The magazine also focuses on travel and documentary photography, which are key elements that go hand in hand with skateboarding. Photo essays from previous issues include cities such as Tallinn, Helsinki, Lyon, NYC, Barcelona, San Francisco and Copenhagen.
What's next for Interstate?
I'm currently shooting for the upcoming Issue (Issue 5th), which might be ready by the end of the year. Stay tuned at @interstate_mag for everything related to the new issue, and some other visual projects in the works!
Nice, we're looking forward to the new Issue dropping... where can we grab a copy?
Hit us up online via our webstore: interstatemag.bigcartel.com.
Jon Nguyen - Wallride.
Now that borders are opening back up, in 2022, what city are we likely to find you lurking with your camera?
I'd like to travel to Europe first to catch up with my friends I haven't seen in a while... skate nice spots, shoot lots of photos and see some live music and art. It's good weather there right now and there's a bunch of stuff happening in different cities. But if anyone wants to send me somewhere else to take photos, my passport and camera bag are ready to go!
Which three places or cities (fictional or real) would you love to photograph and why?
I'd love to shoot a brutalist architecture series in Belgrade, Serbia and/or around the Balkans. Bangkok as well – from what I've seen in photos, it looks nice out there, a mix of modern and traditional design. I'd also look to shoot Norway or Iceland for landscapes and architecture.
Who or what has influenced you the most as a person?
My father definitely has influenced me the most, as he's the hardest working person I have ever met.
Everyone always asks what's the best advice you've ever received in regards to photography, however, what is the best advice you can give?
Shoot a lot of what you like. Don't rush/force it. Enjoy the process.
What gets you hyped outside of photography?
I like traveling and visiting new places, skateboarding, spending time with my family and friends, live music, and movies.
Name three Instagram handles we should check out and why? They can be photographers, skaters, inspiration...
Pioneers, history/legacy, and an institution.
Which three people alive or dead, would you want to photograph and why?
In no particular order it would be Heath Kirchart, Joe Strummer, and Mark Gonzales, as they are all masters/legends at their craft.
Check out more of Rafael's photography HERE.