Juan Pablo Gutierrez on Documentary Photography
I met Juan Pablo at the Paris Match Student Photojournalism Prize 2008 cloture evening. I had the chance to be in the 23 finalist with my project on the 9/11 health effects. Juan Pablo won the public prize with his series on the kids in the slums of Paris, an excellent documentary portraying everyday life of children in difficult conditions. I talked with him and was interested by his work and the way he though about photography and the documentary style. He agreed for a short interview so we met in the nice park of the Buttes Chaumont in Paris and here is a resume of our conversation.
Can you shortly introduce yourself?
My name is Juan Pablo Guterrez, I’m 26 years old and I live in Paris. I came in France from Colombia 4 years ago. Right now I’m studying Plastic Arts at the Paris 8 University. I already had studied audiovisual media in Bogota for 3 years.
When did your interest for photography started?
When I was 15 years old I discovered the work of the group F64 from California I liked their pictures and the way they used black and white and the strong contrasts. Years after at the university I discovered the work of Walker Evans and the documentary style. I felt that documentary was what I wanted to do.
You made a work about the kids in the slums of Paris, why did you choose this specific subject ?
I’ve been working on the subject of misery since two years now. I started the project in the slums six months ago because I was shocked that in 2008 in a city like Paris there are people living is this kind of conditions. I started to have a good relationship with them and it did took me long time to being accepted, me and my camera. I think t was really important to have a relation with them, I want to differentiate my work, that I call documentary, from a photojournalistic perspective.
Can you explain more this distinction?
Documentary photography, which is the path I choused, impose me an long implication in time with the subject that I photograph. First of all, it’s important for me to know the subject well and to gain the trust of the people I photograph. I want them to feel free with me and to know that I’m not there to exploit their condition in order to have a scoop or a fantastic piece of history. But also, I need to spend a lot of time with my subject tobe able to capture, through photography, the real human aspect of the subject and not to fall into the cliché images of poverty and misery that we see in the media all the time. For me the main difference between documentary photography and photojournalism it’s the personal implication of the photographer with its subject. It’s the answer to “Why? And for What reason?” that goes beyond the simple need to inform like journalistic photography.
For me a documentary perspective implies that we take the time to get to know the people we photograph. I try to picture them with dignity. I don’t like the way that photojournalism is obsessed with tragedy, famine and wars. I think that’s its like stealing pictures. The photojournalist for me doesn’t take the time to know its subject, to create a relation, and finally you can see that in the picture, its steal the dignity of the subject.
What are you trying to capture through photography?
I want to show to the public people that are forgotten, people that you don’t see in the usual media. I’m working on misery, economical and social, and I’m interested in taking to light the forgotten: like people living in slums or in the streets.
What material and lighting do you use?
A Nikon D200 and natural light always.
To the viewer of your work what feeling or impression would you like to leave?
I hope that it make people think. I want them to show a reality that they barely know. I made a work on homeless people in the Parisian subway. People pass by them everyday but don’t really look at them. I want them to look at them in my picture, to stop at the reality for a little longer than when they at in the subway.
What are your main inspirations?
Real life and great photographers like Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Martin Parr.
Thank you Juan Pablo.
Interview by Frankie.