Street Photographer Pau Buscató: "This demands being fully aware of what's going on around you"
"I love the kind of shots where it looks like there was a conscious, creative force behind chance."
By Cailin Loesch
Street photographer Pau Buscató is on a mission that looks to capture cities using no particular aim. Originally from Barcelona and now based in Oslo, Norway, Buscató is an artist with a magnetic attraction to scenes that call for a double take, moments that seem too coincidental to not be staged, and stories that seem to be left open-ended. Yet, as a the conduit through which these new ways of looking at the world are shared, Buscató does not want to steer the mind of the viewer in any one way; he is as much committed to personal interpretation as he is capturing the perfect shot. I spoke with Pau about his method of finding the sights that so many of us seem to miss, what he learns when he visits a new city for his work, and what his photography is—as well as what it is not.
Cailin Loesch: You’ve described your photography as “a very open process that demands full awareness and fresh eyes to see the ordinary things of our everyday not just for what they are, but also for what they can become, when photographed.” What power does photography have to change the way we and other people perceive something that we’ve come across?
Pau Buscató: Photography is just the medium. That power resides more in the photographer's eye than in the medium, and I think we all have it in us, but we're just used to a very passive way of looking at our surroundings, or not looking at all. For my street photography, I have to get rid of that passive attitude and approach the streets with an active, creative observation. And this demands being fully aware of what's going on around you.
CL: Another way you’ve described it is that you’re translating what you see in your own personal photographic language, and that, “as with many translations it won't be exact and literal: I'm not documenting the world as it is, I'm re-presenting it as I see it.” Does this mean that you don’t believe the world to be as being as zany as it sometimes comes across through your photography?
PB: The world as it is is already strange and zany enough. I think I'm just bored of the conventional view of reality, where we give everything for granted: a tree is a tree and that cloud is just a cloud. But what if the cloud and the tree could become something else, when viewed from a different angle or put together in a frame? When I said that I'm not documenting the world, I meant that I'm not interested in showing the obvious view of things. I'm more interested in the 'far side of the moon', if you know what I mean.
CL: You’ve called your photos of unusual scenes and crazy coincidences “poetic accidents,” which I love. What, to you, is the link between these shots and poetry?
PB: I said 'poetic' because many of them are charged with imagination and symbols; and 'accidents' because I like to play with chance and luck. I love the kind of shots where it looks like there was a conscious, creative force behind chance. That's why in the streets I often like to challenge the odds, by trying to get something that might seem impossible. Most of the times it won't work, but sometimes Tyche, the goddess of chance, will 'show up' and give a hand.
Each poet builds up their own poetic universe with its unique set of rules and principles, and through photography I'm also sharing my personal version of things. Ordinary life in the streets is the raw material onto which I usually apply a few brushstrokes of imagination and play, to add an extra layer of humour, ambiguity, illogic, etc.
CL: I think that it’s interesting that you studied architecture before becoming a photographer. Did your former interest shape your eye for aesthetics in a way that still influences you?
PB: I worked as an architect for around 10 years, and I'm sure it has influenced me as a photographer, especially when it comes to aesthetics and the sense of composition. I often worked in facade designing, or creating presentation layouts for clients, and a strong sense of visual aesthetics was always required.
CL: Most of the time, it’s quite obvious what is the focal point, or oddity, that is being pointed to in your images. But there are other times, such as in the photo of the dogs on the steps, and the man walking the dog, where it seems to be more up to individual interpretation. Is this intentional?
PB: I think it's nice to leave some images to individual interpretation, but even in the most "obvious' ones people often interprets them in different ways. I like to see those different views. The Instagram one with the chair and the water, for example, has had lots of different and imaginative interpretations. It's good to sometimes just hint something and leave the story open for the viewer to complete.
CL: What is the thing that ties together every photo you’ve taken? Is there one?
PB: The good thing of working in such an open process, in which you just let go and follow your intuition, is that the result will always be a reflection of yourself, and that is what ties all my photos together: they all come from the same place. The playfulness that you see in my photos has been always present in my life, it's one of my basic traits and therefore it's just natural that it shows in my images. That's what ties them together.
CL: I’ve read that you sometimes go on walks that last over seven hours, searching for interesting shots. Can you, no pun intended, walk us through long sessions like these? Do you have to train your eyes to make sure you’re taking everything in at once, as not to miss something?
PB: Well, that seven hours thing is just a random number. Sometimes I walk for three hours and other times ten. I can't afford to travel often to big cities like London or NYC, so when I finally manage to get there I spend really long hours shooting, to make every minute count.
There is no secret to these long sessions. I wake up early and have a heavy breakfast to be able to shoot for some hours without getting hungry again. I never set up a route and always let the photos guide me. If I see something on my left, I'll go left, and if I see something on my right, I'll go right. And I spend all day like that, with a couple of breaks for lunch and coffee.
Looking at good photography, and - even if it sounds weird - reading good literature, is great training for your eyes. And also movies and art, in general. But before going out I never know whether I'll be inspired or not. Some days I see interesting things everywhere, and other times I'm just blind. I guess we all have good and bad days.
CL: You’ve traveled to many different cities for your work. Do your photos change your own perception of a city? What do you learn about a place when you’ve spent time roaming the streets and taking photos there?
PB: My photos don't change my perception of a city, but sometimes help me notice things. For example, when looking at my images from London and Barcelona I noticed that the Barcelona ones had a more monotonous (brownish) tonality and the London ones had more colour splashes (reds, yellows). You learn a bit about the people. In some places, people feel uncomfortable when they see you with a camera, and in other places (like India) they really don't care or even ask you to photograph them. You learn about the rhythm of the city, the light and also about the quality of their coffee.