Carlo Maccheroni is a photographer born in Santiago de Chile from an Italian family. He grew up in an environment familiar with the classical arts. His grandmother, a painter, introduced him as a child to the world of Italian pictorialism. He has studied with photographers such as Luis Poirot, Fernanda Larraín, Joel Meyerowitz and José María Mellado.
Since 2017, his work has been committed to a humanistic perspective, making documentaries for humanitarian and social assistance agencies in parallel to street photography.
– How did your photography path start and when did you realize that street photography is the type of photography that attracts you?
Well, street photography was not my first option. I started with fashion photography, it was very easy because I came from the world of advertising. I worked in a huge agency and one day, doing an advertising campaign for a great brand of sports drinks, the agency hired a photographer. When I saw him everything caught my attention, seeing how he moved, how everything was art. At that moment I knew that I had to quit – what it meant to be out of work, without pay, without a career – and follow a more “real” dream, do something I felt in my stomach.
When I quit I realized that I didn’t have a camera or work to raise money to buy one. I was very irresponsible.
My father gave me a plastic camera, a medium format Holga, and that was my first approach to photography. Everything was new, I didn’t even know there were different photography formats and it was not easy to learn the first day with a camera in hand.
Years later I had an episode of epilepsy in the street, when I woke up in the hospital I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I took a great dread into the streets. For two months I could not leave my house. One day, I saw my camera and thought that could be my way out of my fear. I went out with a reflex from the 80s that a friend gave me, it was very difficult for me to go outside, but little by little I realized that I was already stopping using it as a therapy and that I began to need it as a way of mixing with people. In the end, street photography is an excuse for me to get closer to people.
At that moment I knew that I had to quit – what it meant to be out of work, without pay, without a career – and follow a more “real” dream, do something I felt in my stomach.
– Do you remember the first time you got your camera and went out to photograph strangers?
It’s weird, but I remember perfectly. It was a Friday, in November. It was the same day that I saw Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs for the first time. His story was so similar to mine that I felt I had to try. I was in a very elegant neighborhood, very difficult to photograph, it was a very sunny day, I was wearing a 100 ASA black and white film, a 3m Zenit, and a 5cm lens.
I felt very uncomfortable. I felt like I was stealing from people. I could not shoot. Today I see those photographs and I find them horrible; very badly exposed, without body, without clear intention. I love showing them to my students so they know what a bad street picture is.
– What do you expect when you grab your camera and head out for shooting in the streets?
I expect to be amazed. Not under my expectations. I am one of those photographers who, before leaving, asks God to find photos on the street, and I never know if I will find them. It is not up to me, I can not propose that people with gestures or interesting positions go out at the time I want to photograph. Nothing depends on me. That’s why I only expect to be amazed.
– Some photographers claim that you have to get the permission of a person in the street before the shoot. On the contrary, others believe that candid is the way that keeps the reactions natural (which i personally agree). What are your thoughts?
Haha, that must be one of the questions that most divides street photographers.
I will be very honest; The first thing is that I don’t know if we should call street photography a genre of photography. There is portrait in street photography, there is landscape, there are objects, there is some documentary, there is artistic photography within street photography, even fashion. The genres are mixed within the street photography.
If in the other genres there are no such hard rules, I cannot explain why there are people who put rules like that in street photography.
Personally I like to make more humanistic photography, which expresses naturalness, but, despite not being my style, I see nothing wrong in a relationship with the photographed. Doisneau did that a lot, including Gilden, whose image is about approaching people in an aggressive way; many times he has instructed people who are walking down the street.
Perhaps part of the mistake, which I made until very recently, is that the street photographer often tries to separate himself from other types of photography. It is not about that, on the contrary, street photography – I think – must be open to ideas and mutations.
If people change, situations change; if situations change, stories change; if stories change, cities change; so how are we going to put rules to photography that should change?
– What elements of the city fascinate you the most?
For me the first thing is people, I consider myself a humanist photographer. I like to capture old architecture from the city, how people behave in that environment. The modern, the glass-covered buildings or the people with their phones do not attract much attention. I feel that screens, technology and modern things rob people of me, it takes them out of their “state of humanity.”
– Do you have a specific workflow? Can you share it?
I have a very particular flow. I always say that without coffee the diaphragm does not work (laughs).
Before going out to take pictures I take an espresso, after a couple of hours taking pictures in the city I sit in a cafeteria and take a second espresso, there I think about what I have done well and what I have done wrong, I give myself time to think if the streets I am choosing are correct or not. It helps me not to get frustrated. I feel that street photography is about that; about taking time, rethinking things and decisions, taking on new challenges or loosening up rigid things you are doing.
On Monday I dedicate three or four hours in the afternoon to make prints in the laboratory, there I try to digest what I have done again, I criticize myself a lot and it takes me a long time before making new decisions to take pictures again, obviously. Always with coffee in hand (laughs).
Nothing depends on me. That’s why I only expect to be amazed.
– What is your favorite part of the workflow or process?
I hope it doesn’t sound strange, but my favorite part of taking pictures is when I can’t make the shot. I have ideas of what I missed and my head begins to work and idealize my next photograph.
In the laboratory it is different. The best is when I have to make long masks. My friends laugh at my work because there are times that I have to make masks for up to twelve minutes and, I must say, I love it, I feel that the photo is mine, something very unique.
– Have you had any moments that you wanted to quit and how did you overcome those barriers to pursue your goals?
I think it happens to all of us and is part of the process (laughs). Every time I finish a project I feel naked, a kind of depression comes, I don’t know what to do, how am I going to do something better or more beautiful, more emotional, I don’t know. It always seems that at the end of something very personal nothing comes for a long time. It is important to know that this happens, that it is normal, but it is necessary to approach other artists at that time, spend more time with other photographers.
A mistake that I have made has been to approach my friends who do not know about art. They always give bad advice, bad ideas, they just don’t understand what I experience in life.
A photographer, an artist, must be a social character, who feels his surroundings, who is influenced by what happens, who experiences, but must do so in a place where he does not feel attacked or misunderstood. It’s not easy and that’s why you have to dedicate time to other artists when they need it too.
– You are shooting both film and digital? What is your personal preference and why do you prefer that specific medium over the other?
I almost don’t use digital. But it is for very personal issues, I can not pay attention when I use a digital camera, I find it very difficult to frame.
With an analog camera I find it very easy, I feel that an analog of short lenses, those metallic and heavy cameras, like old rangefinders, very easily become an extension of my eye and fit very well in my hands. I have never felt that with a digital one, but I do use them when they ask me for a very fast assignment, for example on a photography festival or a workshop. I do not limit myself to other formats.
– What is your standard setup for a street photography?
It’s very funny for my closest friends and sometimes they even challenge me (laughs), but I don’t like using a photometer and my camera has no exposure meter. What I do is use the famous Sunny16 but instead of changing the aperture I change the speeds.
Now, I really like to experiment and I think it is necessary for the photographer to have the image in mind before shooting. Sometimes I expose to the lights – even if it is very much against Ansel Adams. I actually made an exhibition just thinking about that. Sometimes I expose to the grays to experiment and, obviously, I am also sometimes a right photographer and I expose to the shadows.
– You have a very strong CV. You have many contributions and collaborations. Also you worked as a lecturer, delivering courses in South America. What is the most important collaboration you had? Also could you share with us if you have plans to deliver any courses in the future?
I am very restless, I love teaching and I have been very lucky to learn from very good photographers – although I consider myself a lousy student.
I don’t know if I can talk about an important contribution, they tell me that I have helped several young people fall in love with street photography in Chile and some others in Latin America. But I don’t think it’s me. I love humanistic photography and I do my best to show my love for it, if someone has felt touched I feel happy. I would love to go further; I have plans to go to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil to build a bigger community and support street photographers, but South America is going through many changes and it is not easy for me to do so at this time.
I am working on a new course. A couple of weeks ago Jordan Alves, a great book photography editor of Xavier Barral Editions, challenged me to shoot street photography in the middle of social mobilizations in Chile, without trying to be a photojournalist. The result was very entertaining and I think it can be a very interesting way to make new stories for independent journalism, especially in chronicles, which is a much loved and respected genre in Latin America.
– You are from Chile, South America but you have travelled in Europe and other places as well. What place or city do you enjoy photographing in?
I have a special love for Santiago de Chile, especially downtown and Historic Santiago. But Valparaíso is possibly the place that feeds me the most. It is a city that always has something to deliver and that every time I go there I learn something new or new ideas come. I don’t usually take photos in Valparaíso, but I only shoot things that I feel in my stomach. It is a tremendously inspiring city. I think that is why – and by Sergio Larraín’s photos – it is considered the Mecca of Latin-American photography.
– Which are the photographers that inspired you and influence your style?
Uff, there’s a giant library in my room that I could recite to answer your question (laughs).
There are stages, there are times when I have sought inspiration from photographers like Sebastiao Salgado to make social documentaries; Antoine d’Agata for some portraits that you will never see (laughs). Robert Frank, Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson of course, Abbas, the beginnings of Martin Parr, some orders to Robert Doisneau.
But above all my favorites and my great inspirations, which I try to see every day are Gianni Berengo Gardin and Sergio Larraín. If I had to make a kind of family tree of photography they would be the closest to my parents. I feel an affinity for their aesthetics but above all for their decisions when photographing. Well, to that we could add that Berengo Gardin is Italian and that Larraín is Chilean. There may be something in that too, as they say here: blood pulls (laughs).
– What are you currently working on? Any current or future projects?
Yes, I am working on an exhibition to close a period and open myself to a new project that I already started working on. I have felt very influenced by Cornell Capa and Elliot Erwitt right now. I did portfolio reviews with some European photographers who I appreciate very much and without knowing about my project they empowered me to follow that path.
(As an advice, always expose your portfolios, that always helps, even when you’re already a professional, you never have to stop doing it).
I am also working on several books that I had overdue. I find it increasingly meaningful to have my photograph prints on paper, but I have learned the importance and possibilities of generating a reading body through the photographic book.
At this time, if it were for me, I would do all my projects thinking about making them books.