Thank you Reuven Halevi for being the honorable Guest Mentor of In-Street Monthly Thematic Contest, August 2020.
We are very happy to publish an exclusive interview with Reuven Halevi to know his view and approach to Photography.
– Please tell us a bit about yourself and How did you start in photography?
[RV] I was born and raised in Oslo, Norway but spent half my life abroad, mostly in Italy where I began as a theatre director. As often happens, I slowly figured out that as an artistic expression the stage was not the best fit. At least not for the development I was and am going through. I needed 100% control of the process, and a radical change in methodology. On several occasions in the past had I considered photography, but still I wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea. Then, it practically happened overnight. I picked up my first digital camera, I grew up in the analogue world, and it was like a baptism. It really felt immediately like I was “on” it. I was finally literally focusing on what I needed to focus on. I went from minutely staging my expression to having to discover it in the unstaged and immediate world around me. This was highly satisfying.
– What makes street photography so special for you and what according to you makes a good street shot?
[RV] I can pick up where I left off in the last answer. What draws me to the street photographical approach to photography is that instead of building up a house of cards of signifiers, like directing a play or writing a book, I can and must rather go out naked and without preconceived ideas, anul myself and just tap into the real and immediate life around me and then transmit what I find significant and profound there. I am still in control, technologically through the camera’s mechanism, and through craftsmanship, like how I move, think, decide how to capture what I want to capture, but it is a lot more instinctive and raw. Instead of letting the intellect guide me, now I let myself, my own self, guide me. It is in final analysis a question of trusting oneself. Trust that one is capable of conveying meaning poetically or prosaically via the creative means at hand. I love this. Street photography, in this sense, is to me artistic freedom, though of course within the confines of the medium and the “industry”.
What makes a good street shot. That is a seriously good question. Not sure I have an illuminating answer to that. In the end it all boils down to what happens to me the very moment I see either a situation I will photograph myself, or a photograph for the first time. I look for the oomph. Not, well, no longer, just the visual impact of a clever photo. Those become stale very quickly. But sometimes a photo connects with me before I even realize what I am looking at. I don’t need to “get the message”, or think “oh, that says this or that about life”. I just need to sense the photo, or the scene. Something unexpected, in subject or in trade quality. Best of all when they combine. Something I have never really seen before captured in the best way imaginable under the given circumstances. I want my own photos and all the photos I see to be honest. True to the author. Like, speak with your own voice, always. And tell me something either that I have never seen before, or in a way that I have never seen before. Or again, both.
-These days we are seeing so many great works of current photographers and masters available on the Internet and otherwise. As such, how can we try to be original in our approach?
[RV] That I believe is very, very challenging. I also believe it will only get worse as we continue to drown in millions of new images every day. And, I can only refer to what I said in the previous answer. Be yourself. For sure, be inspired, I’m not saying anything weird here. Be inspired, and do even go ahead and imitate, replicate, as long as it is for exercise and to figure out methodology. But then, sing your own song. And trust that it has something to contribute with. Believe in yourself. No one cares that you’re good at photographing “like” Alex Webb. But if training to shoot like him helps open up new ways of seeing for yourself, by all means, go all in. It will be very helpful. Other than that, I do not know what else to say. Had there been a magic potion I’d sure have taken it years ago. Instead, it’s only a long and mysterious road of self understanding and realization. There is no recipe. You gotta go at it alone. It is dark and treacherous, but it’s the only way. I’m in there myself, currently, fumbling around in the dark.
– Tell us about your approach on the streets.
[RV] Where to begin? If it is sunny, I either go shoot early morning or late afternoon. I love and need good light. If it is cloudy, I prefer to go out mid-day, as the light is the strongest. I never have a preconceived plan concerning where to go. Oh, I have tried to be that organized, but there is nothing I can do. If I pick “A” the night before, I’ll surely do “B” or even “Z” instead the day after. Guess it has a lot to do with going with the flow, and not trying to steer it too much. Then I try to “tap in”. It’s like going out into the streets as a kid, and just sensing who is playing football, where is there a tree house being built and who is building it? Your attention picks it up. And as a kid you do not (or, rather, should not) have a care in the world so you just go with what you feel like then and there. So that’s the answer. I go out like a professional (mark this word) kid that is looking for something fun or exciting going on somewhere. And then I move over there.
– Projects or single images? If so why?
[RV] I no longer find that there is a contrast between the two. They are separate expressions. And even single images do form and overall project, though it is far less programmed and goal oriented. I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone who believes it necessary to stand for the either/or approach to rethink everything. I myself have mostly done single photos. Right now, on the other hand, I am about to enter the final phase of shooting material for my first longhand project. It is weird and unusual but undoubtedly necessary. Never exclude anything when it comes to artistic approaches. Even projects versus single images are just different tools in a tool box that you want to be as equipped as possible. For your own good.
– The important lesson you’ve learned being a street photographer.
[RV] That there is no final destination. That we are all humans and animals and living beings and creatures in the same boat. You can be a king or a street sweeper, but we all dance with the Grim Reaper. Do good. Good will probably not be done to you, but you will feel better. Trust and feel deep inside you that shooting the streets is downright necessary. That you are doing what is actually an important job. Not only to you, but to us all. Assume the responsibility of what you put out there. Be honest, be truthful, be yourself, be good, be poignant.
– What advice would you offer any aspiring street photographers?
[RV] Do not under any circumstance rely on the virtual world of social media. Yes, undoubtedly it is a space to advertise for yourself and to stay in touch with peers. But it is an echo chamber, a bubble. Likes and hearts mean very little. Put in the hours out there. Reflect on your own work. Push yourself to stripping everything down to the essentials. Remember to be humble, that you can always improve and learn some different way of photographing and conveying something meaningful.
– Your favourite photographers and any reference books?
[RV] Lee Friedlander. Bill Eggleston. Winogrand and Leiter. It changes, I change so what I am inspired by changes, all the time. See them all, get them all. Get perspectives and references across gender, time, place. Don’t raise anyone up to be semigods. We are all simple humans, let everyone have a voice, listen to them all, let’s talk and listen among us with compassion, honesty and a will to improve existence.