“Above all, I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.”- Robert Frank
Q1) You have been shrouded in mystery. Could you indulge us and give us a bit of background on how you grew up, job and so on for your followers?
I’m a pretty private person and would like to keep it that way. (Haha. Just joking about wanting to keep it that way.) OK, let’s see. My last name comes from my ancestors, while the nickname Ramosa (which means “the father of joy”) comes from my time in the Peace Corps. (I have never really had much of an affinity for my given first name.) I have lived quite a few places, in the United States and overseas, working in different capacities, including as a journalist, public health educator, and university professor.
Q2) What is it that drew you into street photography?
In 1995 and 1996, I worked as a print journalist in two Asian countries. In my free time, I often found myself wandering urban streets with a camera in hand, trying to act like one of the photojournalists I worked with. At the time, I had never heard of the term “street photography,” but when I look back at the images I created during that time, I was clearly doing “street photography.” What is interesting is that, after this initial experimentation with photography, I regrettably lost touch with it until about four years ago, when my interest was forever rekindled. Much like with jazz, I like the improvisational amalgam of street photography, including what I call “the Four Cs”: candid, content, composition, and concern.
Q3) Who were your visual inspirations or influences?
Robert Frank, Trent Parke, Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as others, including assorted photographers on Flickr and elsewhere online, whether they have perfected their craft or are just learning it. One thing I love about online photography sites is that there are novices and experts, as well as all of the rest of us somewhere in between.
Q4) Explain your thought process on how you choose a picture to convert into black and white or to leave in color?
The choice of black and white versus color, of course, comes down to what you want to emphasize and deemphasize. I normally visualize a scene in black and white, attending to the interplay of light, shadow, and tonality. When it comes to post-processing, I try not to do any more than what could be achieved in the darkroom. At this point, if an aspect of color is intended to have a predominant role, I will keep the image in color. Most of the time, however, I convert my images into black and white. I guess, as the great Ragnar Axelsson once said, “My heart is black and white.”
Q4) Correct me if I’m wrong but looking through your photos, you mainly shoot around Midwestern area of the US. What is it like shooting there as compared to other places that you’ve been to or that you’ve seen?
I often shoot within a couple hours of where I have lived in the middle of America, whether in New Orleans or Texas, but also where I travel afar. I do not currently live in a large urban area, which poses a barrier to my street photography. It’s much more difficult in small towns where people are fewer and the sense of space is different, keeping people more distant.
When I am in larger cities, I find it much easier, with human life being up close and overflowing the urban landscape.
Q5) Out of all your photos and artwork, do you have a favourite? Why? … and favourite artwork or photo of another person? dead, alive , famous or not.
A favorite of my own? I’ll say one that I called “tophat fog.” Why? It’s a basic street image, and I took it back in 2008 when I was really getting into photography. So it speaks of my experience and development during that time. Yes, the kiss of death: I’m emotionally attached to it!
A favorite of someone else? I have lots of favorite photos taken by others, whether street or social documentary photography. A favorite one? How about Trent Parke’s photo of an office worker as he walks through the atmosphere and light of Martin Place. Such a dreamy mix of the mundane and the otherworldly!
Q6) You mainly shoot with a Leica. What is it about shooting with this camera as compared with others?
Unlike some photographers, I’m not really into gear and don’t know a whole lot about it. But using a rangefinder was a turning point for me in that it really simplified and slowed things down and made me much more thoughtful and serene when taking photos. While all sorts of cameras can create amazing images, I know I would miss the simplicity and size of the rangefinder and how it facilitates the photographic experience for me.
Q7) Many photographers shoot and artists draw as a means of meditation or self-exploration. What is your connection with spirituality and do you believe in God?
While I do not believe in a god per se, I do think there’s something going on, something spiritual, in the world. Photography plays a role in this for me, serving as a meditative act and providing a connection between life, self, and spirit.
Q8) As a photographer, what has been your biggest achievement?
It’s sort of a mix of things, each of which is quite personal. Achieving a piece of mind, developing a sense of connection with people around me, and realizing that I am learning things, step by step, and getting better with the passage of time.
Q9) Where do you see your photography going in the future? Are you likely to shoot anything else other than street? Any projects you are working on at the moment?
Street photography will remain an integral focus for me, but I have several ideas in mind that will be more consistent with social documentary. This will challenge me to tell stories that are more in-depth and are conveyed through a series of photographs. Such an approach would be interesting for me, as it sort of takes what you do as a print journalist but changes the modality from text to photographic image. Also, I’m always trying to learn more about composition, especially, these days, the related role of geometry. There are, of course, some decent books on photographic composition, but also some great online resources. My current favorite is http://www.adammarelliphoto.com. Adam has such a strong skill for critiquing photographic composition and teaching about it.
Q10) And some last words for fans and fellow photographers?
For this, I began thinking about the importance of keeping a positive mindset and trying to learn as much as we can in photography and in our interactions with other people. But then a quote of the Magnum Photographer David Alan Harvey came to mind. He says it much better:
“Have an open mind, open heart and a smile.”
A big thanks for Ramosa for this interview. He is quite modest about his work which is admirable because the above photos are brilliant. To follow his work, please check out his Flickr photostream.
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