Bringing Life to a Level of Fiction with Street Photographer Daniel Huete
What does your photography say about you? This may not be a big concern for most of us, as we upload our most impactful shot(s of the day) to Instagram, but some artists take this question very seriously.
I recently spoke with Daniel Huete, a Spanish born photographer currently based in Bangkok and Seoul, and who is known for highly technical, multi-layered street photography. But as I learned during our interview, Daniel sees photographic style as a “constant search”, rather than something he’s arrived at.
You’re a relatively well known photographer on Instagram and in Bangkok. Why haven’t you put together an exhibition of your work yet?
I’ve probably got enough work to do several exhibitions, but the work I’m currently doing is completely different than the work I’ve done up to now. I think your first exhibition says a lot about who you are as an artist — your style and your intentions. I don’t want people to know me just because of those types of pictures.
My past work was very technical. It was all about composition and making the greatest candid shots of people. It’s very clean and visually interesting, but right now I’m taking a completely different approach.
“I think your first exhibition says a lot about who you are as an artist — your style and your intentions.”
What led to your shift in approach?
I attended several photo workshops. When I started photography it was all self taught, but I thought why not try this out and see where it takes me.
The first workshop I ever took was with Indian street photographers Vineet and Rohit Vohra, and Singaporean photographer Aik Beng Chia. During that workshop in Singapore, Aik Beng Chia showed us his multimedia pieces, which inspired me to add multimedia in future work.
Following Singapore, I attended a couple of workshops in India with Vineet and Rohit. They were great.
Over the course of time, I started to look at my work and I noticed it was very, very technical. I felt like something was missing. The photos can be very good, very clean, great layers and subjects — but what’s the meaning behind them? For me it’s not just about coming up with a story. It’s about your photographs having a connection to you, the pictures have to resonate with you, with who you are.
“For me it’s not just about coming up with a story. It’s about your photographs having a connection to you, the pictures have to resonate with you, with who you are.”
Where did that lead you?
After seeing that my work had become very technical I wanted to break apart from it, so I attended a documentary workshop with Chien-Chi [Chang] in Hong Kong. The workshop was intensive and great, but at the end of the workshop I felt I needed more.
He told me if I wanted to go deeper the only workshop he would recommend would be with French photographer Antoine d’Agata. I did a workshop with him in November 2017 and it made me question my photography to such an extent that I wasn’t able to shoot for almost a year.
Wait. What? You didn’t shoot for a year after the workshop?
Many of us either got inspired or broken after that workshop, especially. Throughout the workshop he requires you to get physically and mentally involved in the projects. It’s not just going outside, seeing something and taking a picture. You have to bring your life to a certain level of fiction. You have to document what you actually live.
It was a five day workshop and during that workshop you have to discover who you are, what your life is like. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s self discovery.
I remember something that Antoine said: “You don’t leave a trace behind by making good photos. You leave a trace by saying ‘I was this person at this time.’”
It’s a different way of doing things than just picking up a camera and taking pictures. Because when I showed him my pictures he was like, “You’re a good photographer, but why are you taking these photos? Why makes you go there? What are you trying to communicate?”
So, the fact that I’m seeing well doesn’t mean I connect with my work, it doesn’t say who I am as an individual, or where I’m standing politically, or mentally. It just says “look at this good picture.” That’s it.
“You have to bring your life to a certain level of fiction. You have to document what you actually live.”
But this is what most people do. What are you taking a different approach?
Photography itself right now is at a stage where people scratch the surface and they’re happy with it. Think of it this way, most people who do photography are just swimming and trying to find something on the surface of the water that’s interesting. Then suddenly one day you start to snorkel and see there are fish below the surface. And then one day you go deep diving and snorkeling is no longer enough.
But the workshop with Antoine was like taking a submarine to the bottom of the ocean. He takes you down and when he brings you back up it leaves you in a state of mind where you’re like “what’s next?” What do I do.
What’s that like? Can you give me a clearer idea of how this has changed you?
I was used to just going out there and finding images — good pictures . That was it. But with Antoine, he doesn’t want just good pictures. You shoot as you go, as you live. How far can you go within your life?
When I look back at the work I did in the past, it feels as if it’s not me. People might see my past work as my signature style, but I think to have a signature style is very difficult and it’s a constant search as an artist. Some people don’t even reach that level. It’s very hard to be truly yourself and not be a copy of a copy of a copy.
People look at photo books or watch YouTube videos to see how other people do it, and they try to copy the same images over and over. That constant search for identity and who I am as an artist is what keeps me going.
“People might see my past work as my signature style, but I think to have a signature style is very difficult and it’s a constant search as an artist.”
So are you shooting again now? What’s next for you?
After I thought for almost a year that I wasn’t ready… I’m going back to do my Home project in Spain, to shoot my family. I’m going back to where my mother passed away when I was a kid, to photograph that place and that town.
It’s where I spent five years of my life when I was growing up. A lot of interesting things happened there. I want to do a project where I face my deepest fears. I always try to avoid going back because it brings a lot of sad memories. Confronting that sadness or that fear will push me to have a better understanding of who I am.
That’s the reason I don’t do exhibitions with my past work. I want my first exhibition to be Home. My first photo book. The sadness and the fears that I went through; other people can relate to that.
You’ve been working with us on D Emptyspace, which is an app all about creating and sharing galleries. What intrigues you about the app?
Using D Emptyspace is a different experience. It’s putting your work together as one, not so much thinking about single images. I mean you can upload single images and make them look good. But with D Emptyspace you can put pictures together in a group.
People can learn how to sequence. They can learn how to curate their own pictures. Right now when you have an exhibition, unless you do the show by yourself, you have a curator who selects your best work and puts it up there.
Are you a good curator?
It’s still a work in progress. I mean, if we gave the same project to a couple of friends, all of us would edit in a different way. I believe it’s the same with curators putting together a gallery.
I think photographers will be able to use D Emptyspace to learn how to sequence and edit your own exhibitions as well as seeing their work on a “wall” before they print them.
Do you have any closing thoughts for this interview?
“Search for your true self within your work.”
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