Last year, Andrea Alfano was named one of the winners of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2015 for his powerful single image, ”Stabat Mater Dolorosa: The Sorrows of Mary.” More recently, he traveled to New York City and produced an intriguing body of work, “The R&B Session.” We present that series here as well as a short interview about Alfano’s wider working methods.
While I was on the train to Williamsburg, I wondered what color could define a big apple. Upon leaving the train station, I found myself in front of a Pepsi truck. So it began.
Soon I found that of all the things that blink and glow and drive and catch our eye in New York, I became most sensitive to the colors—two in particular.
It was these shades, red and blue, that helped guide me into the city. It was an “R&B” rhythm, the same that I heard on the streets of Harlem. So, R&B became the initials of the thread I followed during my days in this grand, inspiring city, New York.
LC: How do you use street photography for the purpose of storytelling? What are you searching for as you walk through the streets of a city?
AA: I don’t consider myself to be a fully committed street photographer, but rather a documentary storyteller who sometimes uses street photography as a tool.
And even so, my practice of street photography does not resemble the most classic methods. I don’t simply go into the streets and take pictures, waiting for the right moment. Instead, I conduct research on visual elements which attract me and which are connected, and then I go hunting for them. Out in the world, sometimes I am captured by the atmosphere or light of an entire scene and yet simultaneously drawn in by a detail. In the end, everything needs to be functional to the research.
LC: So when you are shooting, is it always a rational process or is there a degree of instinct and unconscious response?
AA: Usually, when starting a new project, I think about my subject and carry out a lot of research on it. I want to get as much knowledge as possible before even picking up the camera.
Yet for all the intellectual preparation, it’s essential that my work has an evocative, aesthetic power to it. That’s probably where I dedicate most of my time: both in studying the visual themes and making the photographs to illustrate it.
Surely, though, instinct plays a central role as well: out in the field everything can change and I’m ever ready to abandon my old ideas for new ones. In short, one must always be willing to come to terms with reality. This is the way the actual story is produced—slowly growing from a union between what I think and what I see.
Finally, a process that I consider absolutely essential, of equal importance to research and shooting, is the editing. I try to begin this from the very earliest stages of the work. What I initially get is only very rough but I think it’s essential to see if the direction my work is following coincides with the idea that I have.
—Andrea Alfano, interviewed by Winifred Chiocchia