Published on 21. 9. 2011 at 12:48 pm
To see David Constantine’s stunning street portraiture online or in his recently published book is a pleasure, but to see them in a gallery setting, beautifully printed, mounted and lit is a privilege. The prints come alive with the vivid colours almost leaping from the walls.
Most of David’s work is shot in developing countries or places striving to recover from recent (or current) conflict. When asked his preferred location, he replies in an instant – “Afghanistan.” People are the main subject of David’s photography and, as these people are so indelibly shaped and influenced by their surroundings, the location is a vital factor, even though the background may seem superfluous on first viewing. The situations of David’s work lend a timeless quality to his photographs.
Choosing a location is vital to David: “People draw me to a place. I try not to plan a shoot in advance, I just leave the car and decide whether I turn left or right, often the light has a part to play in my choice and I’m constantly chasing those perfect lighting conditions. Sometimes I find the correct spot and then just sit and wait for the right person to cross in front of my lens. The raw beauty of Afghanistan makes it the perfect backdrop for me and it’s almost like being force-fed colours, light and subjects. I also enjoy working in Cuba where people live their lives outside and constantly interact with their neighbours.”
Each face tells its own, often harrowing story, and David has a unique knack of capturing the spirit of his subjects, he explains his technique: “I think it’s vital to engage with a subject and be as courteous as possible so I always take time to ask permission to take a photograph. As my Afghan isn’t all it could be I find a smile helps break the ice. I often attract quite a crowd and try and become the focal point of the situation by placing myself between the subject and the onlookers.”
His shooting style is a simple one: “I normally use a fixed 90mm lens on a Rolleiflex 6008e and frame the shot carefully, once I’m happy with my view I click. I much prefer using natural light to flash, it helps me connect more. As I shoot on film, I’m quite conservative with the number of shots I take (it’s not easy buying 120 film in Kabul). Zoom lenses and digital capture obviously work for some people but they’d make me a lazy photographer – I like the discipline that shooting on film gives me and enjoy working within the parameters set by the film.”
He continued: “I look after my film before and after shooting, photographers must remember they can never, ever recreate what they’ve just taken. I enjoy that feeling of capturing a moment – it’s like freezing time.”
Most of David’s work is on Fujichrome Velvia 50, a stock he knows well: “I love the characteristics of Velvia 50, the colours are so vivid and I know exactly how the film is going to perform. The comment I hear most about my images is that the colour shines through, that’s down to Velvia. It’s interesting that people can instantly tell the difference between my images and those taken digitally. Digital cameras just can’t match the colour and contrast and when an image is enlarged this difference comes even more pronounced.”
David’s recent exhibition, which ran at the View Art Gallery in Bristol, was printed by London pro-lab Bayeux. As he says, a photographer needs a good relationship with their lab: “My scans are a few years old, some were made 10 years ago, so they needed to be cleaned up. I spent two full days with Rick Pollard from Bayeux retouching them – it’s incredible what a good Photoshop person can bring to an image, it’s an art-form in itself. The team at Bayeux produced Digital C-type prints on Fujifilm’s Crystal Archive paper. It was a complete revelation when I saw the finished work, they did such a good job and they made a huge contribution to the exhibition.”
There are currently plans to bring the exhibition to a London gallery, possibly as a fund-raising tool for David’s charity Motivation. Motivation helps people with disabilities in low-income countries by providing them with low-cost, appropriately designed wheelchairs. For more information on their work go to www.motivation.org.uk