Brian Flaherty: Capturing a Culture One Shot at a Time

Brian Flaherty is a San Francisco-based photographer. A former architect, Brian enjoys portraiture, landscape, and street photography. His works have been featured in the Daily Mail, Feature Shoot, and My Modern Met among others. Brian is also an experienced commercial photographer — his clients include Another Escape, Everlane,  Marriott Hotels, San Francisco Magazine, and Taylor Stitch. This week Brian talks to atlas about how he got started in photography, how he turned it into a full time career, and how he captured these beautiful images from his three week trip to Peru last fall. (Editor’s Note: Enjoy one of our favorite features — a stunning photography series on Peru — from Brian Flaherty!)

How did you first get interested in photography?

Brian Flaherty: I can recall being interested in taking photos from a pretty early age first with disposable cameras and early digital point and shoots. But it was not until I took my first black & white darkroom class in college that I started really getting into it. It was such a great experience to shoot, develop, and make prints in the darkroom. I really fell in love with that process and I think it it what really got me hooked on photography.

Are you self-taught or do you have a formal education in photography?

Aside from that darkroom class and another digital photo class in college, I’m self-taught.

Do you do photography full-time? If so, how did you turn it into a full time career?

I have been shooting full-time since late last year. I still feel like I am in the process of turning photography into a career. Things are headed in the right direction, but there is still lots of work to do. As far as how I am doing it, there really is not a straightforward answer as it is different for everyone. But I think the best thing to focus on is making beautiful photos. That is always my top priority and it happens to be what I love to do. Consistently making good work slowly builds the confidence you need to put your work out there and in front of the people you want to work for. It is a long haul and takes patience but if the work is good, it will pay off.

Your photos from Peru – from the landscapes to the portraits — are beautiful and striking. What inspired you to travel to Peru? When did you go and for how long?

My wife and I made a three week trip to Peru last fall. it was a place we had been wanting to go — the food, the culture, the landscapes, all of it was drawing us in. I knew there would be lots of great people and landscapes to shoot, but also lots of interesting things in between that you can not really plan for. I did not have a very clear idea of what I was hoping to bring back. I guess my plan was to shoot whatever caught my eye and then watch the story emerge in the editing process.

Did you encounter any challenges while shooting in Peru?

It was pretty easy shooting there. Most of the people we encountered were open to being photographed. I think the most difficult thing for me was just adjusting to the high altitude.

How do you see your work evolving over the next 2-3 years?

My hope is for a consistent aesthetic over a variety of subject matter. That said, the people and places you shoot can often influence how you shoot so I want to be open to new ways of seeing, however they come.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

This is a tough one. I think I would like to watch Avedon shoot portraits, specifically how he directs his subjects. I have heard some interesting stories about that.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Keep shooting as much as you can, take lots and lots of photos. Trust your instincts and allow your own unique style to emerge slowly over time.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Brian!

For more information about Brian, visit his website. All images  © Brian Flaherty.

Chris König: The Faces of Morocco

Chris König is a portrait and outdoor photographer from the Netherlands. He is a gifted visual storyteller with a keen eye and a unique style for capturing people during his travels around the world. While other photographers have difficulty interacting with strangers, Chris has a talent making connections with people by using simple eye contact, a smile, and patience. He makes people or street photography seem like an effortless yet masterful exercise.  Chris talks to atlas this week about why portrait photography resonates with him the most and how he was able to capture these brilliant images while in Morocco. (Editor’s Note: We wanted to showcase again one of our favorite features on documentary photography.  Chris Konig is one of the masters!)

How did you first get started in photography? How long have you been shooting?

Chris König: Around four years ago, I bought a camera to film some of the sports like climbing and running that my friends and I were doing. After a while I found myself constantly taking pictures of them and forgetting to film the whole thing. From there, my interests expanded into travel, adventurous lifestyle, and definitely the human interest such as in my Morocco photos.

You enjoy taking portraits the most. What is it about portraiture that appeals to you the most?

It is absolutely great to make that connection with someone. In the beginning I tried to capture people with a long telephoto lens so they would not notice I was there. I wanted to capture genuine emotions and day to day life. However, it was absolutely not satisfying to take pictures in this ‘sneaky’ way. So more and more I tried approaching people and asking to take their photo. The more I took photos, the more I found that you can put people at ease in a really short time and let them just do their thing without them paying attention to you. Of course, not everyone is interested in being in my photos. However, when they are it is so satisfying to have that interaction and connection with them, to share a laugh and to give them their own picture afterwards (by mail usually when possible.) I just love to capture emotions and show people how similar everyone is in certain ways all over the world.

Your “Fez: A Moroccan Experience” series is fantastic with vibrant light and skillful composition. How did the Fez project come about? What inspired you to go to Morocco and take these images?

I think it is important to keeping working on personal projects to improve yourself. At the same time, I just love to experience some new adventures. When you are flying in between seasons, tickets can get fairly cheap and I arrived in Morocco basically not knowing anything. Of course, it is useful to know how to get around, where to sleep, what kind of money you need, etc., However, on previous trips (including six months in South East Asia), I found myself in the most amazing situations when I did not plan ahead and just went with the flow. I like to think of these projects as small personal challenges.

While making this series, did you encounter any challenges? If so, what were they?

Although it is great to not have a plan, it can also work against you. The Medina (old centre) of Fez contains more than 8000 small streets and it can be quite tough to find your way around there. Sometimes I thought to myself, “I have to go back to this place during the sunset because it will be perfect with the right light!” But of course I could not find the place afterwards anymore. During those times, GPS can be helpful. On the other hand, the unsuspected situations and getting lost might get you into some perfect moments as well.

What was your experience like photographing strangers in a different country such as Morocco? How did you connect with the people?

When I arrived in Morocco and spoke to some people on the bus en route to the city, more than one person told me that it was difficult to photograph people in Morocco as they generally do not like it and think all pictures are going to be misused. In the end I did not come across people who were reluctant. I think the lesson I learned from it is that the connection you make with someone is even more important than what is ‘normal’ in their culture. Even though there is a huge language barrier (I do not speak French or Arabic and they did not speak English) the moments of eye contact, a little smile, and patience bring you quite far. Usually I just wait around a little bit when I see something interesting happen. By being interested in the actual moment while your camera tucked away inside your bag, people tend to be more open for interaction. I found that walking up to someone with your camera already in your hand makes it so much more difficult to get the picture. Just go for genuine interaction and something good will come out of it. It is more fun anyway to work with ‘real people’ instead of just seeing someone as a subject for your picture. As I mentioned before, handing them their own picture whenever possible is a great gift for most people.

Are you currently working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

Since I just returned from another project in South Africa, there are fewer projects scheduled in the portrait category for the next two months, but I hope to go to a nice Scandinavian country in January or February to capture those beautiful snowy landscapes. It is so relaxing to just hike all those kilometers in order to find the perfect moment.

Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you?

Portrait-wise a huge inspiration is Joey L. He is only 26 years old, but he has already done so many amazing projects. Earlier this year he went to a war zone in Syria to portray the women fighting on the front lines. I think the combination of his beautiful lighting/composition, willingness to take risks, and passion for human emotions is just amazing. It is a true inspiration for me.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Do not think too much about what you want to achieve later on. Just go out and shoot a lot and along the way you will find out. I spent so much time watching tutorials and learning about everything, but I think it is much better to just learn while doing.

For more information about Chris, visit his website. All images © Chris König.

Matt Wallace: Adventure in the Bolivian Highlands

Matt Wallace is a photographer based in Switzerland. He first became interested in photography at age eight when his parents took a photography class. Since then, Matt has never looked back.  Trained as a health care professional, Matt’s interest in indigenous health motivated him and his spouse to travel to Bolivia. He often photographs during his travels around the world. Matt talks to atlas this week about how he came to capture profound images of the indigenous culture and the vast and gorgeous highlands of this South American country. (Editor’s Note: This week we are sharing another favorite feature of ours from Matt Wallace. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

Matt Wallace: My interest in photography started when my mother and father took a photography course together when I was about eight years old. I recall them taking pictures all the time and I was fascinated by the entire process. Later I was really into skateboarding and my friend and I used to take photos of each other doing tricks. I think this helped me learn about composition in a very organic way.  It made me visualize how to best capture a scene and made me aware of how certain techniques can dramatically influence how a picture turns out. This led me to take up photography in my final year of school (2000). It was in school I learned about the chemistry of film and basic developing techniques in the darkroom. I loved working in the darkroom so much that I would cut class to develop prints and became obsessed with all aspects of film photography.

How would you describe your photography?

I do not think photography can be easily defined as one particular genre. They all overlap. Landscape can be documentary, documentary can be street, and street can be travel or portraiture. I just take photos of things that interest me or are related to a particular topic or project that I am working on.

You have travelled all over the globe, including Bolivia. Your images from Bolivia, including images from Salar de Uyuni are spectacular and masterfully composed. Can you tell us a little bit more about your photographs from Bolivia? What inspired you to travel to Bolivia in the first place? How long were you traveling in Bolivia? How did you decide which photos to capture while you were there?

Thank you, I think you are too kind! Bolivia is a very amazing place. It is extremely photogenic. At the time I had just finished working in remote indigenous communities in Australia where I specialized in indigenous health. My wife was interested in child labor and indigenous rights and in the process of writing her thesis. Bolivia is known for its strong indigenous culture, so this made it a place of interest to both of us and we spent a few months there. I was most interested in the remote highlands, very vast empty spaces. In these areas, I find that you can see how people interact with their environment. The photos I took in these areas felt more genuine because they are more obvious. They are about these empty isolated spaces that portray a sense of isolation and being alone. The photos are generally composed very simply and often with a central focus.

Did you face any challenges while shooting in Bolivia? If so, what were they?

No, not really. Like anywhere you have to be respectful. One can sense if it is the right time and place to take candid street photos. I think if one is respectful, confident, and able to read people and a scene you will not have any problems. I feel most people do not mind having their photo taken. But if you are disrespectful about it or intrusive then they may feel you are taking advantage of them and will take exception. Basically, do not think you are Bruce Gilden. Battery life was a challenge as it was cold and we often had long intervals between having the opportunity to charge. Also it was very dusty in some places, so my gear took a bit of a hammering.

You shoot exclusively in black & white. In fact, your Instagram page is filled with stunning black & white images. Do you prefer to shoot in black & white? Do you ever shoot in color?

I do really like color photography. Most of my favorite photographers shoot in color.  I am never satisfied with the photos I take when I shoot in color. I go through phases when I shoot only color but I always find myself returning to black and white, even my digital cameras are set to monochrome at the moment. I still shoot a lot of film, and black and white is easy to develop. Overall, I like how it looks and the feeling photos have in black in white. I think by shooting in black in white you are not making an exact replication of the scene. Instead you are simplifying it and bringing the elements that you want to be exhibited to the forefront. This attracts me as I like simple composition and simple photos.

Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you? If so, who?

So many! There are too many to mention.  I find myself reading American Power by Mitch Epstein over and over. Another book I come back to is William Eggleston’s Guide. I am a fan of topography photography, particularly Bernd and Hilla Becher.  Other photographers whom I admire are the New Typographic exhibitors such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, and Nicholas Nixon. In addition, the Swiss photographer Ludovic Stefanicki has been a source of inspiration recently. The great photojournalists from the Vietnam era have also been and remain a huge influence on me.

Are you self-taught or did you have a formal education in photography?

I did photography at high school (a long time ago) but other than that I am very much self-taught.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Read and study photo books! Be obsessed. Do not just take photos. Think of projects and topics that interest you and then take photos that demonstrate these things. Start with film, learn good techniques, and then move to digital. Have fun. Don’t submit photos to critique groups on social media. Get critiques — get a lot of them — only from people whom you respect.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Matt!

For more information about Matt, visit his website and Instagram. All images © Matt Wallace.