Interview with Armin Graca (First place 2023 BSPF Singles)
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into street photography.
My name is Armin Graca and I am a documentary/street photographer from Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I grew up with cameras around me and I got interested in photography from an early age. I started my professional career as a documentary photographer, about 10 years ago.
I learned photography by doing street photography. I just picked up my camera and went out to shoot the streets. First, I had no idea what I was doing, but later I started researching and learning from the masters of street photography, especially Joel Meyerowitz and Matt Stewart. Those are the street photographersI look up to the most.
I try to carry my camera with me every day. Since I have a nine to five job however, I must plan my shoots more carefully. Usually, I go out after work, but what I like most it to go to big events where there are many people.
Is it easy to do street photography in Sarajevo? Are people open to being photographed in public?
People rarely react and if they do, it’s mainly to ask why you are taking photos. I rarely get into those situations because I am not the kind of photographer that gets into someone’s face. My kind of street photography is slower. Most of time I frame a shot and then I wait for people to get into the composition. I recently moved from Sarajevo to Belgrade in Serbia, which is a bigger city, so I’m looking forward to the new challenges this will bring.
What is your normal setup when you out to do street photography?
I use a 35mm lens on both of my cameras. One camera is a mirrorless and the other is a film point-and-shoot camera. I like the point-and-shoot because it is so easy to use, and I enjoy the process of having to wait for the film to be developed, the scanning, etc. Digital gives you more space to make mistakes and so you start to make more photos and think less. Film is different of course. With the increased prices and the shortages in color film, I have been shooting more black and white film recently. I prefer color film however.
What makes the 35mm focal length so good for street photography?
It’s just wide enough. I don’t like the 24mm or 28mm because they are too wide for me and you get distortions. The 35mm is a bit wider than the human eye which I prefer to the 50mm. 35mm is a really flexible focal length, if you want to zoom in or out, you just use your feet.
What do you look for in street photography? How would you describe your style?
I have two different approaches. One is based on composition: I look for the light and I look for shapes. Then I wait for people to walk into the image. In the other type of street photography, I look for slightly absurd and funny situations. These are the so-called ‘decisive moments’ when you need speed and technical ability to take the photo at just the right moment.
Do you feel pressure to post images regularly on social media?
I don’t feel much pressure. I post now and then but I will never post an image right away. After I’ve been out taking photos, I transfer them to my computer, and I don’t look at them that same day. The next day or the day after, I take a closer look. This way I sometimes notice things that I didn’t see the day before because I am less influenced by the expectations I had while I was taking the photo. Also, I’m used to thinking in series so when I post it’s more like a visual diary than individual images. Sometimes it takes a week to get a good photo, sometimes it takes even longer. If this happens, I get frustrated and start to wonder why I’m even doing this. (laughs)
How did you find out about the BSPF?
I was scrolling randomly on Instagram and saw a post about the BSPF. It looked interesting and so I followed them. When I saw the announcement for the contest, I applied with a single image. And then I won…
It was funny how I found out that I had won. I woke up on Sunday morning and got a request message from someone that wasn’t following me at that time. He wrote: “Congratulations with the BSPF”. I thought he was congratulating me for getting into the finals, but just to be sure I checked the BSPF website and watched the live recording. When I saw my image passing, I couldn’t believe it, I was so surprised!
Has winning the competition changed anything for you?
Yes, it has motivated me to go out and shoot more again. This weekend I received another price for that same image, this time in Sarajevo. These two prices are really motivating me to do go out more because they are a recognition of my work. Next year I will also be part of the BSPF jury which is also nice!
Your winning photo feels quite dramatic. What are we actually looking at?
A big flood had happened one day before I took the photo. Based on the images that I had seen of the flooding, I had an idea of what I wanted to show in my photo and where to take it. The day after the floods I went to that specific neighborhood and walked around, looking for the perfect shot. When I found the best spot to take the photo, I saw a man standing there with an umbrella. Unfortunately, he wasn’t standing in the best location, looking down at the flooded cars. I waited for him to change position and hoped he would move to the right spot which had better light and was compositionally more interesting. I waited and waited until he started to walk; when he was in the exact right position, I took the shot.
When I find interesting locations like this, sometimes I wait for up to 30 minutes to get things to line up exactly like I had pre-visualized them. It doesn’t always work out of course. Sometimes it’s a waste of time, but most times it was a good experience and honestly, I don’t mind wasting my time like that.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into street photography?
Just go out and take photos! In a sense photography is easy, you just have to take your camera outside and take photos. On the other hand, it is very hard, because you need to take a lot of photos to get a good one.
You must also decide for yourself which type of lens you want to use. I like the 35mm but that’s just my choice. However, I wouldn’t advice anyone to go over 50mm or below 24mm. But who am I to tell them what to do or what not to do. (laughs)