Amazing New York City: interview with Ron Gessel
New York - the city of my dreams. Well, it was… After moving to London I eventually realized that I am not so passionate about big cities. I still love them, though. And I am still dreaming of visiting the Big Apple. That’s why I am very critical about the photographers who shoot street life of this city: there are so many great photographs, it’s hard to find any better anymore. I mean, what else can you come up with that is different? Well, Ron Gessel succeeded in surprising me. The art director from the Netherlands (oh, I loved their Eurovision song this year… just something to be remembered) who studied Graphic Design, had a very interesting idea of how to represent this city. Of course, he’s not the first photographer to capture real life, but I liked the coloring; the moments he caught in the busy street and how he brilliantly mixed portraits with architecture of the city. You could easily call Ron a frequent traveler. He’s visited the USA (of course…), China, Japan, Malaysia… Ooh, the countries that I would one day like to visit as well. Finally, without wasting any more of your precious time, I would like you to read our interview with the person, who uniquely amazed me with New York’s photographs, - Ron Gessel.
How long have you been interested in photography? It’s probably now one of the most essential parts in your life; is it the main source of your income, as well?
I have been interested in photography all my life but I decided to become an art director. I work with photographers a lot but when photography became digital it woke up my love for it again. It was so much easier to take pictures because you could see the results immediately. Since I am still an art director my income is about 50/50.
What was your favorite experience regarding your photo-projects and why?
Every country, every city has its own charm so I don’t have a particular favorite experience. But sometimes you feel that you are creating great photos. I had that in Tokyo when I was under a bridge and the sun was shining on the people underneath and at that moment I knew everything was right to make a great photo.
Let’s talk about your New York project: It’s full of very strong portraits. Why have you choosen to capture people in streets, going somewhere, living their routines?
Because I want to catch people as who they really are, not staged. Because when I do stage photos I loose the spontaneous feeling and appearance. I never ask people to pose for me, I just steal a moment from their lives. But I don’t feel like a thief. I watch the people in the streets and click at the right moment. I try to hold them as a mirror although they probably will never see the photo.
How did you end-up in New York, anyway?
I love New York, the city is such a melting pot of all kinds of different cultures. The city gives energy and it is very inspiring. For a street photographer it is a candy shop. On every corner in NY you see interesting people. One day in New York is good for about 500 photos. Of course there is a lot of waste but there’s still enough to show to people who would like to see them.
You also captured some beautiful street views. Was it hard to understand exactly how you wanted to represent this city in your project?
No, it was not very hard because for me it is also street photography. Street photography doesn’t mean that there has to be people involved. In fact, without people is the purest way to shoot street. I think the combination of portraits and street views gives a good image of the city.
What kind of impression has this city left you with overall?
The city is electric and acts like a magnet to me. The tall buildings in Manhattan give off a special light. The sun reflecting in the windows works as an extra light source. The lights and colors surprise the tourists on Broadway. The crazy and funny people on Coney Island. Soho feels like a village and is cozy. You can feel Asia’s presence 100% in Chinatown. The funky people in Harlem. It is possible to shoot 24/7 in New York. A street photographer never sleeps in New York.
Let’s talk about your techniques. What cameras are you using and why?
I used to use a Nikon D700 with the 14-24mm from Nikon. But walking the whole day in New York with that on my wrist was very heavy. So these days I use a Fujifilm x1 Pro with the 18mm (24mm) Fujinon and the 35mm (50mm) Fujinon. It is light, the photos are super sharp, and I love the sensor of the Fuji camera. And when I want to take photos in a very light way I use the Samsung EX2F the lens to get an aperture of 1.4. It’s brilliant! Ok you can’t compare this camera with the Fujifilm or Nikon but for example I took my photo of the Brooklyn Bridge with the Samsung.
Is it hard to select the coloring for your photos? Is it a spontaneous thing that comes when you are editing photos or do you always have in mind how you would like your projects to turn out?
No, it is not hard at all. It costs me about 10 minutes to edit a photo. I use a preset in Lightroom and after that I fine tune the photo because no photo is the same. After that I paint with the light brush in my photos. It depends what happens when I see the photos on my screen, I don’t have a plan in my mind so it is a spontaneous process.
What would be your best advice for young photographers, who are trying to capture a city’s life?
I would advise them to buy a wide angle lens because you have to go to the people who you want to shoot. Approach them from 1.5-2 meters and then shoot. You can feel the distance in photos when you use a long lens but we want to be close to the subject so use a short lens. Oh and don’t be afraid most people won’t even know you took a photo of them, if they do, smile understandingly to them and walk away. Remember the streets are a public place so you may shoot people. If people really don’t like what you did then use your common sense and delete the photo.
Edited by Melissa Searle