Some time ago, eye-catching photographs started curiously showing up on walls in the streets of Madrid. Everybody wondered if it was part of some commercial propaganda or advertising stunt or if it was just some new street tagging craze that was getting big. If you looked closer and paid enough attention to the photographs though, you could tell from the execution and the details that it wasn’t just some kids vandalizing; you could tell that there was a lot of talent behind them. Intrigued, I started doing research to find out who exactly was responsible for these incredible pieces, which I have since found out are called paste-ups. I wanted to meet this nameless artist and talk to him (or her) about these inspiring images that are being displayed in my home city for everyone to see. I moved heaven and hell and did some serious stalking (a skill that, I have a sneaking suspicion, I have gotten quite good at!).
Finally, one day, my hard-work paid off and I found the man behind the art. Madrid-based street artist and black-and-white photographer Rolling Habits is the force behind the city’s massive paste-ups. Bearded, with a punk-fresh attitude and an engaging personality, he is a creative and passionate analogue photographer that has a very unique approach to and vision about the craft. His style is simple, capturing snapshots of people and everyday things in a way that many would construe as nonchalant,yet one cannot help but be captivated by his images,which are almost like glimpses to his subjects’ souls.
ABOUT FILM PHOTOGRAPHY
What does analogue photography give you that digital photography doesn’t?
Analogue photography gives me many things that the digital can´t. I started shooting film and when I moved to digital, I lost part of the magic. Everything became more automatic. But I am only speaking for myself; anyone should do what makes them feel more comfortable or productive. In my case, it’s way easier to edit them in analogue since I pay more attention to what I am doing and shoot only 30 times instead of 300 or even 3000. The process is better for me since although I’ve been using several programmes for many years now, I am still not a big fan of computers. I prefer the manual and mechanic process, and of course the results. I think we are just guinea pigs of digital photography and even at its best, we haven´t reached even 15% of what we have done in analogue photography.
How long have you been shooting? Do you remember the first picture you took?
I’ve been shooting since the very beginning. I got an Indiana Jones kit that included a camera as a communion present. I would be lying if I said I remember my first picture, but I do have a lot of albums and pictures with memories. I have to say that most of my memories are related to photographs that produce new memories for me and take me to places I wouldn’t have remembered every time I look at them. All my memories are in my photographs.
I’ve read in a few interviews that you use photography to document your daily life.
When did you decide to go forward and make it your way of living?
It’s actually not my way of living, because I consider photography as something personal. I’ve created a small live video mapping production company, and I approach photography the way I feel about it – in a sincere way. I have finally understood the concept of sincerness in art that my teachers taught me when I was studying Photography and Digital Creation in Catalonia – do what you feel and what motivates you, without trying to please anybody or force it to become like someone else’s work.
How much of improvisation do you do in your photography?
Do you feel more attracted to those or the more well studied ones?
It’s mostly improvisation. When I shoot portraits, I would lie if I’d said I don´t influence the way the models move or pose. I like to confront them, to get more direct, spontaneous and fast pictures. I have also done some commercial photo shoots for work and those come with more preparation. But I like the difference between those two worlds. There are many people that can use both at the same time (good for them!), but in my case it’s totally the opposite and I think it will always be this way.
I’ve read you prefer shooting in BW because you can control the process more.
What do you want to achieve with this? What do you normally to modify these photos?
For me, black and white developing is the process I can control the most, it’s easy and direct. I am now getting into color developing but everything is more complicated with the temperatures, etc. I would really shoot more color if I had the cash to make the copies in Lab35 (Greetings to them!! Haha). It would be great if I could have copies of all my negatives for only 7 Euros but that day hasn’t arrived yet!
As for modifying things in the developing process, I know many people here are involved with Lomography, but I already shot with many different cameras and made lots of mistakes with them. Now I enjoy having a good lens and getting crisp pictures when I do photography. I take too many pictures and I don’t have to the time to experiment with weird development processes. My photography is not as much artsy as it is documental; I shoot what happens to me in my daily and conventional stages.
Tell us about the process you used when you shot this photo.
This is a portrait of a heavy metal teenager at the door of FNAC in Gran vía. I was working there helping some friends with a production last Christmas and I saw these kids. I really liked their attitude, their hair, their fresh pre-teen look… so I went over to them, told them that I liked their vibe, and asked them if I could take photos of them. I had a compact camera with me. I processed the shots in my lab and we pasted them up on San Bernardo Street. If you stop by, you can still see some of the photos! Normally, they would stay up there from 10 to 30 weeks!
MADRID AS PLAYGROUND
Are the places in Madrid where you normally do the paste ups strategic in any way?
We do the bombing technique. I really like graffiti work and I am friend and have worked with graffiti artists so I knew how it worked and I liked it. In the city center, Police is always around so we have to do it quickly: we take 20 posters, a bucket and two long sticks, aiming for the highest, most disturbing or nicest city spots.
Street is your main way of connecting with people. Have you ever considered moving your pictures in exhibitions?
Yes I am open to anything but, as I said before, I don’t want to condition my work and creative process (even though it sounds a bit presumptuous), I don’t want to intoxicate it. I’ve taken part in several competitions but the thing is you really lose the time you could be using shooting on the street. But if someone likes my photography and believes in me… so be it!
I’d like to take the opportunity, however, to say that my work is going to be published in a fanzine together with two other artists, Maya Cohen and Alberto Feijó. We were selected by Roberto Vidal to exhibit in Conde Duque our works (in my case 10 pictures) related to Malasaña, an area in that city.
Was it your idea to paste up your photographs, or did any of your friends suggest it?
I have to say that I always liked the idea; I think it’s a great technique. Obviously the most important reference I have is JR, one French artist that I really admire. He produces really big things and he is very mediatic, even though I find him a bit repetitive sometimes. He says he is not a photographer but a Street artist. And I consider myself the other way around. The Street is just one more of the ways I could choose from.
Tell us about the other people involved in the project, is it a collective?
The truth is that Rolling Habits is not a collective, it only involves me. I created that pseudonym a couple of years ago, because it fits to several of the things I’m interested in. I ride bikes it’s the only transportation I use, rolls are my photography base… and some other things people can easily figure out. But in some ways, Rolling Habits is a collective since I have this video production company called SNACK! where my mate Guille and I work together on both personal and business projects. Besides him, I have many others helping me. There are always some friends willing to glue things up for me! I don’t understand it, it’s a funny thing!
If you had to describe Madrid with photographs, from a person you admire, what would those photographs be?
There are many people who think you have to consume art to be an artist, but I’m not one of them. I can, however, say that, for example, García Álix has great photographs defining Madrid. I was really impressed by the portrait of a rocker guy; this might be one of the photographs that made me want to say “Yeah! This is what I want to do for living.”
Which are your favourite films and cameras?
I normally use the same films. In Black and White I like Kodak Tmax 100 and 400. Right now they’ve just stopped producing the 3200 and it’s a pity because I liked that more than the Ilford one, which is less rough and grainier, and gives a greyish tone to the image. With the Hasselblad I use the same films but in 120, for colour I liked Kodak portra VC but since it has also been removed I will stay with the NC which is good as well.
Do you have any predilections for shooting in particular?
People have described me as a local-colour photographer, and I have to admit I think it’s a good definition. I am attracted to the image of a heavy-look guy I see in the streets, I like the old men chatting in bars… very Madrid-local details. I don’t like degenerated photography which is so popular at the moment. If I suddenly see a guy vomiting in the street, I prefer to portrait him in the moment when he is stumbling while getting up rather than the morbidity of the action itself. I might shoot both moments but I would definitely choose the other one during editing.
Is there any style that you are not confident on?
I think during the process of finding your own style, you end up sticking up to the photography where you feel comfortable at, and the person that denies it is a big liar haha! Since I’ve studied photography, there have been many things that I wasn’t able to do properly, but lately I’ve been achieving good results. I have fewer mistakes, and I am sure this is because I work with analogue photography. When you work in digital, the mistake is spotted via computer screen. In Analogue, you have to use your head; you get to use that knowledge that is stored in your head more in a more physical way. The light, the composition… I think this is part of the style of the photographer, but nowadays it seems to have been forgotten.
The personal style is not taking cool pictures, because there are many people able to do that. For example, I’m sure that some people from the older generation who are reading this interview had a great photography style back in the day, because they used one single camera and they were always in the same places and atmosphere… These days, determining your style is very difficult because we are living in the consumerism era. We have plenty of different plans, with diverse people and often changing scenarios. We have 5 types of lenses, 4 gears… and when you see the portfolio of a photographer, it seems there are pictures from 15 different people in there. That’s why I took the decision of moving to Analogue, life is easier to me this way. I know when I have to take my camera, when I want to shoot and what I want to express myself with it.
Tell us a bit about your sources of inspiration.
My inspiration is daily life. My family, friends and people that inspire some feelings in me. There were many times when I was with a friend and he says, “Look! Take a pic of that freaky guy there!” But the thing is I can’t really shoot a person I don’t have a connection with, there must have something that catches my attention in a good way.
What do you think of the popular photography that is taking place in social media like Instagram or digital photography in general?
I really don’t understand it very well. I try to analyse the profiles of some of my friends in Instagram, people who I grew up with, and I’ve seen many different ways of using it. There are people that upload 10 pictures in a row from the same thing and they get 3 likes and they don´t think about it, and there are many selective uploaders as well. With the social networks, I basically like to go with the flow but more as a spectator really than an active user on them. I use them not so much to promote my photography but as a way of easy access to my
Regarding digital photography I think it can be very useful for some kind of people and I respect that 100%. But we can’t deny the fact that we are all looking to screens when we shoot digital, and the trial and error process is based on a screen, which in many cases can´t be reliable. I think digital photography has devalued the profession of the photographer. Ansell Adams once said that he would prefer photography to be 20 times more difficult than what it is nowadays. Well, I’d like it to be 20000 more, and then the work we do would be much better appreciated.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
I am going to the United States and, as I said before, I’m a big fan of cycling so I am going to travel from New York to Los Angeles, taking pictures with my Leica M6, my Leica Minilux and my Hasselblad. I have the route in my Moleskine, and I will take the US-50 road, also called the loneliest road in America. And yes, I am only going to take those three cameras because I am following the advice someone gave me once and that it might be useful for any of you as well. Try to shoot one whole year using the same camera, same lens and same roll. I admire William Klein and he once said in a documentary that he created his style by doing the same plans with the same people, using the same gear and film. This way, your eyes will get used to that reality and you will start to have a more accurate perception of the things around you. But as I’ve said plenty of times during the interview, you are free to do and you should do what suits you the most.
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Discover Rolling Habits’ work at http://rollinghabits.tumblr.com