We had the most interesting afternoon, after a chat and few (many!) drinks with Andres Pantoja, a London based visual artist. The strength of his art is in his capability of capturing the essence of life’s moments as well as social and political issues that are part of our society. His history and his background are reflected in his works. Through them is expressed a part of the society, which is often not visible to the eyes of all.
Andres, let’s start talking about you: When did you start taking pictures? When did you realise that you wanted to be a photographer?
I have been taking photos for 15 years. I started with analogue photography at university when I was studying Graphic Design in Bogotá, Colombia. I realised that I wanted to be a photographer when I started to develop images in the dark room an d also when I felt that I could capture moments that would never happen again. After finishing my degree in Graphic Design, I also studied Visual Arts – this was very useful because I gained in-depth experience in the creation of different kinds of photographs.
What are the most relevant steps of your career as a photographer, so far?
I felt that with my work “Equipaje Vacio” where I created an Installation with photography, video and found objects, I managed to create a work that was visually, but also politically interesting and very relevant to the situation in Colombia at the time. I feel that each exhibition I have had, and each time I have published my work, I have not only had the opportunity to show, but also to gain feedback and learn as an artist; so each event, in its own way, is an important step in my career.
What sort of elements make you think: “Oh yeah, I really want to take a picture of this”? What attracts your attention?
The elements that I consider when I go to take photos are composition, light and the moment. If these elements are correct, my eye and my feelings start to work together trying to create a good image. Generally form, colour and the position of the elements in the space attract my attention.
You are Colombian, so how do you think your background and your history, influence your work?
Colombia is a place of contrasts, where many conflicts happened, but at the same time you can find carnivals all year, big cities, amazing landscapes and many friendly people. For me, these things and the reflection on it give me material for my creative process in art and photography.
We could say that what you do is “social/political photography”. What is the message you want to give to the public?
I can say, part of my photographic work is orientated to document social and political issues. The reason for this is because since I was a child I have had great influence from my father. He inspired me through philosophy and through working with communities, which led me to understand that society needs to express itself, and as a photographer, my work aims to capture this expression and create images that cause viewers to reflect. With each work that I develop, the message varies, but I always try to be respectful and socially conscious.
Which artists/photographers influence you?
During my career in photography I have seen work from many photographers in different fields and with great talent. I would like to mention Rene Burri, a documentary photographer and for me, one of the more interesting Magnum photographers. The Mexican, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and his great ability to capture in black and white, the essence of the object and his way of working – always with his camera looking for the correct moment. JR, a French photographer, who creates large scale spatial interventions, working with underprivileged communities in different parts of the world.
Do you think your style and your way of photographing have changed over the years?
I think, everyday when I face a new situation taking photos, I learn more and the way to photograph changes through the experience. While I try to maintain a visual style, I feel I am always in the process of learning and evolving.
What is the best feedback you have received?
I have received very useful feedback from all my exhibitions, but I particularly remember, with the piece ‘Equipaje Vacío’, when people would view the installation and express profound feelings about the situation of Colombian refugees. For me, the conversations I had with people after they had seen the piece, reaffirmed my social compromise and my confidence as a photographer.
Why have you decided to settle down in UK, and in London to be more precise? Is this city inspirational for you?
I decided to settle down in the UK, indirectly because of photography. In Colombia, while working at a photography museum, I met another photographer who was exhibiting at the museum. We quickly developed a relationship despite the fact that she was based in London. She stayed in Colombia for three years with me, and then asked me to move to London with her, so I did! I love living in London and find inspiration in the city everyday.
Generally speaking, which other elements are inspirational for you? And what is it aspirational?
What inspires me the most is the ability to capture a specific moment in a given situation, whether it’s a student protest, a carnival or a landscape. I’m always looking for the moment when the light, elements and situation come together to make a perfect image. I always aspire to be a better photographer and artist by continuing to learn and develop my practice.
What projects do you have in the pipeline and what are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on an ongoing series called London Calling, which documents protests and marches in the city of London from 2007 until the present day. I’m also on a trip in South and Central America at the moment, where I am discussing various forthcoming projects, but I can’t give away any details yet!
Are you exhibiting somewhere at the moment or if you have any exhibitions programmed in the foreseeable future?
I recently showed some images from London Calling as part of the Photomonth London event. I am also exhibiting a series that documents a group of ultra large format analogue photographers at the Double Negative Darkroom in London. I have a couple of forthcoming exhibitions in Colombia, and I’m hoping to show some newer images from London Calling in London and the new material that I’m working on on my trip, later this year.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about Andres, here’s his website and contacts: