Video: Joe Aguirre On Photography And Finding Meaning

Joe Aguirre Ether

San Francisco based photographer Joe Aguirre is known for his passionate images that span the gap between street and documentary photography. This beautifully shot video follows Joe to Denmark where he was shooting for his upcoming book, Ether. He talks about photography and how he creates meaning by finding the connection between himself and his subjects. Hit the jump to watch the video!

Ether: Joe Aquirre On Photography And Finding Meaning

I don’t know what draws me to a person. There’s something kismet in the way a camera bridges the divide between stranger and photographer.

I’m not a storyteller. A poem seems to be the best thing to compare my work to. I photograph who I am and what I see in me, in other people places and things.

Ether is the void. The space where moments get lost to memory and cirumstance. It’s the pause in a song that holds you in place only to let you slip away again. Ether is the quiet moments in between, the times you look out the passenger side window and see something only you will know, the silence in bed when you don’t know how to say you’re sorry to the one you love. Ether is not being able to shake off a dream.

Landing in Denmark, I felt things and saw things that I could only articulate through a visual language. A part of me that I didn’t know was asleep had been awakened by inspiration. Welcomed by strangers into even stranger places. A couple losing their home, pushed away by society. An old man who has lost his son and mind to drugs and reality. I find myself in finding them and with me they will always be.

Love, hate, death, departures, sadness and celebration. Photographing. The only way to find yourself is to get lost in things.

We wear psychological armor to protect our emotions from the world around us. The camera can get past these layers and offer a window into a place that’s hard to go.

Empathy and curiosity is the key to understanding. The camera reveals our true nature. From the subject’s perspective this device for viewing can act like a mirror.

Some of my favorite photographers not only made photographs on the street or went and documented things but they made intimate portraits of people in their lives. And you can feel a connection between them at least with what I do because I don’t make studio photographs.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, what to photograph. Because I didn’t understand my surroundings at all. I didn’t know where I was going. I just knew I was going to a town and I would go from there. And so when I saw where I was and I saw that the people were different I decided I wanted to take a more introspective approach and talk to people. Make portraits as opposed to just wandering and snapping photographs. Because I feel like if I were to do that I wouldn’t necessarily have seen anything, I would just be looking for a street photograph. I wanted to get to know my surroundings a little more personally.

I rarely ask a model to pose, they’re usually people that I know, or people that I love or care about personally. And it’s another way for me to explore and understand my relationships and my surroundings. And to tell somebody that I want them to be in a photograph is my way of saying that I love them and I want them around forever.

Whether it’s a portrait of my mom, or if it’s somebody I’ve me that has an interesting story, or somebody that I’m intimate with or can have a connection to be in an intimate setting with them to make certain styles of photographs. And I really do enjoy the connection that I have with people when I make those photos. And that’s pretty much what it comes down to, you know?

I photograph to feel, to connect with my subjects to feel grounded. To understand and relate to this world in which I feel lost. To find a purpose, to see inside.

My name is Joe Aguirre and I photograph to keep my memory. And with my last waking breath I ask to dream of you.

You can check out more of Joe Aquirre work online at:

Joe Aguirre will be screening this film and talking about his work at the upcoming StreetFoto Street Photography Festival in San Francisco. If you’re going to be in the area this is definitely worth checking out!

StreetShootr’s Take

I’m a sucker for these kinds of short form documentary videos where people walk in slow motion and gaze balefully at the horizon while they talk about their motivation and their work. They’re being done enough at this point to seem cliche but if you can get past the style there’s some solid insight to the photographic process here.

On the one hand it’s easy to dismiss Joe Aguirre as the hipster Trent Parke but his work seems to be less autobiographical and more of a conversation between himself and the world. It’s not about him but without him the images would not exist. This conversation between self and not self is the heart of his photographic process and the very thing that makes his work so engaging.

Joe talks about making portraits as opposed to just walking around and snapping photographs because if he were to do that he wouldn’t necessarily have seen anything. It’s easy for street photographers to forget that our subjects are more than props in a scene we’re directing. The best street photographs (like Joe Aguirre’s portraits) tell you something meaningful about the humans that occupy the frame.

Something to remember when you hit the streets!

What’s your take on Joe Aguirre’s Ether? An honest and passionate take on the documentary tradition? Or too hipster to take seriously? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!

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