By Omar Z Robles
My work as a photographer has been characterized largely by my choice of subject matter and composition. Best known for photographing dancers against uncommon backdrops, I frequently get asked why and how I choose the backdrops that make it into the final frame. The truth is, when I travel (other than researching photography laws in each respective country), I don’t spend much time researching the “best places to photograph”.
Why not?I prefer to be surprised by the places I visit and let them speak to me as I make my way into the unknown. Avoiding preconception of a physical location helps my process: I believe it helps me to create more honest images. Honest, because the final output reflects my own discoveries as opposed to try to emulate what I have seen others do – even subconsciously. This can be frustrating at times, but frustration is a part of the creative process which welcome with open arms. Much as necessity is the mother of invention, frustration can be the propeller of creativity.I found myself traveling in Mexico City, where I was able to enlist and schedule several dancers before my trip. I had a full schedule of shoots before landing. Yet, I had no idea where was I going to photograph. While the thought frightened me, it also motivated me. Throughout the trip, I relied both on the advice of my dancers and local Fujifilm X-Photographer Jaime Ávila who, out of his own initiative, pre-scouted a few places for me (thanks a lot, brother!).However, seeing is believing. In spite of their local knowledge and willingness to help, it is not until I am at the actual locations that I face the real challenges: Will this location work for me? How can I make this place my own? How can I translate it into my visual language? My mission is to make the dancer the protagonist. It’s my responsibility to feature him or her in the location while creating a narrative evocative of the city. I can only achieve this through patience and observation.
No matter where I am, I need to observe what makes each place unique. And, more importantly, what is unique to me at that particular moment in time. That takes time and some trial and error – that’s where patience needs to kick in.
You CAN’T avoid heavy traffic in Mexico City….so you used it to your advantage.
Mexico City is the largest city in the world with an immense population of 20 million. Instead of avoiding crowds, I decided to incorporate the fot traffic as a key element of this photograph.
Here in Mexico City, more so than architectural elements, the one thing that has caught my attention is its density. LOTS of it. There are as many people in the streets as there are cars. While the density initially felt like a hardship, I took the time to discover how to use it to my advantage – and more importantly, how to use the density to tell the story of my experience here. Instead of running away from it, I decided to place the dancers between congested areas of people and between heavy traffic lanes.
To my advantage, working with FUJIFILM X Series gear has been a great blessing in these types of situations. Surfing waves of people, I was carrying equipment so light that I was able to move easily through the crowds. Having lightweight gear and fast autofocus, I jumped in and out of traffic swiftly (and safely).
Also, I have used the lightness of my X-T2 in combination with its burst mode to create slow exposures in areas where there are a lot of people moving. The result is an image of a magnificently elegant dancer standing strong with a blurred sea of moving people. I rarely carry a tripod; these images were easily created handheld.
I have been using the tilting screen quite often to shoot from extremely low angles. Shooting from low angles often helps in diminishing visual background noise.
My journey in Mexico City started with many revelations about my own process and creativity. I found myself slowly unraveling the unknown with the help of X Series and a true sense of adventure and exploration…