Little Box conversation 


Cosmin Gârleșteanu

First of all Cosmin, please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Bucharest, Romania. I'm 35 and I'm addicted to photography. Especially to street photography. When I was a boy, I dreamt of becoming a choreographer or to work in the music industry, but I ended up graduating from the Academy of Economic Studies. A total waste of time. I didn't like it at all. As a student, I started working as an editor and doing voice overs for a radio station, and after graduation I found a job in television. Again, a creative medium. 

Nowadays I'm still in television, working as a video editor. I am an active person and when I really like something, I totally devote myself to it. No sacrifice is too big. I like to respect people and to be respected. I like to believe that photography is the best medicine, which is at hand and quite cheap. And it goes very well with music. For the last 3 years I've been an admin of the international street photography group OnSpot. During this time I have had the pleasure of promoting excellent photographers and I learnt a lot from them. I have been part of various street photography exhibitions, including the Miami, London, Milano and Bruxelles festivals.

What drew you to street photography and why is it special to you? 

When I started to photograph, I had no limits and I used to shoot almost anything, from flowers to landscape or conceptual images. It was an important stage though, as it made me realise what I wanted to do. The thing that was missing was the human element. I can say that I've been making street photography in the last 4 years. I can only think now how many moments passed by me before, without even noticing... 

In the beginning, as for everybody shooting street, my main problem was getting close to people or better said, overcoming the fear of it. Quite a great challenge for me, as I am not (or wasn't) the bravest person. Little by little I started to get closer to the subject and my heart beat stronger and stronger. I began to feel alive and present in that moment. I tried not to completely leave aside what I was doing before and sometimes I tried to combine the elements. At the end of the "Pursuit of Happiness" film, Will Smith manages to get the Wall Street job interview and leaves the building extremely happy, not knowing how to express his joy. He is overwhelmed with emotion. Photography offers me such moments and that is why it is special to me.

You live in Bucharest. Please tell us a little about what it is like to be a street photographer there. 

The majority of the images I post are from Bucharest. I can’t travel as much as I would love to and so I try to get the best from here, the place where I spend most of my time. It’s a challenge, for sure. There are days (most of the time actually) when nothing seems to be happening. It’s when the state of mind interferes. There are also times when I might catch a few good moments in a single day.  But they don’t happen very often. The architecture and the quite tight spaces in Bucharest are a pain in the neck. Regarding people, they are receptive enough to being photographed, although there are situations when they do have something to comment about it. There is no garden without its weeds. 

In Bucharest I try to feel as a foreigner would, to try and see things differently as often as possible, even if I shoot in the same places many times. The fact that I listen to music all the time while shooting leaves the impression that I am relaxed (which in fact is true)and helps me not to be noticed too much. There are still many places in Bucharest where I haven't been shooting, so there is enough to explore. From my point of view, there is no such thing as a place that can’t be photographed/has nothing to offer. It’s up to us to open our eyes widely and not try to compare it to spectacular locations from around the world. 

If I were to portray Bucharest in a few words, those would be: the element of surprise. Usually, when I get out for a walk, I don’t know where I will end up - sometimes I follow my gut, other times the light. I alternate between the center of the city and areas where there are more houses and less people in the street. Diversity is very important to me. Why wouldn’t an image without people, but with lots of feeling and mood, be just as interesting as a candid shot in which the human element is present?    

What is your approach on the streets? 

In the beginning, I felt attracted by the more graphic and dynamic elements in street photography. Little by little, I became more interested in the moments, moods etc. So I started doing that - trying to observe the human behaviour and taking into account the repeatable cycles. After all, we have the same behaviours most of the time and you can anticipate certain moments. I pay attention to being respectful with the subject as well. The humour in photography can be captured without humiliating the subject. 

During those 4 years since I started, I’ve been extensively shooting and I have realised that diversity offers you many more ways of expressing yourself. Did the prism help me to have fun and develop my imagination? For sure. Did it help me to overcome my initial fear of getting closer to people? Hell yeah. Maybe the most important step I took. Did I realise one doesn’t have to run after the spectacular all the time? Obviously. Also, I discovered minimalism. Just like chefs, sometimes photographers need more ingredients, other times salt and pepper will be enough.

The majority of your images appear to be candid. Can you tell us why you are attracted towards candid photography and tell us a little about your ethics towards candid photography.

No image of mine is staged. I love candid photography because it represents me. It seems to me it’s the most sincere way of approaching photography. Or at least it suits me best. This doesn’t mean I am not able to appreciate a street portrait taken with the approval of the subject. I just don’t take this type of shot. I photograph things as they are, people in their "natural environment”. Everyday life offers so many moments that it is quite hard not to be attracted by the candid. 

I also like documentary photography and this would change the game a little. But until I get to shoot like that, I admire what other photographers do. And there are many who do it well.  I never asked for permission to photograph and I never will. Have I been spotted while capturing a moment? That is a different story. I rather embrace sincerity. The candid shot has one important quality in my opinion: it is unrepeatable. And it’s never easy to catch candid moments. In fact, this is the biggest challenge, maybe that is why it appeals so much to me.

Do you have a preference for colour photography or black and white photography and why? Do you think a photograph needs to be black and white to be timeless? What are your thoughts on this?

 It doesn’t matter to me if a photograph is in color or in black and white. It’s the message that matters. I think it’s every photographer's decision what he or she wants to pass on. Lately I’ve chosen to edit in color, but this doesn’t mean that if an image would look better in b&w I won’t edit it that way. It depends a lot on circumstances and the message. In both cases, I try as much as possible to show the mood I observed while photographing, and not to distort things. After all, life is so colorful and it would be a pity not to show it. Right now I imagine a shot of an immense green wall, from which a ginger cat takes a leap. Why would I edit such an image in b&w? Besides the moment, here the chromatic would also play a major role. 

I think photographers should follow their own style, their gut, and the message they want to convey. An image doesn’t have to be in b&w to be timeless. And now comes to mind the photographs of Joel Meyerowitz or Saul Leiter, and they are not in b&w... On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that the images of Robert Frank, Bresson, Elliot Erwitt or Shirley Baker don’t have a peculiar beauty and profoundness.

What do you think are the most important qualities or elements of amemorable photo? 

A photograph has to make you feel something or to ask questions. As a viewer, you should feel part of the action. Solid composition and the technique are also important, but I think the moment itself is the priority. The ability to combine non-related elements and to leave aside the unnecessary is what makes a picture powerful. Instead of cliches, I will always appreciate originality and the character a photographer conveys in his images. Because when he swims against the stream, a photographer becomes exposed, he is vulnerable. And we all like stories, don't we?

Choose a favourite street photograph (of yours) and tell us why you like it.

Oh, there would be several, but I will limit myself to just one. Last year I had some health problems and for about 3 months I wasn't able to shoot at all. It was quite hard to get back on track, to get back into the rhythm and the necessary state of mind. For about 3 weeks I would go out almost daily to shoot and ask myself why nothing was really ever happening anymore. Then I would tell myself that maybe I could not concentrate well enough or I couldn't relax. Not even five minutes later, a man dressed as Superman was sitting in front of me in a tram station. I saw this as a sign. I smiled and realised that it takes a lot of patience, perseverance and a state of grace. And some luck, why not? But one can make his own luck if he leaves aside the commodity culture eg Netflix and gets out of his home to shoot. We have no excuse. And chances increase when we take action. And sooner or later we will be rewarded. For me it's a gift to be able to observe all those details. I remember one with pleasure: I had stopped to have a coffee in a crowded area inBucharest. In front of the coffee shop I saw a woman leaning over and crumbling some bread to feed the pigeons. I didn't take the shot, but I clearly enjoyed the moment. I learned something. But I think I wouldn't have noticed the moment without photography. 

What do you think about the way Instagram is popularising street photography?

I have discovered many excellent photographers onInstagram. Photographers that inspire me and make me want to go on. Through their stories. Compared to Facebook, it seems more useful to me. You can follow quite easily the portfolios of the photographers. Instagram is a good calling card for photographers, although it was first designed for images taken by phone.

What are your tips for people who are new to street photography?

The best advice that I got from a friend, also a photographer, was not to look for the sensational. From that moment on, I started to appreciate much more simplicity, and the banal. Another bit of advice that I would give is for them to try anything, without restrictions, to let their imagination fly and to be inspired by other photographers, but to be inspired, not to copy, because there's a big difference. We all sort of change our perception through the images we get to see daily. I think in this case the Internet doesn't help. What works for me, doesn't necessarily work for you as well. Without work and practice you can't achieve too much. 

I believe that one of the biggest assets a photographer can have is perseverance. Nothing falls from the sky and you have to make sacrifices and to be passionate enough not to perceive things that way. Another piece of advice is for them is to buy photobooks - as nothing compares to looking at printed images, to attend workshops when possible and to be open to new experiences. Also watch as many films as possible (films with photographic potential) and to be amazed by the things and places they encounter on the way.  Also, to write down their ideas, not to be afraid of new things and to believe in themselves because they are unique. Not to forget, modesty is also important. There is no magic recipe, only very short days.