Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Focus On: posidonia

The Eye

den·i·zen [den-uh-zuhn]
1.  an inhabitant; resident.
2.  a person who regularly frequents a place; habitué: the denizens of a local bar.

I frequent that part of Etsy where you will find the work of the POE Team, so you see; I am what you might call a denizen of the Etsy POE Team.  As such, I encounter the work of a good many of our members, probably even yours.  And it is that familiarity with the art and artists that make up our team that has been the source and inspiration for the selections I have made to populate this feature.

That is, up until now.

I’ve noticed, and perhaps you have too, how often the same names appear on any given Etsy search for work by the POE Team.  Bounce the names you regularly see against the list of team members, and you’ll see, as I did, there are many more names on our roster than ever appear on a POE Team search.  So, I decided to take a stab at our roster, a literal random stab at our member list, to come up with someone that I was unfamiliar with to Focus On this week.

Mònica Castelló is the woman behind posidonia, and I recently had the pleasure of an extended conversation with her; I would like to share that with you now. 

Rain Walk

Steve:  I see a lot of photographs that I find interesting, and this makes me wonder about the person behind the camera; who are they, where do they come from, what is it in life that has made them who they are and put them on the path to what they do. So, my first question to you is this: who are you, where do you come from and what's your family like?

Mònica:  First question and first dilemma!  Who am I?  Our particular vision of the world makes us what we are.  Maybe I can show you a bit of me through my photography.

Photography allows me to show a bit the world through my eyes.  Some say I'm very variable, or even affectionately my friends say I'm a bit loony.  I am passionate and when I like something I don’t stop until I get what I propose.  But I like many things and sometimes I leave them unfinished (I hate that dark side of me!).  I never realize that I can’t cover them all...

My interest in photography and art in general started very early.  I remember as a child always asking my parents for a camera, and it took me a long time to get it.  I think the first shots I took were of my end of year tour at the end of primary school.  I was very upset when I opened the camera without rewinding the spool and most photos were lost.

It was my father who awoke my interest in art; drawing, photography, ceramics, and it was he that taught me to take photos with my first SLR camera…with the photometer broken!  Even now I laugh, the camera was a Russian Zenit, and it weighed a lot!  Even so I managed to manually calculate the shutter speed and lens aperture depending on the conditions.  I felt happy when my classmates asked me for copies of my photos of trips.

Foggy Days

Besides all this...what can I say about me?  I was born in Barcelona, as were my parents. I live in the seaside neighborhood of Poblenou.  My life has always been related with the sea, and I enjoyed growing up near it as I did with my sister and my parents.  

Today, I have two children, my son, the oldest just turned 5 and my daughter will soon have her first birthday.

After a few years in "stand by" mode I, with the encouragement of my husband, regained my interest in photography, and now my son is becoming a young photographer too!  I love to watch my son taking pictures and I'm always surprised by his criteria and his particular vision of things.

Even though I may still have a lot to learn, photography is my hobby and my passion.  My professional life, on the other hand, has very little to do with photography. As a marine biologist I work mainly in science communication.  The truth is that I like my job, and perhaps what I like most is communication about biology in its various aspects.  In my free time (oh? what’s that?) I enjoy music, photography, ceramics and drawing; just various ways to express a part of me, a part of my world view.

At the age of 45, my father gave up a career in informatics to become a ceramist; following his example, it is my dream to devote, little by little (when the feeding bottles and the work of biologist allow) more time to photography.  I love experimenting with textures, macros, with lighting or some techniques I learned from flickr's photographers like HDR.  I don’t have so much of a unique style; my photography and techniques are varied, perhaps as variable as my character and passion for different things in this life.

Old Barcelona Street

S:  What was it, do you suppose, that first got you interested in photography?

M:  Undoubtedly, one thing that greatly helped spark my interest in photography was when my uncle gave me my first camera, the Russian Zenit I spoke of earlier.  It was hard and heavy, but it was what I learned the basics of photography with.

Initially, I think photography for me was principally about collecting moments in time, moments with family, friends, and of places I visited.  Soon it became a quest of capturing the beauty of nature and its people and the small pleasures of life.  It's like a game for me and my husband, like a sport.  We love walking the streets of Barcelona and looking at the little things and details to photograph.  I enjoy the fact that taking pictures is a pursuit, not only a destination.  Sometimes we have to say to ourselves: stop!  

Sometimes I wonder why I have such a big urge to take photos.

S:  Have you taken any photographic instruction, or are you self-trained? Have you ever had an opportunity to process your own film and prints?

M:  Unfortunately I have not received formal training in photography more than a year in high school.  I had to learn on my own with the help of books, practice and following the example of other photographers.  When I met my husband, he rescued my passion for photography.  On weekends we got up early and went out hunting for pictures.  My husband (then my boyfriend) and I also rescued an old enlarger with which we started to print our own photographs.  We had fun during those times.  We put our parents’ house upside down to create a dark room and almost intoxicate ourselves with developing solutions.  We experimented a lot with the black and white photography, making reservations, adding different types of textures, playing with baking paper and others to blur the image...

The Field

At the University, when I was studying biology, I had the opportunity to reveal my photographs.  In this case pictures were taken with the microscope, even with the electron microscope.  The truth is that they are true pieces of art, including bacteria, mitochondria, diatoms or animal tissues...

S:  You know, Mònica, sometimes you learn more by teaching yourself.  It certainly sounds like you had some experiences that you would not have had if you had received formal instruction.

What are your favorite things to photograph?  What inspires you most?

M:  Clouds, clouds, stormy days and more clouds...  Well, I like the landscapes with clouds, especially large fields and its changing colors depending on the light and season. I also love the old part of Barcelona, with its old houses and streets.  In general I like to photograph the old and decadent part of the cities.  I also enjoy photographing people in action or in their daily work but I repress a lot because I'm embarrassed to photograph people directly.  But a nice shot with people is very satisfying to me.  You end up with little pieces of history; of feelings... you have captured an image of an unrepeatable moment.

S:  When you go out to shoot, do you usually have something in mind that you want to capture or do you take it as it comes?

M:  It depends on the day.  Sometimes I take the camera in search for whatever comes. But sometimes I go out thinking about HDR.  For this type of picture not everything is valid, neither every kind of heaven.  In that case I look for certain corners in the city, or abandoned or decadent sites, or certain landscapes with clouds that are the ones I like for these photographs.  To make a HDR I usually make three shots (rarely 5) of the same thing.  Then the combination of these three shots with different exposures results in a HDR photo (High Dynamic Range).  Not everyone likes the HDR; there are both fans and detractors of this technique, but I like the amount of detail and colors that you can see a photo of this type.


S:  High Dynamic Range is a very interesting technique; how did you get started doing that?

M:  The first time I saw pictures in HDR was browsing flickr photos.  I was impressed with images full of detail and color in both the highlights and dark areas.  I saw these pictures were tagged as HDR, and so began my research into this technique and practiced what I learned on the web.  I especially liked the pictures of Stuck in Customs (Trey Ratcliff), Kris Kros (Joe), MorBCNdespedazator (Héctor Martí) and Ásmundur Þorkelsson.

S:  I'm always curious what tools people are using, so tell me, what do you use? What's in your camera bag?

And if money was not an issue, what one thing would you like to add?

M:  A few years ago, I used to carry in my bag, a tripod, the camera, a filter holder, a polarizer, a flash, a couple of zoom lenses and a macro ... sometimes even I used to shoot underwater photographs with my prehistoric Sea & Sea Motor Marine (before the digital age!) but now, usually with a baby on my back, I carry only my Canon 450D with a 18-200 zoom lens. Sometimes I also carry the macro lens when my biologist persona emerges and I'm going to hunt bugs, or botanical details.

What I would like to add now is an 11 mm wide-angle.


S:  It sounds like you've got a very nice setup!

What do you suppose has been the most important factor in the development of your style and your art?

M:  Honestly, I'm not aware of having a unique style. But I guess it is undeniable that in everything we do reflects part of ourselves.  However, if there is something that has contributed to the style of my photos, it is the opportunity I have to do many different projects in my work, and having worked alongside designers.  This, along with my curiosity and passion for new things has allowed me to learn Photoshop and other tools useful in photography and digital retouching.

S:  Mònica, as a photographer I'm sure you look at and appreciate the work of others; who are your favorite photographers and how have they influenced or inspired your work?

M:  I love the originality and the audacity of Annie Leibovitz.  Also, of course, the fantastic black and white landscapes of Ansel Addams.  I love the way Robert Doisneau has of capturing the essence of daily life in his photos.  Also, as a biologist and not just a lover of photography, I admire the prolific work on travel and nature from Oriol Alamany , a Catalan photographer of great talent.  And as for underwater photography, I'm a fan of Norbert Wu; I am impressed by the sharpness of his submarine images. Although my photography really has little to do with all these great artists, and I am very far from reaching its high quality, I admire their wonderful work.


S:  It's always enlightening to me to find out which photographers have inspired others; I love it!

So, Mònica, tell me, where do you want photography to take you, or where do you want to take it?  What does the future hold for you, photographically?

M:  Good question ... I don't know, I haven’t given it any serious thought, but for now, I know that I enjoy photography.  For me and my husband it is like a game and we love researching and learning new techniques.  Sometimes I think I'd love to devote myself fully to photography and, above all, to have a studio; a space dedicated exclusively to my files and photography and digital retouching and other artistic hobbies I combine with photography.  But I would miss marine biology.  So for now, I hope to reach more people with my photography and organize an exhibition or even consider publishing some book (although I still have a lot of work to do to achieve it).

Dancing Jellies

S:  You know Mònica, it's perfectly alright to have more than one passion, and I'm not aware of any rule that states that a person must relinquish one before taking up another. So, you go ahead and pursue your two passions; you'll be happier, and we'll be able to enjoy the fruits of your photography.

Thank you for taking this time with me, I've enjoyed it very much!

M:  Steve, it has been a pleasure to have this conversation with you!


PhotoGrunt is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle, Washington.  He captures images wherever he goes, and he  frequently even uses a camera.  His work can be seen on his websiteblog and his Etsy shop.


Just Me said...

Wonderful story. I would love to hear more about HDR Photography. Can you recommend and resources or tutorials? Thank you for this wonderful story and introduction to some absolutely stunning photos!

readingsully2 said...

Lovely photography.

Mary said...

wow! I'm really amazed at the detail in architecture and use of everyday scenes with HDR and texture. Great feature!

PhotoGrunt said...

For more information on HDR, this site is probably as good a place as any to start:

And, I'm sure you can find all the information you ever wanted, and more, from a Google search.



Anika said...

Beautiful. Bajos and Circus are my favorites.

It's refreshing to see some new names come into the POE front...I always love it when introduced to new creative talent, new inspiration. Great find!

Nakedeye17 said...

Another great piece, Steve. I love that her HDR photos are subtle. If you know what to look for, you can tell they've been altered, but they're about the image, not the technique. Beautiful work.

Briole Photography said...

I really enjoyed this interview! Beautiful photography!