Photographer Sergio Buss (fb, instagram, Become a Song) has an immediately arresting style. You can practically smell his photographs, feel the balmy humidity, or hear the fan clicking away in the background of the lazy day. In short, Sergio’s photography transports you to a place that’s hard to leave.
One of my favorite qualities of his work is how he’s not afraid to let the grain show, a particularly unique soft spot I have developed from early Japanese street photography (see Daido Moriyama). What I also really appreciate is Sergio’s use of locations. He uses space as part of the photograph, not as something to be removed. With this in mind, he occasionally has walls cutting through half the image, or plants in the way. Love it!
Another completely arresting quality of Sergio Buss’s work is his natural lighting. He’s not afraid to keep things dimly lit (which might account for the high grain!), which showcases his exceptional taste in lighting. It reminds me of the chairoscuro of Rembrant.
Finally, what sealed the deal for me, what made me realize I wanted to interview Sergio, was the softness of all of his photographs. Mood isn’t easily cheated, it comes directly from the heart and energy that a photographer uniquely creates during their shoots. Sergio creates a very casual, very natural feeling, a feeling of exploring and exposing, of opening up in those extremely sensitive moments of self.
He has one particular project called Become a Song (instagram) which is simply stunning. He explains it a little bit in the interview below, but the concept is that the photos are meant to be listened to with a song.
Sergio was kind enough to answer a few questions I had.
COT // It’s very clear that your camera is nearly always attached to your hip. Your style is such that it makes me feel like what I’m looking at is extremely real. A mix of perfected casual. Is this something that you do on purpose, or has it always been this way? I’d love to hear your roots in photography.
SB // I’ve been photographing as a hobby for 5 or 6 years and at about 2 years ago I’ve decided to make the leap and became a full time photographer. The reason why I started photographing is actually quite odd… during my free time I rescue stray dogs from the streets of Brazil (quite a common issue unfortunately) and because of that I was always asking my friends who were photographers to come over and take pictures of the dogs so I could find them a new home… they would always bail on me so after a while I got tired of that situation, decided to buy a camera and take the pictures myself.
COT // Your work is very South American to me. It’s not European, not Asian, it’s closer to North America but it still has a difference to it. Perhaps it’s the locations that you’re shooting in that give it this vibe…It’s gritty and raw but with such a delicate touch of intimacy that makes me feel nearly every image of yours that I see. Have you ever thought or reflected on how this effects your work?
SB // All the time because I really hate the locations I have to work with. Hahaha. If I had the choice I would not mind living in LA… awesome locations, great looking people and very cool lifestyle. Living both in LA or NY would be awesome!
COT // Your shoots themselves, are they taken from concept to completion or are you just hanging out with such stylish people that you don’t even have to try to make them look so good? I’d love to hear how you plan your photoshoots.
SB // Hahahaha I put a lot of tought into what I do. I go through all the production, wardrobe, props, locations… most of the time I really don’t like to rely on luck in order to get a good shot. I always have a clear image of what I want and I make it happen. And even if I fail… well… I’m the only one who knows my original concepts so people don’t perceive it as a failure. They might like it or not, but they never see it as a failure.
COT // Tell me how you get those in between shots?! Like, not the posing shots, but the in between ones where the girl is grabbing her friends face and smooshing it shots. I love those! They, I feel, express your character as a photographer.
SB // I just wait for something to happen and when it does, I’m ready to shoot. Lets say you’re in the jungle and there’s dangerous snakes all over the place… you’re aware of where you are and what might happen at any moment so you don’t wait until you see a giant snake getting ready to bite you to start thinking “I wonder where my knife is…”
COT // I want to know about Become a Song. I was reading your bio and you were talking about how your background is in composing music for television adds I think? You mentioned this project you wanted to switch things around, and I think this means that you used to use photographs as reference to inspire your compositions?
SB // Yup! I use some songs that I like as a way to get inspired. Become a Song actually started because I wanted to learn shooting film and because I didn’t just want to take random pictures I’ve decided to look for a theme to follow. Simple as that!
COT // What made you decide to separate the two bodies of work that you have? Is it an attempt to create a consistent image?
SB // I think it’s like having two different restaurants… a sushi place and a pizza joint! It would be weird to serve these very distinctive styles of food at the same place. Customers would get confused…
COT // I think it was that header image in the Come Home set you did, the first one where she’s standing on the balcony through glass windows, that made everything in time stop for me. It’s a sense of casual and in-between that I’ve come to really appreciate about your work. And the song you’ve attached to it, when I saw some of the black and white stuff with the grain in the image, everything just fit. Are you catching people on the road in their homes or do you rent places to shoot or a mix of both? What attracts you to the locations that you shoot in? Does it matter?
SB // Oh yeah, it matters a lot! ‘Come home’ would never work if it was shot on a very modern apartment full of stainless steel appliances… it would lack some coziness. Sometimes I happen to work with a model who lives at a very cool place so of course I’ll use that in my advantage. Other times I just ask my friends to use their places.
COT // Are you playing the song when you’re taking the photographs?
SB // Nop! Each session usually lasts at about 4 hours, sometimes even more, so playing the same song over and over for that extended period of time would be irritating! Haha.
COT // Judging by the looks of your sets, you’re using a few different lenses. If I had to guess, you’re using a 50mm and a 35mm (I just looked and on all your sets you describe what you shoot with). Is there more of a reason for this other then you just can’t walk back that far? Do you feel the 35 vs. the 50 give a different attitude?
SB // Back when I started photographing I was using 50mm mostly because people told me so (haha) but also because with the 50 it was easier for me to hide unwanted things from the scene, like an ugly window for example. Then I’ve realized that I’ve felt comfortable using the 50 because my conposition skills were pretty bad… and that’s when I’ve decided to go wider and try a 35mm. As my composition skills got better I’ve also started playing with a 28mm and 24mm.
COT // I always find it’s hard to shoot either full black and white, or in colour. For my own stuff, I have lamented a long time about my inability to commit to black and white fully, as it’s such a different feel to an image then colour. I see that you’re shooting a lot of film, some of it expired. Are you also shooting digital? How do you make the choice in what to shoot with?
SB // For the BaS stuff it is 100% analog. I use two cameras, one for BW and another for color. This way I don’t have to wait until the end of the roll to shift gears.
COT // You’ve got an absolutely amazing eye for light. It seems almost all of your photographs are shot in natural lighting. Shooting like this, and often inside of rooms with your Become a Song series, does this make it hard to push your camera to get light? You must have some tricks with this, or are you just that good with a light meter?
SB // I shoot 100% using natural light. Yes, I use a light meter all the time and I do exactly the opposite of what people say I should do while shooting film: I expose for the highlights.
COT // All of your photographs there’s a sense of familiar. Like a couple of school kids sharing toys or something. It’s really quite beautiful, romantic… poetic. Are there any things that you consciously do to get your subjects to be so calm and casual with you?
SB // I usually serve them lots of wine or beer! Hahahaha. Kidding! Well, honestly? I just try to engaged to them as a human being and not just as a photographer. And I pretty much try to be myself (hoping that they will like me).
COT // I’ve been using translate.google.com on your Become a Song posts and you mentioned that you usually get to know the models before hand, before you start shooting? It makes sense that you do this, and that it’s very necessary for the intimacy that the photographs necessitate. That’s probably a very smart thing to do for both you and the model, I know that while taking photographs like yours, the environment is very electric. Do you know this feeling?
SB // Well… I prefer not to work with professional models so most of the girls I work with have little or no experience in front of a camera. Having said that I just try to put myself in the model’s shoes: would I be more comfortable around someone I’ve never met before or around someone I’ve had the chance to talk to, share stories and become familiar with? It’s really basic social skills!
COT // What makes Sergio tick? When you’re not taking photographs, what’s Sergio doing?
SB // Hanging out with my fianceé. Rescuing dogs. Playing guitar. Cooking and enjoying some wine.
COT // As you sit on your desk or comfy couch typing out answers to this, what are five things around you that you simply don’t want to live without?
SB // My dogs, my guitars, my polaroid cameras, my passport and my fiancee, which is sitting right next to me at this moment as we’re on a flight to Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for your time Sergio. I know it’s hard as an artist to get your work noticed out there, and it’s even harder to talk about your work and explain something that is almost unexplainable. I hope I can help put your work in front of more people.