Fran Balseiro is a Spanish self-taught photographer from Viveiro city (Lugo). He uses photography as a means of expression, dedicating himself to street and documentary photography looking to convey emotion with his visual stories.
His photos are charged with message and drama, transporting us into the unique atmosphere of the places he passes through.
Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to tell us about you and your work in this interview.
To begin, where are you from? Please tell us about yourself and your passions.
First of all, thank you for your interest and for letting me share my photographic work.
My name is Francisco Balseiro and I am from a small town called Viveiro in the north of Galicia in Spain.
I love everything related to art, since I was a child, I had relationships with drawing, painting and music. After some years I started to get into photography.
What inspired you to approach photography? How did this journey start?
I remember having a camera since I was 19, early 80s. Those were analog times, so I shot a lot of black and white reels, because in color they were expensive, it was a Yashica telemetric camera that I still have. They were family photographs, excursions and trips, little by little I became fond of it until today.
Of all the genres, why were you drawn to documentary and street photography?
When I started to photograph seriously and I knew that I wanted to spend my free time photographing, I started with landscape photography, and for many years that is what I photographed, I always liked nature very much. I used to get up at 5:00 in the morning to photograph sunrises and wonderful pictures of the coast, the sea, deserted beaches and other places, sunsets in the mountains, I did a lot of hiking with my backpack and tripod.
But little by little I got bored, I had no motivation, after taking thousands of photos, they were all the same, other photographers were taking the same photos wherever I went. We all did the same or similar.
Little by little I started to move away, and I found myself more in the street, cities, rural places, abandoned places, uninhabited places, and I began to like this subject very much, I began to find myself in my photographic habitat almost without looking for it. I began to realize that they were unique moments, that the photograph lasted a few seconds and never existed again.
What does the street mean in your vision? What is the difference in your view between street and documentary photography?
I love photographing on the street, each moment is unique, unrepeatable both in terms of moments on the street and as a social documentary. When I leave home and go to photograph a town or city, I leave without knowing what I may find, without a preconceived idea of what I am going to do, I let myself go. I walk a lot, I go to many places, hours can pass and if I feel comfortable, because the photographs flow, I lose sense of time. I have even forgotten to go to eat because I was waiting for a situation that was going to happen. I like to look for a setting on the street, for the right people to pass by, for everything to be in its place with good light and a good composition, so I usually wait for the moments. I like the low lights in the afternoon as they produce wonderful shadows. and the color is warm.
In documentary photography we bring together photos and documentation in both the social and cultural spheres.
My attention was drawn to the photos from the series "Where silence dwells" where, although empty spaces are presented, the human presence is still felt in every frame. Please tell us about this project.
Where silence lives. I love it. I do this work calmly. I have to find those abandoned places to be able to enter them.
Those abandoned houses convey sadness. Places that saw men, women and children born, live and die and that today are a mere memory, forgotten and abandoned. They are places that tell stories. Places where time one day stood still.
Places where light enters through their windows illuminating the past. If you are in those places, you notice that silence that runs through every room of the house. I am motionless with my camera trying to capture that moment of silence and absence that you perceive in the environment.
What makes you want to continue the "On the road" project? What do you want to convey to those looking at these images?
I call the "On the road" project the never-ending project. In our lives we are always on the move, traveling the path and each one will seek their own path. This project arose in the OLLOATLANTICO collective, it was a challenge that we set ourselves approximately 3 years ago when the Covid pandemic began. And since that time, we have already held about 3 exhibitions in different cities and others are planned for 2024 - 2025. It is a very popular exhibition.
For me, personally, it is a day-to-day project that I will always follow. As you travel along paths and highways, you will always come across situations that you like to photograph, and those are found along the way.
What do you think is the role of documentary photography? What advice would you give to a photographer who wants to go down this road?
The role of documentary photography is to record what happens at a social and cultural level. I think it is complicated, because through a series of photographs, you must be able to show what you cannot say with words. It is complicated and you have to be very involved. I am not the one to give a lot of advice, but I would say that you must be very constant daily and working hard is the only way to learn, it is not a question of having the best cameras, it is a question of learning to see. You look a lot, but you see little.
Kindly share with us what photographic equipment you use.
Until recently I used a Canon 5Dmark3 reflex camera with several L-series lenses. But for about two years I have been using Fujifilm equipment. They are of good quality, small and lightweight. I use a Fuji X-T3 and currently an X-H2 that gives me a lot of quality and I use various fixed optic lenses F1.4 and F2.
When you are on the street, I do not intend to attract attention, so I use a small team. I almost always use one of the cameras with a fixed lens, the 23mm f2, I feel very comfortable shooting with the 35mm focal length.
Technique or message and emotion in photography?
This is difficult to answer. First, I want the image to transmit something, to have emotion, to tell something, but if at the same time it can be technically good, so much the better. I try to look for both things. I want everything in my images to be in its place, good light, a good composition, and a good story. I know it's difficult and complicated, but I try. At the end of the year if I managed to get 3 or 4 images of this kind, I'm satisfied.
Anyway, if I had to stay with one of the two options, I would stay with the one-off telling a story of emotion, renouncing the technique.
I see in your images, street moments, dramatic scenes and atmosphere transformed into art through photographic frames. What inspires you?
On the street, I let myself go, I observe a lot, I concentrate, I am as if isolated, waiting for moments and almost anticipating them, I look for scenes as if they were scenes from a movie and as protagonists the people of the street, in the setting which the streets provide. I'm looking for something unusual, and I actually want to transform them into art.
What can you tell us about this image?
This image was made in one of my favorite places, almost by chance. It was an image that I was not looking for.
It is a high place, in the mountains, next to the coast, with large cliffs facing the sea, an open place where vegetation does not grow, the wind continually whips it and the fog accompanies it almost all year round.
I parked the car, and my wife was left inside because of the wind and cold, I went to see if I could make a composition that I liked, I had the camera mounted on a tripod and when I was making adjustments to it, my wife got out of the car and she went to the place where I was, I took advantage of the moment and the situation without saying anything, in the end it turned out to be an image that I liked.
And about this one?
This is from my project "Where Silence Dwells". When you enter an abandoned house, (as long as it is open, abandoned or with permits), it could be that they were older people, elderly and they died, their descendants surely did not care to pick up nothing, the years passed, maybe thirty or forty years.
In this case I found a chair and some old shoes on it. I never touch anything, I don’t want to touch or modify anything, it's the past and it can't be touched. It seemed to me to be a scene full of history and drama, like almost all the ones in the project. Or so I try. Transmit the history of the past.
Please tell us a little about the Progresive street and Olloatlantico photography group.
I am currently in the Olloatlantico collective. I haven't been in the Progresive street for a long time. The Olloatlantico collective is made up of ten photographers, people who love photography and want to do things. We meet periodically, we talk about photography, our photographic concerns, we show each other and evaluate photographs, we propose projects, we make exhibitions about them, we make some fanzines.
It's interesting, apart from what each person can do personally, I like being in the group, because it keeps you active. The project "On the road" was born in the collective. I already have it both on a collective and personal level, it never ends, it is a photographic way of life.
We are undertaking now and in the long term in the "Costas" project. We have our www.olloatlantico.com.
Do you have a favorite photographer that you appreciate and who has influenced your photographic journey?
Personally, I don't like to be influenced by anyone, I want to find my way, my way of doing photography, even if I'm wrong, but I want to take the risk.
It is not good to copy anyone, everyone has to find their own path and ideas. But if I have to see photographic books, I like photographers: Elliott Erwing, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Daido Moriyama, Lee Friedlander, and many others.
Do you have any photography projects for the future?
Apart from continuing to photograph the street, which I love, I continue with "On the Road" and "Where the silence lives". Now on a personal and collective level we are starting the project that I proposed "Costas". A long-term project related to the sea. The common denominator is itself, the sea. “Costas” proposes to photograph the life and customs of people related to the sea, its people on the beaches, ports, docks, fishermen, sailors, athletes as well as its coastal landscapes. A "street photography" but transferred to the environment with the sea. I hope to get it.