Meet Danny Santos II, a photographer who roams the streets of Singapore. Why the streets? Out there, nothing is prepared. Nothing cooperates with you.. not the weather, not the subjects, not the situation. You have to make due with what’s available. That’s a very big challenge for any photographer, but on few occasions when all the elements just come together, and you’re at the right place at the right time, the feeling of ‘getting that perfect shot’ just doesn’t compare to anything else. He thrives on that. We sit down and talk more about this process in our full interview! Read below for the full write-up…
Walking up to strangers and asking them to have their picture taken requires somewhat of an outgoing personality, no? Has your personality evolved to being more outgoing since taken on photography?
Danny: I’m really not sure. I do remember being just as scared approaching my 1st stranger as I was on my 100th stranger. But I think I feel more comfortable talking with with strangers when I have to – but I don’t know if that makes me more outgoing. I guess once an introvert, always an introvert. And it doesn’t really require an outgoing personality to be able to walk up to strangers for their portrait… you just need to really want to do it, I guess [smiles].
You often don’t or can’t see beauty in the world until someone shows it to you. What is your creative process for recognizing and composing the beauty in a shot?
Danny: The beauty I look for is that one that’s real and sincere. I try to avoid that snapshot smile.. you know, that smile you’ve smiled a million times whenever you’re in front of the camera. So right before raising my camera, I tell them not to smile. I want them to just relax and be themselves, really. I guess oftentimes, a smile becomes a personal mask where you want to show what you think is your best expression. But most times, if you just let your guard down, you’ll show a much more beautiful you.
Are you a believer that the best photographs are the hardest ones to take?
Danny: Not all photographs that are hard to take are good… but most of the best photographs were hard to take. And it’s not because of the manual process, but because of the creative process of coming up with the idea of those photographs. I hope I just made sense
When someone asks to take my picture, the last thing I think about is acknowledging that the photographer is trying to capture the essence of my being in one shot. That is a daunting task, especially since people are used to saying ‘cheese’ beforehand. What do you say or do, to prepare a stranger to shoot for you in order to capture the shot you desire?
Danny: When photographing a stranger, the responsibility of capturing their essence falls solely on the photographer. Indeed, that should be the last thing the subject should think about otherwise they might start projecting something that they’re not. So I don’t really tell them what I’m looking for, I just try to make them feel comfortable and say “Look in the camera and don’t smile.”
I guess the best way to sum up a lot of your photos are reflections of everyday life. How have the experiences of living in the Phillipines and Singapore shaped you as a photographer? What have you taken away from these places?
Danny: I think my photos are just records of what I see in Singapore at that particular moment in time. So it could be a good reflection of how I see Singapore. But any similarities with my everyday life, if any, would be purely coincidental or unintentional.
You’ve taken candid shots as well! Have you ever offended anyone?
Danny: I try to be quick and discreet when taking candid shots. The main goal is to not make the subject feel uncomfortable about the whole thing. There was one time when an old lady approached me asking if I’ve taken her picture. I said, “I’m not sure, let’s check out the shots.” So when we reviewed the shots, there she was on the side of the frame. I didn’t even notice her when I took the photograph. She asked if I could delete the shot – it wasn’t a keeper shot so I said, “Sure, no problem.” And then she just went off her way.
You mentioned Garry Winogrand as one of your influences. When asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded his camera with film, he replied “There are no photographs while I’m reloading.” His logic seems to be contradictive to your street scene gallery where you take quick shots that otherwise gone unnoticed. How do you view these two viewpoints?
Danny: I think Winogrand’s statement was just a practical state of mind that tells you it’s ok to miss the shot while reloading film – because it’s something you have to do. As opposed to missing the shot because you weren’t paying attention, or you were chimping, or checking your email from your iPhone. Capturing moments that otherwise gone unnoticed is still always something that Winogrand, or Cartier-Bresson, or any other street photographers are always aiming for.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime?
Danny: I loooove Asian films. To name a few: Battle Royale, Kairo, Departures, Ring, Tale of Two Sisters, Old Boy and the rest of the Vengeance trilogy, Memories of Murder, The Chaser, Infernal Affairs Trilogy… and a lot more. For anime, there’s Akira, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Perfect Blue… and yeah, a lot more
In addition to photography you are also skilled as a designer in web & graphics. Could you tell us about any exciting new projects to look out for in 2012?
Danny: There isn’t much happening in my work as a designer. It’s my day job that pays the bills. I’d say photography fills up my need to create. But right now, I’m still quite busy working on commissioned jobs. I hope to get some free time so I can start working on personal photo projects – that, I think, is more exciting for me.
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