Multimedia Laboratory

Interview with photographer | Nicholas Seve Herrera

When did you first become involved in photography and why?

Aside from playing with Polaroids as a kid, I’d say I first really started becoming involved when I was about 13. Skateboarding was my main thing back then and I just wanted to document my friends and myself skating through the city. Gradually I stopped participating in the actual skating and would just go out to shoot it.

Who are some of your favorite photographers and why?

Currently I find myself looking at a lot of the photographers at Magnum. Jonas Bendiksen and Alex Majoli for starters. I recently saw an exhibition by Christopher Anderson and it really showed me a different side of photography I hadn’t seen before. The ability those guys have to not only tell a story but to do it in a way that is at the same time their own and universal.

What’s your favorite photographic moment when you overcame an obstacle or things just came together for you when you were shooting?

One of my first real breaks in photography was when I had been asked to shoot a fairly well known band’s promo shots for their upcoming tour. It was on location in a rural part of Austin. At this point I was still just starting and couldn’t afford professional studio lights let alone portable ones. So the morning before the shoot I ran to Best Buy and bought one of those electricity converters you hook up to your car battery so you can have an outlet. Besides getting in a car wreck soon after leaving there, which left my hood destroyed, when I got to the location and started setting up, I realized I hadn’t checked my bulb wattage correctly and the converter wasn’t powerful enough to light the one single hot lamp I had. That being that, I tried my best and shot it all natural light. Luckily the band’s PR liked the shots and they were used that year nationwide.

Can you talk to us about what equipment you like to use and why?

Right now I find myself getting back into 35mm film. I used digital for a while because it was cost effective for the style of work I was doing, but now that I’ve shifted my focus to more personal documentary, I prefer film. With digital I was always checking the back of my camera to see how the shot was coming along. With film as soon as I snap the shutter I’m already thinking of the next frame, I can’t “shotgun” through a situation, I’m more aware of what I’m choosing to photograph. It’s easy to blast 10 to 15 frames out of a digital camera. We’ve all done it.  Too many options can be a negative thing in my opinion. The same reason I use prime lenses instead of zooms. I use one 35mm prime. If I want to zoom, I have to move myself closer to the situation.  I’m using Leica rangefinders as my current bodies purely because of the durability of them and joy of using a rangefinder. I can use the cameras like tools and focus on the work instead of worrying about temperamental electronics, screens, memory cards, etc.

What’s your editing process like?  How do you go about selecting, retouching and printing your photographs?

I find it is way easier to edit other peoples work than my own. I think the main reason being because I don’t have any emotional attachment to it. With my own stuff I find I have to give the shots a quick glance, maybe eye which ones I think are selects and then put it away. I try to give myself time to disconnect from it. I’ll leave it alone for a while and then come back to it. I read somewhere that Stephen King takes a similar approach when he writes a book for the first time. He writes a rough draft then puts it in a drawer for several months and “let’s it rest”. I think it’s as close as someone can get to looking at their own work from an outsider’s perspective.

What are your photographic plans and aspirations for the future?  Tell us about your upcoming project in Peru.

I’d say my plans at this point are just to get back to focusing on my own personal work. To shoot things that I really care about as opposed to shooting just to shoot.
My project in Peru will mainly focus on the gold mining that happens there. Although it has been going on there for quite some time, the value of gold is currently at the highest it’s been in  about 30 years. I found that Peru is not only the top 10 largest gold exporters of the world but also has one of the highest percentages of illegal mining. One example is a husband and wife that quit their jobs as professors at the University of Lima to live on the river and mine gold illegally. The mining also does massive amounts of damage to the eco-system and its inhabitants, anywhere from mercury contaminated water to companies sometimes dredging over village cemeteries with large machinery destroying graves and human remains. The amount of negative effects this rush is having on the country is staggering, especially for a mineral that is mostly cosmetic in it’s value.
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