Travelling is in the photographer’s blood, because she already travelled a lot with her parents. With heart and soul, she dedicates her street photography to the countless countries she has already visited with her Leicas. More poetically symbolic than documentary, her pictures speak of everyday life, the joys and worries of the locals. In this interview, she speaks about travelling, the perception of the various countries, and why being a woman can be an advantage at times.
You are a street photographer through and through. You travel a lot. How did it come about?
I’m fascinated by the spontaneous and serendipitous aspects of street photography, and the endless possibilities real life provides to achieve potentially great images anywhere, at any time, and under any circumstances. It’s simple, with no fuss, no logistics, no preparation; just a camera and the desire to walk and look around. It’s accessible to all, and it has a universal language understood by all. Another interesting aspect for me is that street photography makes me explore places I don’t think I would ever go without a camera. I meet new people all the time. It’s a healthy and inquisitive activity, filled with unexpected surprises.
You seem to travel constantly. How does it feel not being able to do so due to pandemic?
The whole of 2020 I stayed at home in Singapore working on my new book, Watan. I didn’t miss the travelling as I was immersed in the making of this book. It helped to overcome lock downs and times of incertitude.
Where have you taken photographs? Please tell us about the countries you’ve travelled to.
I’ve travelled to Singapore, USA, Brazil, Uruguay, Turkey, Ghana, Cuba, Ethiopia, France, Belgium, UK, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Chile, Morocco, Israel, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Greece, Japan, Cuba, Myanmar and China. I particularly love to explore small villages and rural areas. In India 70% of the population still live in rural areas. I’ve been working for a few years on a project about the Punjab homeland (my husband’s background), on both sides of the Indian and Pakistani border. This project has just been published into my new book, Watan.
Are there countries you feel more drawn to than others? You have said, “I’m especially enamoured with the cities and villages of India.” Please tell us why.
I’m drawn to any place I haven’t been before. I always find aspects I can connect to in every place I visit. I particularly love to spend time in tropical countries where the light is strong, colours are vivid and people are warmer. It brings back strong memories of my early childhood in South America. It’s a lovely feeling to revive tiny happy emotions from the past. Since my husband is from India, I travel there regularly and have experienced the country through my in-laws and Indian friends. This has allowed me to experience the culture at a deeper and more genuine level. I feel truly at home in India. Having said that, I feel at home in many other places too. But India has a special place in my heart.
Which country is the least familiar to you and why?
To tell you the truth, as a global citizen, I can’t find a specific country that feels particularly unfamiliar. Every country and culture have some degree of unfamiliarity, and other aspects that are familiar. This is what excites me.
Which countries would you like to travel to but haven’t so far, and why?
I would like to visit every country on the planet! But to answer your question, I would love to visit Iran. It would be lovely to travel more in Africa as well. I would also love to get to know Angola and Mozambique, as they are both Portuguese colonies and I’m sure I could connect to many aspects of their culture.
How do you connect with people?
I’m not shy, and I tend to be quite open and friendly towards people and situations. I connect to people in simple ways, with a smile, a kind word, through body language. Also, in general terms, culture is shared through language. I speak a few languages, which helps me connect with people when I’m travelling. Doors open when you can speak the local language and, in my opinion, it’s the best way to connect culturally on the street. I feel comfortable around strangers and in unfamiliar places, and this helps me connect as well. But there is no rule. Every situation is different.
Is it easier to get into social structures being a women photographer?
Being a woman does have an advantage in some situations. For example, when I went to Pakistan, there were small villages that only women could enter. This gave me the opportunity to photograph in people’s houses and spend time with local women. At the same time, however, in other situations being a woman may limit your freedom on the streets. I always tend to see the positive in everything, so I tend to focus on the advantages I get from being a female photographer. Regarding photographic style and range of topics, the more diversity in the field the better.
What camera system did you use? What did you like about it and the lenses?
I use a Leica M10 and an M9 with a 35mm Summicron f/2 ASPH. I love the Leica M series, because the cameras can be used in manual mode. They are rangefinders, which for me is the best way to photograph candidly on the streets, because it’s very fast. I also love the way the cameras render the colours. The Leica M series cameras are small, so it’s easier to be ignored on the street – which is perfect.
What would like viewers to draw from your work?
I would love to make people dream!
Graciela Magnoni was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1961. She is a self-taught photographer and holds a BA in Journalism (Brazil) and an MA in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota (USA). She worked for several years as a staff photographer for Istoe, a news magazine in Brazil. She is based in Singapore. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram.
The Leica. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.