Saturday Night Conversations – Jonas Spinoy
The first time I saw his work, I was struck by the very simplicity of his portraits. Clean, bright and real, they had a story to tell without the desperate dramatics, it was the clarity of thought and the expressions of everyone of the subjects speaking to viewer. I have always wondered about his portraits, how and why does he choose to shoot with people and what goes on in his mind.
So I spoke to him on a Saturday night about all these things. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present, Jonas Spinoy
Q. Jonas tell us a little about yourself and your work?
A. I’m Belgian and I’ve been living in India for 8 years now, I m a free-lance commercial photographer and I love cooking.
Q. How did you get introduced to photography?
A. As far as I remember there was always an SLR with a set of lenses at home. I shot my first films on my dad s old OM1 camera when I was 8 or 9 and the results were terrible! Years later one of my friend got after my life wanting me to shoot some nude photos of hers , I wasn’t inspired at all in fact I tried to get away with a few sketches. She insisted so I ended up projecting expired slides on her body, using her as a canvas, the photos got me full marks on my diploma project in art school.
And I decided to move on with photography.
Q. What kind of images do you most relate to?
A. A good film portrait taken with a medium format camera will always attract me more than a macro digital image of a butterfly sitting on flower!!
Q. You shoot a lot of portraits, all radiating calm and composed emotions. Is it a premeditated feeling or do you shoot without much thought, letting the subject take control?
A. I’ve always been choosy about my subjects but I was initially so uncomfortable while shooting portraits that I would just click any face my subject would offer, with time I grew more confident till I became completely absorbed into the process.
For example if I shoot a portrait in the middle of busy street in that moment nothing else exists except for me and my subject, the level of ambient comfort the subject can feel. In a way your subject reflects your own energy in that particular moment.
Q. Which has been your favorite picture of the year 2010?
A. Marine Drive because I love Bombay and because it would be impossible to choose between my portraits.
Q. Your portraits have always fascinated me. Most people find shooting portraits extremely difficult as they need to be finding that connection with the subject. Tell me, what is it in portraits which attracts you? And how do you ever find that connection? Don’t you think being a white skinned foreigner makes it all the more difficult to approach people to give you their time and permission for a portrait?
A. I always talk to the people that I want to photograph, in this country almost everybody is ready to pose few seconds for a photo , the difficulty is to pass that posing phase to get to something a little more natural , my funny Hindi and the old looking cameras always help.
Q. Which photographers do you study? Anyone who inspires you?
A. Years ago I was fascinated by Magnum photographers their unique style of coverage specially Steve McCurry s images of south east Asia , his colors were nothing like anything I had seen before . As I moved on with my work I started appreciating different kind of images , I love Richard Avedon’s portraits , Robert Frank , Diane Arbus , David Bailey , Dayanita Singh.
Q. Any tips for young photographers?
A. Don t get stuck with technical aspects of photography, just keep shooting no matter what you have in hand. Some of my friends take better photos with their phones than other photographers loaded with gears and tele zoom lenses!
Q. Your photographs are quite like documents, recording unbiased. How do you manage to be invisible in these images?
A. To be invisible in your work is impossible no matter how hard you try, I like to shoot things the way they are , never really cared for heavy set ups or made up stories, I would rather shoot incredible things in a simple way rather than trying to make simple things look incredible .
Q. Why film? What is it about it which entices you?
A. The real question is why digital? Shooting film is like a good homemade meal, digital is McDonalds.
Q. Do you have any place you’d love to go around in India and shoot, some place you’ve not been before or maybe you would want to go back to?
A. There are many places that I would love to visit but in my case good photos are never where I expect them to be or exactly what I initially had in mind.
Q. Are you working on any projects / books right now?
A. I’m not working on any specific projects at the moment , but I keep collecting portraits of people I like or find interesting , maybe one day I’ll turn these into something .