On his path to find paradise, Carlos de la Rua discovered life, re-evaluation and the opportunity for realisation. Now, armed with his camera, the inspirational photographer walks the hills, Bali’s beaches and the back streets of the world in search of something real, something beautiful. Interview by Lily Shipman. Images by Carlos de la Rua.
Good Morning Carlos, could you briefly tell us who you are…
My name is Carlos de la Rua, I’m 43 years young and I was brought up in San Sebastian, a mid-sized town on the north coast of Spain. It is a place where food and drink means something more than just something to eat and drink. It has become a way of being and feeling, an essential part of our culture.
How did you find yourself living in Bali?
The idea was to find paradise. Have you heard that before? What a joke. After being in Bali for 10 days, I found myself coincidently and unfortunately trapped inside the Sari Club trying to escape from hell and fighting to survive, when all I had come here for was to find the famous “paradise”. It was an ironic and paradoxical situation to find myself in. But,even after all that, I decided to continue with my dream and original intention and made the decision to stay here and start a new life. It has taken me a few years to understand and digest the meaning of just surviving and the feeling of being thankful for simply being alive. The process of learning about that idyllic “paradise” has come through as just the opposite to what I had expected. The paradise is within us, not in the rice fields. The lesson was a hard one to learn, but it has been totally worth it in the long run.
Camera of choice? Why?
I would prefer not to give specific names. I don’t even wear branded clothes. Sorry, but publicity has to be paid for.
When did you get your first camera and how did it come into your possession?
My father was an advertising cinema director. As a result, cameras were something very normal at home. From a very young age, I was surrounded by and learnt about photography or cinema cameras, Super 8mm, 16mm, Polaroids and many other kinds. He gave me the first one for my own personal use at the age of 12, more or less. It was a completely different time. Film was expensive, so every single shoot was an exciting experience. You didn’t want to lose any of the 36 images available on each role. But, as we say in my country, “in a blacksmith’s house, a wooden spoon…” Later on I found myself in a life that brought me to other paths where photography was not included in the pack. It was only after arriving in Bali that I discovered digital technology, which has allowed me to “paint” and transform the images that I take. The process in between shooting and transforming hooked me immediately. Although I don’t consider myself academically prepared to be a photographer. I’m not a doctor, just a healer, not a photographer, just a simple artist who is learning about personal experiences through transformation and personal self-development and evolution. What is coming after the work, I don’t know and I don’t really care. What is important is the work itself. Actually it doesn’t depend on the artist if the work is good or not, or if it’s successful or not.
The artist basically works for himself. To be in the correct place at the correct time…that’s another story. I guess you could say that in the end the work chooses you, rather than you choosing the work.
What do you think makes a beautiful image?
It’s proven that our brains react in one way or another depending on physical and mathematical proportions. Faces are not beautiful or ugly, it’s our mind that is analysing if it all matches, or is well proportioned, or not based on prefixed rules. It’s always difficult to talk about your own work. There’s people specialised on that task, and I don’t believe that an artist should argue or justify their work. The work has to talk for itself. It’s like music. It can touch your heart, or not. I am convinced that a work will touch you if you already have the feeling within your own self.
Where do you find inspiration?
Anything, everything is inspiring. Life is a huge blank canvas. Eyes need new inspiration, just as lungs need to breathe, and the more you breathe, the better you feel. But, as Pablo Picasso said once, “inspiration comes while you are working”. The best moment of the day for me is when I’m going to bed and getting ready to sleep. When there’s no light or sound; when the mind flows like a wild torrent, half conscious, half asleep. The images are real but at the same time become dreams. So, sometimes it’s necessary to wake up and write the ideas down or simply start working on them before they become diffused.
What makes you smile?
Many things: a kiss, a song, another smile, anything that comes from a good heart.
What makes you frown?
Many things too: injustice, intolerance, gossip, mediocrity, politicians, the list goes on.
Tell us about your most amazing experience as a photographer…
I was in Java a few months ago when a friend of mine told me about a group of people on a local mountain road helping the drivers direct and organise the traffic. From very young children to adorable old ladies who with no more tools than their hands and an oil-lamp risk their lives on each curve in the middle of an intense and always crazy traffic circulation, day and night. The simplicity and total assumption of their life conditions made my hair stand on end. Some of the drivers, not all, gave five hundred rupiah coins as compensation for their services. That was amazing to me, not only on the working level, but most of all on a human one.
Are you an opportunist, or do you have a plan when you shoot?
Working at the studio is where you can have everything under control. Lighting, settings, sets, and so forth. It’s a very relaxing and calm way of working. But, no doubt, I do prefer live concerts. When you observe the history of photography, it is not about corporate, commercial, fashion or weddings. It’s about street life, spontaneity and anticipation. But this job becomes totally exciting when it reaches its real meaning when you take the camera to the middle of nowhere without knowing what is going to happen in front of you. A handful of birds flying back home, or that boy who jumps onto his friend’s shoulder… Those moments are full of concentration where you have to guess what can happen, and be ready to shoot that “precise moment”… That’s simply magical, it’s a mixture between concentration and meditation. This is, to me, the real magic of photography.
Black and white or full colour?
Both. It’s the Ying and Yang of life’s spirit. I love savoury food, but I cannot refuse a chocolate either.
Art Photography, Photojournalism and Travel, you have quite a range of passions, can you narrow it down to a favourite or do they each have a different place in your creative heart?
Art Photography represents a personal discovery based on a necessary way of self-expression. It’s the creative part of the cake, where impossible images can be done, where imagination is free and allows me to enjoy doing and sharing. Photojournalism on the other hand is a necessary commitment to our society. There’s a much more powerful story behind those whose lives are tough and difficult, rather than to those who have an easy and a comfortable life. They also deserve to be heard, as they are closest to God.
Has it always been about photography for you?
My work in Spain was restoring old furniture, and as a furniture decorator. I have always been a simple artisan. To arrive home with my hands dirty and wounded was a nice experience.
What have you been working on lately?
My last work is precisely combining hand-crafted work and photography. I am modelling with clay and called the series “Little Creatures”. Later, these are combined with daily life elements, creating a deformed and disproportional distortion, where small is big and vice versa. Combining hand-crafted work and digital is a very exciting experience that is making me enjoy it tremendously.
You describe your photography as a way of learning and as a means of capturing emotion, tell us about this…
Photography is not only a piece of printed paper. There’s always a story behind it. It all depends on how much the spectator wants to read into it. To me observing others provides me lot of information about myself. It’s more interesting to observe other people’s souls than bodies of clothes. The real life is not in our appearance, but in our hearts and souls.
If you could do one thing to change the world…
Oh my God! One thing wouldn’t be enough, this world is so sick and there’s so much to do. Well, if I have to choose, our capital sin is ignorance, which creates arrogance and intolerance against those who are different to us.
Ignorance is assumed as untouchable, as an absolute truth, not allowing people to learn or think differently. Ignorance of understanding history, our own history. We want to go far away, without knowing where we want to arrive to and without learning who we are and where we have been. At the end it’s all about education, based on freedom and respect for others. But how can we educate? Can we cure with the same medicines that have created the sickness? I guess what I am saying is that I would find a way to rid the world of ignorance.
Is there a song lyric to describe your current state of mind…
As good as it is, a difficult a question to answer. I would choose the songs Same Old Story and Send One Your Love, from Stevie Wonder‘s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.