Alfonso De Castro: It allows me to establish a special relationship with what surrounds me. Normally I have a feeling of strangeness to the world, and photography makes it bearable to me.
DJ Cobalt 60: How did you get into photography?
Alfonso De Castro: I started reading a lot about photography and looking a lot of photographs, especially those of the great masters, classics. One day my sister gave me a camera and at the same time I saw a wonderful exhibition of Diane Arbus’ work; I did not even know she was a woman, but I was so excited that it made me think that this is what I want to do.
DJ Cobalt 60: What’s your set-up like? How has is evolved over the years? How much equipment do you typically bring to a shoot?
Alfonso De Castro: My work is always oscillating between documentary and conceptual photography, mise-enscene. That means working with different cameras and from different points of view – I have worked for an especially long time on the street, doing documentary photography and what is called street photography, always with Leicas. While at the same time working in the studio, shooting very formal portraits. I work a lot with medium format film cameras usually Hasselblad 6X6, and large format 4X5 and 8X10. But some time ago I left the studio, no more controlled lights and plain backgrounds, preferring the surprise generated by places that I am unfamiliar with like small and humble hotel rooms. Before everything had to be controlled, but now the need to be able to constantly improvise is a key element to my work.
DJ Cobalt 60: Has teaching photography made you a better photographer?
Alfonso De Castro: I think so. And not only from a technical perspective. My classes are free. In college I’m not tied to a strict script and therefore I can approach teaching photography from a very personal perspective, but the need to explain my work and the work of the others photographers or artists has made myself better at understanding what I’m doing.
DJ Cobalt 60: What is an image of yours that you believe best represents your style and aesthetic and what was the situation surrounding it?
Alfonso De Castro: I find it almost impossible to think of a single image to represent my style and aesthetics. I think my photos have been getting darker, both in tone and conceptually. But for the moment I refuse to review, to edit in any other way, my photographs from a few years ago. I strive to consider them as something already completed, although seen today they were a step to what I’m doing now. Anyway one of my favorites is “Wujie, 21 y.o. Killed in the Art Gallery, Fuzhou, 10-2011 “.
From this photograph, I was aware of the type of work I had begun to do. Although I had done it before, I always think that right here was when “Murders in China” was born. Wuzia did not know a word of English. On meeting her at the door of a restaurant (she had shown me) I could see a very small fragment of her back that was totally tattooed. With signs, gestures and laughter I got her to agree to be my model. From that moment on we both understood each other perfectly. We maintain a good friendship. This summer my idea is to photograph her with her new husband.
DJ Cobalt 60: At this moment in time what is inspiring you to take photographs?
Alfonso De Castro: I’m not sure what my inspiration could be. I think a lot of what I read inspires me, but each time it’s different. They are only small fragments of knowledge, a kind of beat, a pulse. What I am sure is that I am not interested in anything like that covenant by globalization that we all seem to accept without questioning. This creates immobility and comfortable boredom. All images then become the same. So I probably feel better when I do not understand too much about what’s going on, then I can apply the famous phrase of Picasso “Everything you can imagine is real!” That was the real reason why I started going to China and remains one of the main ones.
DJ Cobalt 60: Can you explain why you have gravitated so much to shooting in China?
Alfonso De Castro: In China everything moves much faster than in Europe. I think the work I’m doing there now would be impossible ten years ago. Most of the photographs that I (do) take in China are not socially accepted by most people. The people I photograph are challenging many more social conventions than in a European country, they are turning against the majority of society and they know it, accept it and do not care, though, of course, they try to minimize the effects. For example, they hide the fact from their boyfriends, or even friends that they are being photographed by me. It is an act of affirmation of their desires, but an act that must still be kept secret to some extent. That is, when I shoot in China I feel I am part of a small personal revolution. That does not happen in Spain. And I think not even in the rest of Europe.
DJ Cobalt 60: How do you like to direct your models? How do you get over the language barrier when shooting outside of Spain like when you travel to China?
Alfonso De Castro: I think English is overvaulted there. It’s funny because the best time shooting in China was with models who did know any English. I use body language mostly and a bit of Chinese, and we tent to laugh a lot. It is very important to laugh at our own mistakes. That makes the sessions be much more relaxed. When I am shooting, a kind of symbiotic collaboration is established. Even without speaking the same language.
DJ Cobalt 60: Does implementing surrealism into your work make it harder to explain things to your model/models? Do you always have the answers for why you photograph the things you do?
Alfonso De Castro: Now most people come to me knowing a little of my work and then they ask me to take photos of them. That makes things easier. A few years ago nobody knew me, then I had to show my photos to them in a convincing way and often sounded very suspicious to those who heard me. It was very funny because at that time I knew I was scandalizing those around me. We should not forget the inherent subversion of photography itself. (In general I see that many photographers too accommodating). Often those who see my work ask me the meaning of my photographs, but in general, my models have a very good intuition about what we are doing together.
DJ Cobalt 60: Are you aiming for subversion and scandal through the use of surrealism or is it about inviting the viewer to partake in another reality, a dreamscape of your own creation?
The two options are not mutually exclusive. I think both are valid in my work. It depends on the viewer. Overall my photographs cannot leave you indifferent. They move in one direction or another. And in general my work tends to move the viewer into an area that is uncomfortable. My photos are usually not comfortable. They generate confusion and may call into question elements that have to do with the more arcane, trying at the same time to maintain a trace of humor in this.
DJ Cobalt 60: How much of your own obsessions and personalities is present in your work?
Alfonso De Castro: Virtually all. I am very obsessive and passionate. I think I’m very Mediterranean. My photographs are not cold and distant objects for me and from the moment I start taking photos I include myself in them. Sometimes even in a real way, appearing in them. Perhaps it is true that photography is an art without artist, but it is because the artist is integrated into the same work, that is to say a photograph shows both the photographed subject and the photographer. As Arbus might have said, a secret within a secret.
DJ Cobalt 60: Could you have shot the same photos you did in China, in Spain, or do you need to go to China to take them?
Alfonso De Castro: I also do my photographic work in Spain, but I spend a lot of time traveling so when I return to Spain I have other occupations and spend less time taking pictures. On the one hand my time is much more limited, but also the meaning of work is a little different and they haven’t been shown yet. I remember someone in Spain looking at my work told me recently that my photos would be more outrageous if the photographed people were Spanish. That seems to be a very curious way of thinking to me.
DJ Cobalt 60: Do you think most people can identify you as a Spanish photographer based solely on your photos?
Alfonso De Castro: Not at all. I think that my photographs drink from many sources, same as I do. Which makes them not easily located from a geographical point of view or something similar. Nor I can identify with the Asian photography, and of course not what has been done traditionally in China. It is a mixture and that’s good. I also believe that most photography is like that. It has always been like this. Nationalism in photography constricts too much, driving it to accommodate and preventing it to offer us its full potential, its irreverent ability to question everything.
DJ Cobalt 60: How has your culture and surroundings influenced you? Do you identify as a
Spanish photographer or merely an artist?
I’ve never considered myself a Spanish photographer. I do not usually stay in the circuits in which photography in Spain moves and do not frequent the circles of Spanish photographers.
Probably because I spend a lot of time outside Spain. That makes me feel a certain rootlessness. But logically culture, history, all backgrounds, influence me inevitably, although it is sometimes to show them up or reflect on them.
DJ Cobalt 60: As an artist what is the highest compliment you can receive? When are you most satisfied with your work?
Alfonso De Castro: Frankly I do not know. I think I’m never satisfied with anything. I do not know what kind of flattery leaves me satisfied. I think none, but at the same time I do not like to be criticized. I do not like when they do so without a clear foundation, but at the same time I get angry with myself when I recognize that the other is right. I do not like not being right. I recognize that I am very contradictory, but I’ve gotten used to my way of being.
DJ Cobalt 60: Your advice to other photographers? What do you try to impart onto each one of your students?
Alfonso De Castro: In my art students I try to inculcate the idea that one should read, think, study, reflect on life. But above all you must live it because all that is what will make your work may have an interest. Desire is one of the most important elements, but they must take photographs. Sometimes we forget that. But a concept, an idea or a desire is not a photograph.
I WOULD MOST LOVE TO PHOTOGRAPH I am sure that the next thing I will shoot will be what I most like to photograph. They are immediate loves and hates. A sort of Goethe’s elective affinities.
WHAT I WOULD DO IF TOMORROW I KNEW I WOULD BE BLIND I have not got my PhD in Physics, so I would enroll in one of the programs for doctoral thesis.
THE LAST TIME A PHOTO LEFT ME SPEECHLESS…continually. Today, yesterday! Photography still excites me.
MEDIOCRE ART…generally much of what is considered conceptual art, and also what bears the label of contemporary art.
DJ Cobalt 60: For people interested in your work or would like to learn more about you where can they go?