Artist Interviews 2022

Xan Padrón  
By Julia Siedenburg

Xan Padrón is truly an amazing photographer and musician. During his touring he fell in love with street photography and eventually dropped the instrument to focus on his camera. The native Spanoard that has travelled to many places around the world, has an exceptional eye for picture composition and colors. A master in catching the perfect moment and keeping it forever. And he has done though whether it was capturing the essence of his hometown or captivating places somewhere else. His series “Time Lapse” is what caught my eye when I first met Xan at The Other Art fair, here in Los Angeles. His vibrant artwork of having found the perfect moment to observe and capture people as they simply walk down the street bring something so special to a simple task. I hope you find his work and his answers as captivating as I did, dear reader. Please enjoy our little talk below :

First off, please tell us why you fell in love with photography.

I’m from Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, and my first memories of taking photographs are from when I was probably seven or eight years old and my father, and old school journalist, was teaching me how to use his old Voigtländer camera. Later, in my thirteen or fourteen birthday, my godfather, who was a photojournalist, gave me a full darkroom set as a birthday present, so I would say that I probably fell in love at that time… I remember the fascination of being able to go through the whole photographic process: planning, shooting, and especially I was really struck by the amount of room available for experimentation in the developing process… I’ve been carrying a camera with me all my life.

Your “ The Time Lapse” photography project is a vivid insight into perfect in-sink moments frozen in time. Each piece is unique with its ever-changing color of the background and different types of people. Most of your images have been taken in other places around the world. Was your experience with capturing the people in those places similar or vastly different and was it depending on the country or the areas?

My interest has always been in trying to capture the soul of a place through the people that happens to be there, silently and respectfully. For my Time Lapse series I don't interact with the subjects in my images, I just pause and observe. I like to think about my Time Lapses as some sort of sociological portraits. In each one of them you can notice many differences and similarities depending on country, city, or even neighborhood in which they were taken. The way people dress, the sense of purpose, the things we carry with us when we walk. Our cultural identity is defined by who we are, but also by how we fit in the places we live, in the world.  
In terms of the experience, it changes a lot depending on the location, mostly because there are cities in which life happens in the streets (like NYC) and there are other cities in which people depend more on cars to carry on with their lifes (like LA) or where bikes are everywhere (like Berlin). So I try to look for the everyday locations in those places where I can get the flow and the energy of the area through the people inhabiting it…

On what criteria do you choose the city and how long does it take for you to find the perfect place?

I have worked in many locations around the world, the US, China, Cuba, New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Brazil, many European countries… The first thing I always do when I arrive to a city is search for an interesting background. I normally walk miles around the different neighborhoods trying to get a grasp of the atmosphere and, at the same time picking possible backgrounds. I walk and walk until I find a backdrop that speaks to me. The reasons for choosing them are different. Sometimes I choose the background for aesthetical reasons, sometimes I pick it because I like vibe of the neighborhood, or just because I imagine it could represent the location in which I am at that moment: that corner, that neighborhood… 

Besides your “Time Lapse” project, you also have many other albums on your website showing a more traditional street photography. One of those albums is labeled “ Where I come from”. In which way would you say is it different to capture your hometown and the people in it than a foreign city and how does it show in the photographs?

I think the Time Lapse Project concept started to take place while I was doing Motion City, one of my first street photography projects in NYC (2007-2009), photographing people from a NYC public bus around New York City neighborhoods, and creating random combinations with those. My work then was more about movement (shooting with low shutter speeds) in an attempt to reflect the constant movement of a frenetic city that I also consider my current hometown... The Where I Come From series you mentioned is an on-going project in which I try to document the life of this particular corner of the world, Galicia, Spain, the place I come from. The whole approach for this project is quite different from my NY projects, mostly because in Galicia I sit and I spend time with the people I photograph, or even with the empty space I decide to document. Galicia has a unique demographic trend, and my province, Ourense has one of the highest growing aging populations of Europe… With this project I like to show the complex contrasts of my region, and for that purpose I like to engage with the people and the places I decide to photograph.

Your album “ Land Scapes” shows beautifully eerie, mystical places and moments captured with complete focus on the place itself. What inspired you to take these images and what feeling do you get when you come across a perfect shot?

I named them Land ESCAPES, because they are, somehow, “escaping” from my usual landscapes… Random unique moments I quickly catch without looking for them, from Galicia to New York, to everywhere, sometimes shot with my camera, sometimes shot with my phone….

You are not only an exceptional photographer but also a former musician. Please tell us how you used your passion for photographing people during that time and what did you learn about photography on that journey?

Before I moved to New York, I toured the world as a professional musician (electric bass) for over a decade. I’ve been traveling all my life, with my bass and my camera, and at some point I dropped the bass… And I actually think my street photography has a lot to do with being a bass player: always there, always invisible, always watching.

I used to travel a lot and take pictures in the different cities I visited. I also took many images of musicians and bands on stage. Navigating the two worlds, music and photography, gave me the chance to start working taking pictures for CD covers, concert posters and finally for a magazine of performing arts. There are many common points that come to my mind in both disciplines, especially in my Time Lapse project. I like to think of the backgrounds of my images as a drone behind the rest of the elements. There is rhythm, harmony, patterns, speed…  

Your very first camera was given to you by a photojournalist. Photojournalists, street photographers, and war photographers are similar in the sense that they want to show an important moment in a truthful and impactful way. We currently live in a world where many wars are happening. Do you think that a photo has the power to start a movement, and end a war?

There are many visible wars, but also many invisible ones. I think photographers as artists can offer us a different perspective on the things we might not be able to see, they can make us wonder about injustices that are happening around us, they can offer us an essential entry point to a different kind of conversation about an specific situation or conflict…

Please tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing.

I was born in 1969 in Spain, and in my childhood I experienced the transition from a dictatorship to a democratic country. That had an important impact in my upbringing. My mother was a teacher and my father a journalist, they were incredibly aware of the world, and aware of the situation around us. I grew up in Galicia until I moved to New York when I was in my thirties. But in my teenage years I did a little bit of everything, from photographing to playing music to teaching to gymnastics…

You recently opened up your studio in Jersey City for people to see your work and get to know you as an artist. Isn’t letting people visit your studio a feeling like letting people visit a secret lap? Do you see it as a vulnerable experience or rather a friendly visit?

I love having people visiting my studio. I love talking to them and explaining my process and seeing what makes them react to a particular piece. I love being in a place like Mana Contemporary because it houses an amazing community of artists and they do these beautiful open houses in which you can learn more about the community around Mana Contemporary and meet all the incredible artists in the building.

What is next? What are your plans for the future?

A little bit of everything… planning and organizing myself for art fairs around the US is usually the “next” urgent thing to do… But in terms of important plans for the future, I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life, but I still have many many locations I would love to visit and perhaps photograph… And I’ve always enjoyed playing with other formats and other art forms like sculpture and drawing, and I’m always trying to look for time to focus on practicing those mediums too…  

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