San Francisco photographer Esther Reyes has a great eye for details and scenes that others may pass by, and aims to find harmony or balance in what she sees. Her photos contain beautiful light and a wonderful sense of rhythm, and In her words, “photography became a way for me to pay attention, to get out of my head, and to document where I have been.” Be sure to check out more of her work on her website and on Instagram.
I asked her eight questions about her work and her current projects.
Can you tell us about the projects you are working on these days?
I have been thinking a lot about the concept of querencia, or the place where one feels at home. I had recently planned to move away from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I have lived all of my life. Instead, I moved back to my childhood home in the Castro Valley suburbs. The change in plans was due to concerns about my father’s deteriorating health and his move to an assisted living facility. The project is about how place impacts one’s identity and the gray area of ambivalence mediating safety and obligation versus risks and freedom. It will be from my own perspective, as well as my father’s.
I am also putting together concepts and experimenting with lighting and reflective surfaces to work on a Jaromír Funke-inspired still life project. I do not typically stage photographs, so it is an interesting process.
I’ve read that you see photography as a meditative practice. Can you talk about this?
One day I was walking around the Outer Mission in San Francisco where I had lived for more than four years a long time ago. I looked up and saw Sutro Tower, a prominent San Francisco landmark that looms over the city. I had never noticed it from this neighborhood during the four years I had lived there! I realized that I had failed to notice both obvious and subtle details and experiences of my surroundings for most of my life. I also have a poor memory. Photography became a way for me to pay attention, to get out of my head, and to document where I have been. I started meditating at about the same time. I no longer meditate regularly, but it helped me develop a way to both let go of and to internalize the external world. Using photography as a meditative practice for me means engaging more fully with my environment and finding harmony or balance in what I see.
Your photos of the social landscape are a pleasure to look at. They contain many elements and details that most people would pass by. How have you developed this vision?
I am grateful that you think so! My mother was a concert pianist and painter. She taught me to notice beauty where others might not. I think being raised to be a musician gave me discipline and patience for details. I also credit the many talented photographers on Flickr that have educated me with hundreds of thousands of images. When I started shooting and posting photographs to Flickr, I had conventional ideas of what a photograph was supposed to be, what was considered worthy of photographing. I became and still am fascinated by the wide variety of answers to these questions (or visual responses that pose even more questions). I suppose that I am drawn to the details of overlooked and neglected anomalies because they say something about human nature and about me.
What’s your state of mind when you’re taking good photos? Do you think there’s any connection between your mood or mindset and the results you get?
I may get better results when I am feeling more free and can let go of expectations, when there is a sense of openness or discovery. But, it isn’t always predictable.
What themes are you exploring in your photos?
Human nature. Impermanence. Entropy.
What is beautiful? What is valuable? Who gets to decide?
Do you like the city you live in? Do you like your home? Do these affect your photography?
I have loved living in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life. It has lovely light and a mild climate, is incredibly walkable, and even the garbage on the street is photogenic! Tolerance for the foibles of human nature has provided lots of rich subject matter.
Who or what inspires you?
“Isn’t imagination really the final measure of intelligence?” – Larry Sultan
I am inspired by the fact that anyone and everyone is or can be a photographer these days, including me! Photography has become a ubiquitous medium for self-expression, communication and connection (hat tip to Marvin Heiferman).
I am also inspired by meeting other photographers and exploring possibilities for collaboration and community. I have met a few dozen photographers from social media in real life and some have become dear friends.
One final question: Can you tell me briefly about a couple of photographers I may not be familiar with yet but you would recommend checking out?
Sotiris Lamprou, and Yanina Boldyreva. Both of these photographers have a distinct, recognizable style with a wide and rich variety of subject matter. They are able to communicate a palpable sense of wonder.