Charles Ellena is a photographer based in Switzerland. His main areas of work are photojournalism and street photography. He works for newspapers and magazines, covering human daily life, cultural events, sports and portraits. Most of his street photography is catching the interesting glimpses and activities on streets in a striking colorful portrayal. It has a narrative and documentary appeal. A Q&A with Charles on his work and preferences is below:
Please tell us about yourself and your relationship with photography:
I am a Swiss Photographer, based near Fribourg. At the age of 18, I began to get interested in photography. I started to photograph with a 35 mm SLR, mostly landscape and nature scenes. I looked at the photobooks of great photographers, and when I discovered the photo agency ‘Magnum’, my serious Interest in documentary photography was born. Soon after I set up my own darkroom and began developing black & white films and made the prints by myself.
How did you develop interest in street photography?
Because I work for newspapers, I have to comply with the orders of the editorial staff. That means also staged works like portraits and Illustrations for various topics. However, if I have the freedom to shoot what I want, then I like to look to the daily life around me and practice street photography.
My style of working is simply walking around, looking for special situations and press the shutter at the right moment. I just try to be ready for every unimaginable situation. Most of my work is spontaneous as the unpredictable cannot be planned.
That’s a difficult theme. Since my street photography is based on spontaneity and no staging, there is no way to ask for permission before I take a picture. I can understand that people react critically, when unasked-for images of persons are published, but I think that the practice of photographing in public places should not be criminalized. I’m not looking for sensational pictures, rather to avoid stereotype images - such as poverty and homelessness.
I use Nikon SLR Gear, for street photography I use D810 with AF-S 50/1.4, AF-S 35/1.4, and AF-S 28/1.8 lenses. I use fixed lenses for street photography. Usually I only carry one Camera with the mounted lens with me. My choice of software is Capture 1. The photographic technology changed and we have more tools to enhance the pictures but a good or even excellent photograph is not only a question of technology. In the end it’s still all about Emotion!
Most of my clients are newspapers and magazines of Switzerland. My awards include Swiss Press Photo ‘Winner and Swiss Press Photographer of the year’ (2008), 2004 - Swiss Press Photo ‘Winner category sports‘, and Swiss Press Photo ‘Prize for special achievements in photojournalism’ (1992).
Well, the book ‘Augenblicke’ was a self-published book with photos from the ongoing series ‘Ausserdem’ (means ‘besides’), published in the Swiss newspaper ‘Freiburger Nachrichten’. It was actually more of a test to see how the print-quality would be. And I must say that I was disappointed. In my opinion digital printing is not the way to go, if it comes to reproduce high-quality photos. The black & white pictures have an undesired color-tint, and they do not look very sharp. I also tested some color-books and was not satisfied. There are, amongst other things, mainly problems in areas with subtle color-transitions (like for example a blue sky or skin tones), the result is more like a uniform area. So I would not recommend to self publish with providers of digital printing machines, at least not to showcase your exceptional work.
I’ve just come back from a trip to Havana. Next Place maybe somewhere up north in Scandinavia.
Please share your favorite photographers:
I like the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Martin Parr, Vivian Mayer, Alex Webb, Jan Windszus, David Alain Harvey, and Jonas Bendiksen… to name a few.
Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:
Try to capture the atmosphere, the feeling, the emotion of a scene you are photographing.