In Conversation: Carlos Alba

Carlos Alba is a Madrid-born, London-based visual artist working mainly with photography, video, painting, installation and performance. His work is focused on human an non-human relations in the modern world, specially in subjects related with his life. He uses his art work as a therapy to understand his feelings, his past, his masculinity, and his fears. He is exploring issues from everyday life especially those which affect vulnerable living beings. His tools are objects and archives that help him to arrive at the art he makes.

We talked to Carlos about his daily practice, how he ended up being a full time artist, and what he’s up to these days (answer: a lot). Before we delve into Carlos’s work and interview, you can read his artist statements for ‘The Observation of Trifles’ and ‘The Taste Of The Wind’ below!

The Observation of Trifles / The Taste Of The Wind

“The Observation of Trifles” (2013-2016) is about how a foreigner finds his way in a new country and a new neighborhood. I am an immigrant. Taking objects that I found on the streets and using them as a kind of visual archaeology, I discovered East London and its denizens. I focus on the neighborhoods of Tower Hamlets and Hackney. I live on the border in between both of them. The combination of objects with photographs helps me to introduce to the audience my work through a more physically way and with a mystery feeling. Thanks to these elements I am making an analytic and expressive world: urban furniture reproductions; landscapes of council houses created between the 50’s and 70’s for Londoners and immigrants with low rents; details of letters with notes, drawings… But the most important aspect of this work is the people who I met thanks to the signals and ways that I followed guided by the objects that I found on the street. They are the key to open an unexplored world and new life stories. “The Observation of Trifles” is a work that is at the crossroads of the collection, history and architectural document, visual and social analysis. I have attempted to do not forget the photographic aesthetic and the photographic poetic value.

The Taste Of The Wind (2017-2018) Everything is impermanent; change is inevitable. We, as part of a society, should encounter the potential problems that change can result in and defy them. Change should be seen as an opportunity to grow, not only collectively but as an individual. I am working with denizen stories, objects, artefacts and museum archive, using these as a tool to address changes and, in particular, integration – with the aim of making the whole process of this project a positive experience. In the period of one year (July 2015-May 2016), more than one million people applied for asylum in Europe. Sweden is the European country with the highest proportion of asylum seekers per inhabitants, and Landskrona has taken more immigrants and refugees than most cities in the country. However, it is not the first time that Landskrona has sheltered refugees. Historically, Landskrona was one of only four towns in Sweden in which Jews, Chileans and people from the Balkans were allowed to reside. The Taste of The Wind, in which I worked in close collaboration with Lanskrona Foto Festival and the archive of Landskrona Museum, places the emphasis on the questions regarding tolerance and integration and on the politics of the images and how we perceive them.

Europe is changing and also getting older. It is often considered that every human becomes more conservative with the passing of time. The rise of populism, mostly right-leaning, draws strength from public opposition to mass immigration, cultural liberalisation, and the perceived surrender of national sovereignty to distant and unresponsive international bodies. The ageing process makes people more conservative. I am finding connections between the foreigners and the locals who live in Landskrona. Using the archive of Museum of Landskrona, I want to materialise and simplify the circumstances, triggering analysis, reflection and empathy, in order to help to create a bond with the surroundings. I would like to expose the concept of impermanence and change in societal scenarios and landscape alterations in Europe.

The Observation of Trifles (2013-2016)

The Observation of Trifles (2013-2016)

Can you tell us about your practice and how you came to your multidisciplinary approach?

When I was a teenager, I used to do graffiti. I started to take photographs of it and my friends for my records. Then I studied media but I was focused on photography. When I was student, I received an scholarship from El País newspaper and shortly after, I started a paid internship at El Mundo newspaper. I spent six years working for El Mundo Newspaper. After that, I jumped into the world of magazines such as: AD, Esquire, Forbes, Grazia, Yo Dona… I was mainly shooting portraits, fashion and travel images. I travelled a lot, which helped me open my mind and learn about different cultures. I got into the habit of studying light in different countries around the world.

One day, I thought I needed an opportunity to express myself as an artist. I decided to move to London. I wanted to learn English, improve my artistic skills and start think my first personal project. After three years living in London, I launched my first photo book The Observation of Trifles published by La Fabrica. I’m really surprised and grateful for the positive response from curators, publishers and Photo festivals… Thanks to them I’ve had more than twelve exhibitions around Europe in only one year: Format Festival in Derby, Circulation(s) in Paris, Fotofestiwal in Lodz, a solo show in PhotoEspaña and Zona C… And my recent shows with this body of work have been in New York, Sidney, London and Taiwan. This exposure allows me to work with Landskrona Museum and Landskrona Foto Festival on a new body of work called The Taste of The Wind. I’m working with curators Christian Caujolle and Jenny Nordquist in Landskrona, Sweden. The work is about the European migration crisis and how the European society is changing. I am working with denizen stories, objects, artefacts and museum archive that I am using as a tool to address changes and, in particular, integration, making the whole work process of this project a positive experience. I have a solo show with this body of work from 14th to 24th of September at Landskrona Foto Festival in Sweden, Europe.

At the same time, I’m working on a long term project about domestic violence and ‘What does being a man mean? Some of my  recent works related to this theme are ‘Text me when you get home’ and ‘Ines: The story of a woman whose life was stolen.’ I’m also studying a MA Photography in University of Arts London where I met the artist Sandra Furtschegger a.k.a. Lotti Ziegler. We formed an artist duo called Alba Ziegler (Instagram @alba_ziegler) where we are working with video, performance and installation. Our recent visual performance ‘Cries Nobody Wants To Hear’ was exhibited at British Museum in London.

The Observation of Trifles (2013-2016)

The Observation of Trifles (2013-2016)

The Observation of Trifles (2013-2016)

The Taste of the Wind (2017-2018)

What made you pursue your project The Observation of Trifles after beginning your career as a Photojournalist / Editorial Photographer? How did your exploration of London and English manifest in the work?

When you are working for a client, like a Newspaper or a Magazine, you can’t always show your style. You always need to follow some ‘editorial’ rules. Your work depends on more people (Art Directors, Stylists, MakeUp artists…) and at the end the images are similar in all the publications. I started to be a bit bored by my work. So I decided to give myself an opportunity and start a parallel career as an artist.  I have always wanted to be an artist and I thought that London could be a good place for me. When I moved to London, my landlady gave me a hand-drawn map showing some interesting places around my home. I used it as a map to explore my neighbourhood in East London. I started this project as a kind of game. During these walks, I was taking photographs and collecting objects, at first randomly, then more methodically. It was a motivation to leave the house, get to know the streets and make contact with my neighbours. The combination of objects with photographs allowed me to express my work in a more physical way with an air of mystery attached to it.

In a big city like London, I think the most difficult thing is to follow references to find your bearings. This body of work is very important for me because it helped me to immerse myself in a new community. Thanks to this work, I realized the different layers that you can find in a city. The objects are small details that can tell us information about the citizens. Sometimes they tell us things about the history or architecture and other times they help us with visual and social analysis. They’re like a visual archeology of the city. This idea, together with the poetic value of photography, result in a work that portray my personal point of view about the English culture, in particular the East End of London.

The Taste of the Wind (2017-2018)

The Taste of the Wind (2017-2018)

That’s always an interesting realization of sorts, that all successful editorial / commercial photographers learn when you take on a job from a company…to strike a balance that’s similar, but different enough, and follow the guidelines and rules each client adheres to. I can see how The Observation of Trifles must’ve given you this newfound sense of freedom, compared to your more structured approach to editorial work. Was there a shift in your style (compared to previous projects) or approach, to photographing others, and did this project give you some notoriety in your neighborhood?

For me it is always interesting to know how the emerging artists or photographers pay their bills. I know people who work as a plumber or people who teach at a University. I’ve been working as an editorial photographer for more than 10 years. I took all kind of pictures, mainly portraits, travel and fashion. Now I am in a moment that 50% of my incomes comes from commercial/editorial work and 50 % comes from my artistic work. I think is a good balance. I like to take pictures for clients but obviously I have more freedom with my personal work, like The Observation of Trifles. This work helps me not only to know more the British culture but find my way as a Londoner: Be part of the British society and the art scene in Europe. For example, It allows me to work on my new body of work The Taste Of The Wind with Lanskrona Foto and Lanskrona Museum in Sweden. Also I’ve gotten some commissions from art directors who show The Observation Of Trifles and they wanted street portraits in the similar way. So, sometimes your personal projects can help you to work on commercials too.

The Taste of the Wind (2017-2018)

I usually don’t like this question, but due to your exceptionally unique path, I can’t resist. Do you have any ‘words of wisdom’, or perhaps a story you could impart, that could be helpful to young artists? Be as descriptive, or short as you’d like.

I can speak about my process and how I go about things. First of all, you need to work hard. It’s impossible to have a strong project if you don’t spend a lot of time on it. Also, it’s good to have patience. Be very selective about the grants and prizes you apply for, and the galleries and the festivals where you show your work.

If you applied for an award or exhibition and you are not selected, don’t give up. That doesn’t mean your work is bad, the same way that if you win, doesn’t mean that your work is good. I think the awards help you to continue working on your ideas, but the general value of your work will be given by your career trajectory. It’s a marathon. Also, be careful about early recognition of your work and how that can change your working methods. Don’t let it make you less critical.

A friend of mine told me once: “Always enjoy what you are doing and, if you are not enjoying it, stop doing it.” I’m happy that I’m living thanks to a job that I love. Ah! And be kind with all the species and go vegan!

The Taste of the Wind (2017-2018)

To view more of Carlos Alba’s work please visit his website.

What We've Read!

At Aint-Bad we are dedicated to photography and printed matter. From our magazines to our artist monographs, the printed page is what we live for. Each month we will gather books that catch our eyes and build an online library with the hope to inspire and support fellow bookmakers out there.