José Hernán Cibils is an amazing man and accomplished artist on many levels. Besides his love for Photography, José is also a well-known musician, composer, conductor and talented pianist. And it doesn't stop there, he is a skilful painter too. He has a strong and warm personality who loves to help people improving their photography by his excellent critiques. Read more about this extraordinary artist! Thanks to Alfred Forns for conducting the interview.
First of all, many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, José. Can you briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
Well, “briefly” will be a bit difficult. My life was already long. I feel young but I am not any more… So I had many experiences and changes in this long time.
I was born in Santa Fe, Argentina in 1948 and am the oldest of 11 siblings. This is something that marked very much my life. In positive sense mostly…
I went to a Jesuit high school in my native town. There I had very good teachers (Jesuit Priests) who opened my mind and showed ways, which I am still walking. The humanistic education was very important. Between other many important matters, we learned to write. In the last year, I was one of the authors of a book, where I published two short stories. That book was edited by the high school. Jorge L. Borges, maybe the most significant writer in the modern history of Argentina wrote the foreword. Our literature teacher was the young P. Jorge Bergoglio S.J., the current Pope…
Later I went to the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, where I graduated in Politic Science. The University was also in Jesuits hands at that time. Politic was interesting but not really my vocation.
So after some time of consultations with friends, psychologists (which is very normal in Buenos Aires) and after doing a battery of vocational tests I had suddenly the luck to discover the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and its Music Faculty.
I became a student for the second time (I was already 28 years old!). After 8 years I graduated in Composition and Conducting. My companions called me “grandfather”.
At the same time, I took classes of Drawing and Painting with two very good and recognized artists, Jorge Tapia and Miguel Caride. They teach me to express me graphically. An important advice was to use few elements. The same as in the music and in the literature… I continued writing also, until today. I am trying to finish a novel; I hope that I achieve it!
After my third graduation, I’ve got married.
I always wanted to go to Europa. The most people in Argentina want to know Europa because the majority of us have Europeans ancestors. In my case Spanish and German.
A new Stroke of Luck (although very strange) brought me to East Berlin to study Conducting. It was March 1989. A big and unrepeatable experience! I knew the East Germany from inside and saw the wall falling down…
After my fourth study, we travelled a lot with my wife and I worked as a musician, composed very much, played the piano and sometimes I had to conduct an orchestra. I keep going with painting and drawing. I exposed and sold some pictures.
And when I was in East Berlin I worked one or two days a week as a restorer of antique furniture in a workshop.
More than two years long I took part in a program against discrimination and racism. Together with many foreigners (especially Africans) we went to the schools and spoke with the students. Many of them were difficult and hard…
Since 2009 I fly each year to Japan (another incredible Stroke of Luck, I did the contacts over Facebook) and do Tours playing the piano together with Japanese artists (especially Argentine music and own compositions).
Which are your most important experiences that have influenced your art?
Photography or more concretely - cameras - were like a magic objects for me in my childhood. My father used to take photos with an old French camera called “Foca”. I know now that it was a very good one. I have a lot of photos of the first moments of my life taken with that camera. Later we become more and more brothers and sisters, my father sold the Foca… Photography was since then my dream. I always asked my father to buy a “Leica”… But really much later I had the first camera in my hand, a very simple one. In the high school, we had also photo lessons, we learned the principles of deep of field, shutter speed, diaphragm overture and so on...
What first attracted you to photography?
It was impressive to me that one magic “click” could transpose to paper (now to a screen) moments of the real life, mostly with people.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
First I considered the photography only as a way to capture moments, documenting the principal events of my life, my family, friends, etc. This is maybe the most common attitude of the normal people, who don’t intend to be “photographer”. Photography played on this way though a very important role. Without it, I would not have pictures of my childhood, for example. Or of my ancestors, my school days… I still remember (I was a child) when the photographers had big cameras with a flash of magnesium!
Later, through the lecture of books, visit of exhibitions, talking with colleagues and friends I began to discover, slowly, that the photography could be more, that it could be art.
Now I am still interested in capturing moments of the daily life. Not necessarily about “my” life but about people in general. That is the reason why I like “street” photography, a category full of amazing masters!
Why are you so drawn by photography?
Because “street” photography is a strong medium to know people, to discover hidden moments, to capture very fleeting scenes that (sometimes) can show the soul of the persons or aspects of them, which we, in the bustle of the daily life, can’t really see…
Through my education, my contact with the Psychology, Politic, and with many people through the music, I am very interested in the human behaviour, the relationships, the feelings, all human things…
Sometimes I catch myself looking intensively to the people around me. I wish I had a camera in my eyes… People and their environment are the focus of my interest.
What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
The mood and the story, of course. First, because I like it. And second, because I don’t have the technical perfection... Today the technique has reached amazing high levels. One needs really to study if one wants to manage the infinite possibilities of Photoshop and other tools. It is a study like Painting or any other Graphic Art.
But without an exaggerated level of technical skills, it is possible to take (sometimes) a good photo if the feeling and the mood are truly strong. In that case, the technical moves are into the second place for me.
Otherwise, I admire the people who can make impressing abstract or architecture photos (among others) or studio shots. They need absolutely to have solid technical expertise.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
Yes, a good question. I think that to take good photographers one needs to be more than only an observer. I have a very nice feeling, I feel really fine when I am taking photos. I am also there, together with my object, I am also an object somehow. Besides I think that one needs to establish a relation, a dialogue with the subject matter. Although the instant of the shot can be actually very short. But the post-processing gives us the possibility to deepen that contact, the relationship with the subject. Even if we don’t know the people we have captured… It is not necessarily a personal relationship. Unless you are working with a model. But I never did that, till now.
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
Not really, I am quite spontaneous. But sometimes there are all kind of spectacles and events (marathons, demonstrations, protests, parties, etc.) on the street. So if I go there I know more or less what I will find.
I see here in 1x wonderful photos which are the result of many hours of waiting for the right moment, the right light, the right angle and so on. I have not done it so far…
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
Like I told you already, the “gear” was always a “magic” thing for me. But I never had (till now) a valuable equipment, like a Leica or similar. My parents bought a “Pentona” when I was young. And with that camera, we played very much and we took a lot of photos when we travelled together with my brothers. We did some experiments also with “bulb” and candles.
But the really first camera I had was a very cheap one that I bought in the GDR when I was a student. It was a “no name” camera, so to speak. But with it, I took a lot of photos, for examples the picture below.
Regrettably, most of them were slides. So I have now more than 30 slide magazines, which I have to let scanning…
Then I bought a compact Canon Powershot. And now I use an old Canon 400 D. I have only three lens and two filters. I would like to go a step forward and have a better gear. That is my next goal.
It is true that the eye is more important than the camera, but the eye alone can’t take photos…
What software do you use to process your images?
Basically Photoshop and Nik Collection. I use also Lightroom but not very much.
Can you tell us something more about your work flow?
I open my photos (taken in RAW and converted to DNG with LR) in Camera Raw Editor and do first all possible adjustments (whites, shadows, blacks, colour balance, etc.). Then I go to PS and do different things, according to the picture. Normally I use Nik to convert it to B&W (which I normally prefer) and apply a lot of other tools, like Detail Extractor, Viveza, etc. Now I am doing experiments with levels, masks, textures, etc., following the very valuable suggestions that I receive in the Critique Section of 1x, reading the suggestions which other photographers receive, looking for tutorials in 1x and on the Internet, etc.
My only limit is the time… I would spend more hours in front of the computer or be taking photos, but I have other things to do, I have to work in my compositions and be prepared for my Japan Tours and to play.
What is your most important advice to the beginners in photography and how do you get started?
It depends on what they want. If they consider the photography as an art I would say them that they should act with their heart. I would tell them that the camera is more or less like a music instrument or also like brushes, colours and canvas… They could think that they can capture the rhythms of the life or paint what their eyes are seeing.
I would also recommend studying seriously the matter, or at least to read all they can, tutorials, articles, interviews to famous photographers, etc. Today there is an immense amount of material on the Internet.
And it is important that they show their works and be open to the opinion of the observers. That is the best way to learn without losing your own criteria, that’s clear.
Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
It is difficult to answer this question. There are so many great photographers! I used to be hours (even when I didn’t have any camera, many years ago) in libraries, watching photo books, admiring the pictures. Normally I don’t remembered the names… But now I can name some photographers who I like a lot: Cartier-Bresson, of course, the Japanese Daido Moriyama and Hiroji Kubota, the incredible Vivian Maier, Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, the Korean Erik Kim and many others (among them several members of 1x).
Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a big deal and why?
Yes, of course. Many. For example the photo of Winston Churchill, taken by Yousuf Karsh. It is not a “street” photo but I watched it once a long time in an exhibition in Berlin and I was impressed by the quality and the history of this picture, especially how Karsh surprised Churchill, getting the cigar from his mouth!
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Despite my age, I am trying to learn every day something more about PS, so that I can better editing my photos, doing new effects maybe...
But mainly I want to “sharpen” my eyes much more to see in advance and very quickly a scene, which could be a good photo, reacting very fast to capture it.
I like to think that a photo is what our eyes or our unconscious are seeing, directly. A painting is a more indirect way, we draw and paint what we imagine, even in-existent objects. And music is more indirect; it reflects our moods and feelings. But the three ways are for me connected, related somehow…
Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
I can say that the four published photos I have in 1x are my favourites. Especially this one.
It is an example of the concept of “luck” by Elliot Erwitt, a street scene, which we don’t find everyday. But I was there and had my camera… I walked 50 meters following the funny young, taking several photos. Ten minutes later I went to an event (a conference) and the photographer had not come. I was asked to take some photos there… Many coincidences! With this photo I won once a photo contest in a Facebook site called “World Street Photography”.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1x as a home base for your work?
Well, 1x is until today the best experience I had with photography and with photo sites.
I would say that the transition between “snapshots” and something different, better elaborated, edited, composed and so on began for me when I found the first photo site and some of my pictures were published, commented and even praised.
Then I have found a lot of other Internet places, where I put my photos. Each site had its good and not so good sides. I learned a lot receiving opinions and watching nice photos.
Everywhere arises the same problem: everyone wants to be published, recognized, praised... In some sites I experienced truly “wars”, people wrote offensive comments and even with strong language. The photography arouses passions, worse than in the politic!
However I saw that the appreciation and the critiques by other people were important. But one needs to be free from the desire of recognizing and stay true to oneself.
Surely the creators of 1x are aware that conflicts normally happen in the photo world, and so they have achieved to promote here an atmosphere where we can interact very freely and peacefully.
Of course, nothing is perfect in this life. But the main thing in 1x is that we have channels to communicate, we have forums to express our opinions and our thoughts. I have the sensation to be listened!
The best part of 1x is for me the Critique. I didn’t find something similar elsewhere.
Naturally it was for me a big surprise to receive the proposal from Alfred Forns to be Senior Critic! I had big doubts! I thought that I should have a lot of published photos, that I should be a better photographer and so on… But then I understood that to write critiques is something different.
Now I like very much to be a member of a nice team. By this “job” one needs (I think) to have an especial feeling to perceive the meanings and the moods of the people who put photos for the critique, the possible stories behind of the images.
Sometimes there are “difficult” cases; some people are looking not only for a “critique” but also for a personal advice for their life! That is beyond the scope or our competence but shows the importance of the Critique Section. Besides, as Senior Critic we should be able to comment all kind of photos, even the one that are not in our favourite category. I enjoy writing critiques for abstract, architectural and even bird photos, although I didn’t master these genres.
That is not only a photographic task, it is a human one.
I am always very happy, when the members whose photos I have commented answer and thank me. Occasionally they ask for more comments. In that moments I feel that I have helped someone. And this is a very encouraging feeling.
It is also great to put one photo for the critique and receive honest and sincere comments from my colleagues and other members of 1x. Thereby I learn a lot, I find out defects or problems of my photos but also that they can be well done!
The “highlight” of my membership in 1x is this interview! I never thought that I would be answering such questions! Honestly I can’t still believe it that I have this nice moment. But it is only about to give my “two cents”. Maybe my experience can be useful for another people.
Thank you very much!