A WORLD OF MOMENTS – Life through a lens

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With an eye for light, amateur photographer Gerry Viagas graduated as Beginner of the Year with flying colours last year and recently one of her dramatic shots won Photograph of the Year at the 2017 Photographic Society’s autumn exhibition.

“I’ve always been interested in photography, but never gave too much thought to pursuing it artistically until two years ago when I joined the society’s course for beginners and started viewing the world from a different angle. I am a competitive person and I enjoy giving my best shot to their regular internal competitions, that are strictly themed, and judged by an expert adjudicator,” Gerry tells about her anticipation for the perfect frame to be snapped as well to be viewed in print. Having missed the overall title of Photographer of the Year for a handful of points, the spirited street-life paparazzo reckons her achievements within such a short time are impressive, for her swift progress from beginner to advanced in only one year and her scooping the trophies of Best Monochrome, Best Colour and Best Digital.

The eerie early-morning shot of cork oaks in the mist that evokes mystifying tales of dryads and Game of Thrones’ locations was taken last autumn in the Alcornocales: “Driving through the nature reserve I saw the fog drifting in through the branches with the sunlight struggling to break through the copper hues, so I had to stop the car, crouch and wait for the right moment to immortalise.”

Indeed, Gerry’s infatuation with street photography screams for plenty of lying in wait for the perfect frame, the perfect light and natural pose, like a peaceful hunter whose trophies are windows onto the unique moments everyday life is made of. “Sometimes when I lull around, my husband complains I am wasting our limited time on holiday, but I must wait for the picture in my mind to materialize before my eyes, as I just know it is happening any time now. Occasionally, it just unravels before my very eyes as I happen to be at the right place at the right time, like the one I took in Seville of a young couple kissing under the arches: they were conveniently dressed in black and white, so I decided to make the picture monochrome and there was little or no digital retouching besides discarding the colour information.”

Although she confirms she wouldn’t take photographs of local children without their parents’ consent, two of her best people photos are actually of kids, the first one surprised in the twilight outside a Moroccan hotel while connecting to the Wi-Fi network, with the enthralled expression on his cute little face glowing in the smart-phone screen reflection, while the other one was the result and reward of patient lingering. “Saturday afternoon, Venice Ghetto: a group of Jewish little boys in their finest suits played together, but one sulked in the corner, so I waited for the most intimate pose.” This picture truly is worth a thousand words, expressing the solitude of a festive day, in the contrast between elegant apparel and weary body language, while the little boy’s delicate features, seen in profile, beam an angelical message of trampled innocence and acerb desperation.

She declares to be a fan of spontaneity, hence she wouldn’t pursue fashion photography as her first choice, however she’s got a keen eye for monochrome portraiture, proven with her highly commended glamorous portrait of her daughter, banking on dramatic chiaroscuro and the sapient use of highlights. “I don’t have a fancy studio, so I worked on it at home, with the help of a black sheet as background, the curtains drawn and my husband and son both pitching in as assistants to shine the light on the model’s face. The adjudicator praised it as worthy of the cover of a glossy magazine.” On the other hand, a colour-accented character portrait of her uncle features a stately biker with his handlebar mustache highlighted in beetroot red and an arm tattoo elbowing its way to centre stage, both intimidating and captivating in its intense bonhomie.

She can also work her magic on the dainty and whimsical, like the emotionally-charged white feather close-up on solid black background: “My father had recently passed away when I found this fluffy feather floating around my house in the curved shape of a boat, so I took that photo and treasured it.” Sometimes nature strikes the pose for her instantly, but more often than not hours of planning and inconvenient timings are necessary, like the day she raised before the sun did, to snap the perfect view of a Venetian dawn: “I marked the spot the previous day and I told myself that it would be splendid at sunrise, so I tiptoed there the morning after at five o’clock and just waited… and it was worth it!”

Telling a story with her photo is paramount, and elderly people are her favourite subjects because of the memories etched in their wrinkled skin, better still if in contrast with the ambientation, like the one of a tatty Asian man standing outside the glitzy shop window of a world-class jeweller, or the woman watching the western tourists pass by in Chaouen, her candy-cane red apron in vibrant contrast with the indigo walls. Sometimes the shot is taken without the subject’s acknowledgement as their features are concealed, but others require canvassing for permission: “I strike a conversation with my prospective subject,” Gerry says, “so that I can also recount their story behind the one frame I freeze in time.”

In other instances, her enthusiasm can prove risky: “Once I almost missed my flight to take a photograph of London Bridge at dusk. I flew to London and while I waited for the connecting flight, I reckoned I had just about enough time to ride the underground to the bridge, surface, snap the photo and return to airport, but the round trip was made with my heart leaping in my throat.” All worth a picture that is an explosion of neon flashes over a violet sky.

Accomplice to her hobby is her passion for globetrotting: “I went to Canada recently and took some 10,000 photos of which only a handful are fit for competitions. Landscapes there are breathtaking, although they are not my strongest suit, unless they are animated with human activity. When I travel somewhere, I always research it first, to be aware of the best places to visit, the best times of the day and the year to visit them at, and the angles that are most authentic, because very often a photograph, despite being picture-perfect, is too commonplace and ‘notorious’ as a postcard cliché.”

Taking a sabbatical from the Society this year in order to pursue the development of her personal style in view of a solo exhibition, Gerry Viagas is also anticipating her trip to Cambodia and Vietnam and the call of lush rice fields or the play of light and shadow on the rosy stone of the temples’ intricate bas-reliefs. Surely her ‘holiday album’ will be one you will feel excited about being invited over to watch.