Luntz – How did you begin working on your Time Lapse project? Were there any specific inspirations? Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering photography work comes to mind.
Padrón – Back in 2011, I was working on another project in New York City focused on people in motion in which I was moving around the city, taking pictures from public buses. At some point, walking in the city’s streets, I realized how much life happens in a single spot. So, I just started taking pictures of everything that happened in that specific spot. When I got to the studio, I started working on different formats to put all images together until I came up with the final composition. This was the first work of the series, Time Lapse, 8th Avenue, NYC (2011). I think it was a natural process that evolved organically. I can’t say Muybridge’s studies of motion were in my mind during the process, at least not in that particular moment, but I can see why people refer to his work when they talk about mine.
Luntz – You’ve worked on different street photography series before starting Time Lapse. Studying the urban landscape throughout various cities worldwide, how did these series influence your work on your current series, if they did.
Padrón – This project is the logical evolution of all my previous projects. Working on street photography, I learned how to disappear behind the lens of my camera. It is important for me to become invisible and not interact with the subjects in my images. The Time Lapse project gathers much of the essence of all my previous work. Framing, timing, but mainly observing people and their behavior in the streets of the different cities where I go, trying to portray the soul of these cities through people.
Luntz – How do you decide which location to use for your pictures?
Padrón – The first thing I do when I arrive in a city is search for a background that speaks to me. I walk for hours and hours around the city streets, trying to feel the atmosphere and writing down locations until I find an interesting backdrop that also works, technically speaking. The reasons for choosing them are different. Sometimes I choose the background for aesthetic reasons. Sometimes I pick it because I like the neighborhood’s vibe or because I feel it might represent the city where I am at that moment, etc. In places like NY, where I live, I’m in constant awe because even in my own neighborhood, the West Village, things have changed dramatically in the past eleven years, and I’m trying to document that change too by shooting the same wall every once in a while.
Luntz – Your Time Lapse series offers a contemporary aesthetic on subjects that photographers steadily explored throughout time. That being street photography and portraiture. Has the work of classic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, or Eugene Atget ever influenced your work?
Padrón – All these street photographers are a huge influence, pioneers who also popularized and opened the door to what has become probably the most popular and commercialized genre. Discovering their work when I was a teenager, many years ago, was an incredible inspiration and still is today. Their work is undoubtedly a reference for every street photographer. Still, for me, the work of Diane Arbus, Cristina García Rodero, Saul Leiter, and Helen Levitt is also an incredible reference.
Luntz – Your captivating images are saturated with color. The backgrounds in the Time Lapse series are often minimal and uniform. Do you feel this affects how we can read the pictures? Where the change per frame is only the people and not the backdrops?
Padrón – It absolutely affects how the pictures are read. That is how the concept of time enters my work as a theme itself. Time Lapse is a moment in time where the physical spaces, the backgrounds, remain the same while the people change as time passes. The pictures are taken in an interval of about two to three hours, depending on each location. And these quotidian gestures, combined, create a unique narrative of life by a wall in a place in the world. This project is not about the pictures I take but about the life that emanates from a moment of observation, a moment of pause. It’s also fascinating to look at those images with busy backgrounds, like Time Lapse. Igreja do Carmo. Porto, or Time Lapse. El Raval, Barcelona, because they actually bring a different way of looking at the image, the background becomes more relevant to the piece.
Luntz – Has there been a location you’ve found challenging to shoot? And has there been a location you’ve wanted to shoot more than once that draws you back?
Padrón – There are some locations that have been challenging for technical reasons. Others are challenging because I choose to shoot on rainy or snowy days, but there are also some locations where I worked more than once. One of them is a wall nearby my apartment in the West Village in NYC. I shot the four seasons on that wall, winter, spring, summer, and fall, and I keep coming back. Once the pandemic hit, I decided to try to document this time by going back to the walls I worked in the past. This process was mainly in New York City, where I have a large pre-COVID collection. There was something fascinating about having the same exact spot documented before and during the pandemic. To me, the city had changed deeply. Face masks, no tourists in the streets, people working from home. Many residents fled, pushed by the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The human landscape of New York City had changed dramatically, and so did the everyday behavior of those living here during COVID times.
Luntz – When you are out in the environment, capturing your shots, are cultural differences apparent?
Padrón – Sometimes I wonder what cultural difference is, especially in big cities, in which everybody is quite different from each other, and everybody seems to carry on with their lives without looking around that much, without performing cultural differences. Big cities like NYC are more demographically and socially complex, so you can feel the different ecosystems in different areas of the city. In the case of works such as Time Lapse. Rue des Récollets, Paris, I took the pictures in the morning, on a working day nearby a train station so I could get most people coming and going to their jobs.
Perhaps cultural differences are more evident when shooting in smaller places or rural areas. Still, as always, I just try to portray what I see and how I see it.
Luntz – Does working anonymously, behind the camera with a certain distance, reflect on a non-connected ness with the city?
Padrón – Yes and no, and that is my intention. I learn a lot by just being there, watching. There is something about how we inhabit the places we call home that is quite fascinating and humbling since the way we live in cities is not so different from town to town. I feel quite connected to my environment while I’m doing the shooting, but then, when I start putting the pieces together, I try to have a different perspective, which is connected to the fact that I’m working between documentation and creation.
Luntz – Your work makes a refined and repetitive composition, showing the unique characteristics of the individuals forming a larger part of a rhythmic configuration. Would you say that your previous work as a professional musician affects your pictures’ aesthetic?
Padrón – As a musician, I was a professional bass player, and I used to travel a lot. And in my free time, I would pick up my camera and document the cities I visited. I also took many images of musicians and bands on stage. Navigating the two worlds, music, and photography, gave me the chance to start working as a professional photographer taking pictures for CD covers, concert posters, and performing arts magazines. Creativity is clearly the main connection between music and photography, a way to express your own interpretation of the world. And in my case, there are many common elements that come to my mind in both disciplines, especially in my Time Lapse project. As a bass player, you are both invisible and essential. You keep the band’s connection to the ground. You are always there, with your constant sound, but never out there, never in the spotlight. I like to think of the backgrounds of my images as that, in front of them, there is rhythm, harmony, patterns, speed.
Luntz – Do you look at more recent photographers or artists working in other mediums for influence?
Padrón – I’m fascinated by pretty much everything. I love the work of Brazilian artist Vic Muniz, the force of Hank Willis Thomas, and the uniqueness of Tania Bruguera. And of course, photographer Saul Leiter.
Luntz – Do different shoots have different energies or rhythms?
Padrón – Absolutely! NYC, for example, has a constant flow of people passing by, even during the pandemic. But most cities around the world have different flows. There are cities where it is easier to find the right spot to shoot, people walking instead of driving, going to places on foot. But there are other cities, where although there is an actual downtown or center, people just don’t walk around as much. So, in places like these, I might have to wait longer times to get all the material I need to be able to create one piece. And it’s not because there aren’t people in the city, it’s just because their relationship to the city is based on the way the city is built. I try to portray that too.
Luntz – In interviews, you’ve mentioned that your work in the Time Lapse series has a sociological component, saying they are “mini sociological portraits.” How can we look at your work to gather information about the people and places you are capturing?
Padrón – I am not a sociologist, and my work has nothing to do with sociological research, but as a street photographer, I consider the street the great theater of social life. I still like to think about my work as a sociological portrait, focusing on the street as a social space. I think the way we walk, the way we dress, the things we carry with us are important elements to try to understand the energy or rhythm of a place (a neighborhood in a city). But there is also a strong connection between us and the places we inhabit. Someone walking for the first time in a street has a different way of walking from someone who walks through the same street every morning to go to work. How we fit in the places we live is part of our cultural identity, and that’s somehow the basis of this project, which is not about the individuals but about the collective, US.
Galician photographer Xan Padrón (Ourense 1969) received his first camera from photojournalist Enrique Reza. The latter awakened in him a passion for everyday photography, who, just like his father, the journalist Luís Padrón, had inspired in him the patience to listen and watch stories.
After several street photography projects in New York City in 2011, he began his acclaimed project, Time-Lapse: a collection of portraits of various cities through the people who inhabit them. His series Time-Lapse has been exhibited, among other places, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, The Pfizer Building in New York, and the art fairs Photo L.A., Art on Paper NYC, and The Other Art Fair, presented by Saatchi Art in London, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago. His work has been published on the cover of the eleventh edition of the anthology Race, Class and Gender in the United States (MacMillan, 2020), in the sociology volume Personal Networks (Cambridge University Press, 2021), and international publications such as the New England Review (NER), Die Zeit Magazine (Germany), PRISM International (Canada), and Photo World Magazine (China). His Time-Lapses pictures were even on the cover of the autumn catalog of Saatchi Art (2019). They were selected for New York City’s program Art on Link (#ArtOnLink) (LinkNYC, CityBridge 2020), where Xan Padrón’s sociological portraits were shared on more than 1,700 digital kiosks citywide.
Xan Padrón’s career as a photographer is also linked to his previous occupation as a professional musician. For more than a decade, he toured with his bass and his camera documenting life around musicians with whom he worked. As a photographer of artists and concerts, he has worked in an official capacity for APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals, United States) and for the publications Inside Arts and The Writer Magazine (United States).
Xan Padrón shares his life with the musician, educator, and writer Cristina Pato. Since 2005, he has spent his time between Galicia and New York City and has his studio at Mana Contemporary (NJ).