Interview to Rui Palha

Interview to Rui Palha

It’s the only way to be side to side with the main reason of street photography: People&Soul. – Rui Palha


Talking about Rui Palha es like talking about the monochromatic Lisbon. It’s like talking about it’s strong contrasts, it’s chiaroscuroLisbon’s purple street’s and her people. Specially about Lisboetas.

No one has photographed this town like him, and that makes him not only a street photographer. It makes him an Author. Born in 1953 he lives in Lisbon, where he mades most of his work.


Q: Rui, Why you take pictures ?, What do you feel while taking them ?
A: First of all, I need to “say” that I am not so good express my feelings nor my thoughts through words. I prefer try to do that through images, but I will try to put in words what you want to know about me.
Photography is a hobby since the 14 years of age. I had my own darkroom, but to be honest, I only liked, since I was a kid, to “press the button” in the streets.
I felt always amazed, hypnotized even, with the movement of people, with their expressions, their reactions… I felt it was a fantastic challenge trying to capture all the bustle of everyday life and a way to learn a lot about the surrounding world.


So… you started at the age of 14. Since then you have been working with different cameras and formats, you also shooted film and digital. Which is your «ideal tool» for doing street photography ?

Any camera is good for street photography, except, of course, medium format and cameras with big lenses. The ideal is to carry a discrete camera, in size and noise. There are lots of cameras with these characteristics and I do not want to name any brand. I am not payed for that. The only thing I can add is: I usually carry with me a small and silent camera with a 28 or a 35 mm fixed lens.


Which is the precisse moment for Rui Palha ? The way to see a picture… It’s something you learn or it’s more intuitive ?

Both…. It’s always, since the beginning, very intuitive. We must anticipate the moment, always, but this intuition grows up with the experience, of course.


I do usually ask this question to authors who leave a signature on a specific city and show it in a different way to the rest of the world… How does look like Rui Palha’s Lisbon ?.

Lisbon, for me, or any other capital in the world is «Soul»… the persons that walk in the streets are the main actors of my photographs. But the light, the background, the architecture are very important, too.

Lisbon is wonderful, indeed, as well as Porto, Paris, Barcelona, etc…


You pictures have soul and transmit something unique and specially. In them, you can see a magic environment where the individual has a rol in a plot. Which people do you look for ?. Even when looking very candid, do you look for some interaction ?. 

I always look for common, genuine People. They are the only reason of the existence of my photographs, as I wrote behind. Of course I always try to be very discrete, but lots of times I interact with people. It is very important to establish a kind of chemical reaction between photographer and «model». It is fundamental that you know to listen to people and understand their problems. This way you can capture their soul, with respect, but with veracity.


Which is your methodology ? Do you have a studied plan before start shooting ? Do you look for a specific site with a special light ? or, conversely, you just start walking and see what happens ?.

Both. Somedays, not often, I have dreams with certain places and I will go there in the next morning. Anyway the usual is go to the streets, looking for that special moment, «THE» one…

I do not follow any preconceived method or plan in my everyday shooting. If I have a project at a given time, of course I devote myself to it fully, with my body and soul, Macau is an example. The “Cova da Moura” project is another social project in a problematic neighborhood of Lisbon, even more important one.
However even with this purpose in mind, what follows is completely spontaneous and occurs in some kind of “go with the flow” mood. I really don´t like to plan at all.
When it comes to photography. I have to feel free to be creative.


Which should be a street photographer’s attitude on the streets ? Nowadays we see very direct styles which surprise but, eventually, doesn’t tell anything. Does a picture have to tell a storty? 

A street photographer must be discreet, respectful, polite, love the people, listen to the people. For me it is very important, on the streets, I always use focal lenghts until the maximum of 50mm. It’s the only way to be side to side with the main reason of street photography: People&Soul. You should have an eye for composition too. This is very important, in my humble opinion.

Of course a photo should tell a story, it must transmit feelings, beauty, respect, Art.


It is well known that you inspire your self by classic authors like Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt or Willy Ronis. But, is there some modern author that surprises Rui Palha ? How do you see street photography in present days ?

Not like Cartier Bresson, Willy Ronnis, Garry Winogrand or Elliott Erwitt, in the streets, of course. But I like a few of some actual street photographers, a few.


«Street photography», called straight photography before, is a recent defined concept which has gain popularity, specially because of social media. Do you think it has change a lot since classic authors ?.

Completely. Any guy with a smartphone calls himself a street photographer. Now, everybody photographs in the streets, but they are not street photographers, just «street shooters».
This is not bad, it’s very good, because you have to refine your creativity to be different and only a small group can achieve good results.


At last but not least, 3 basic advices from Rui for thoose who want to make real street photography.

Love, respect and listen to people, they are true lessons of life.

Try to understand people, their thoughts, their movement, their feelings, their soul.

Be brave and courageous beeing as close as possible to the People you photograph. This way you maybe will know and feel their soul and vice-versa.


This content is copyright protected by international copyright laws. Images are intellectual  property of Rui Palha. Reproduction is not allowed.

Interview by Jose Luis Gea 

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5 comentarios

  1. You know take the essence of your city, I would like someday to visit Lisbon and feel places and people there.

    Great pictures… a hug.

  2. Thank you so much Rui, for your pictures and interview. Big Hug.

  3. Roland

    Mr Palha is certainly one of the great master of B&W photography these days. He takes pictures that tell a story, his or theirs. Framing is always impeccable and rendition superb. Mr Palha loves Lisbon and its people and knows how to add artistic value to what is offered to him. In the thirties or in the forties he would have had his rightful place along side Doineaux, Bresson and others of the same ilk.
    I like the way he sees his world and I am not alone. To me a great artist with an exceptionn
    al eye !

    • Thank you Roland for your nice words and thoughts.
      As a matter of fact I am not a master, just an eternal apprentice.
      I am always learning, every day, and I will learn until the last day of my life.
      I wish you all the best.

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