For Brooklyn based photographer and carpenter Jeffrey Carlos Nunes, inspiration comes for the longing for a better world. But instead of only day dreaming about it, he vigorously works on making the world a better place. At 26, he has been an activist for almost a decade. Without any artistic formation, he draws inspiration from his surroundings, his own experiences, and mistakes, pushing him to grow as a photographer. During the month of June, he has been photographing the upheaval across New York City, from early in the morning to deep into the night. With his Leica M6 that survived a vehicle accident he was in, and some Berlin Kino 400 pushed one stop to 800 ISO, Jeffrey took it upon himself to photograph those historical moments.
Hey Jeffrey, it's great to have you here at Lomography! First off, can you tell us how you got into photography? Specially analog photography?
I got into photography mainly through skateboarding. Although skateboarding is thought of as a sport, I don’t think it can be separated from culture and art in general. It’s always been intertwined with culture whether that’s fashion, film, music, etc. From its inception it’s also been a very experimental subculture. Because of all those aspects of skateboarding I was naturally exposed to many things. Actually, the first skateboarding video I watched was Alien Workshop’s “Mindfield”. If you watch the first 3 minutes you’ll easily see what I mean: there’s a time lapse of clouds, clips of birds flying, a truck driver, a silhouette of a skater bombing a hill, a super 8 camera, etc. As teens we were inspired by all these images and wanted to document our lives similar to these films and magazines. That led me to photography and I began just by taking photos of us skating and the places we’d visit. Then I discovered individuals like Gordon Parks, Roy Decarava, or Sebastião Salgado, and I began going out on my own with my camera to photograph like they did. The only reason I couldn’t shoot analog then was solely due to my age and lack of a job, but there was already an interest there at the age of 14.
Why do you still shoot film?
I tend to dislike the clinical and perfect look of digital photography. It eliminated the creative and artistic qualities of photography that are determined by the properties of film, developers, paper, temperature, etc. Film simply looks more intimate to me, but there’s experimentation such as scratching, burning, bleaching, or even painting which can be used to achieve a very unique look in your photographs. That’s simply impossible with digital photography or it looks very tacky. Although, to be honest, I don’t think many people are taking advantage of the full potential of film photography and I think it will inevitably become an old trend if we don’t explore that more. To me that means learning how to develop, how to print, to experiment, etc. Chris McCaw I think is a perfect example of a photographer who is pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible in photography.
When did you decide to start shooting the protests?
I’ve been an activist for almost a decade now. I’ve participated in countless protests, organizations, and even led several of them myself. I was too busy being involved in the work to document those movements myself. This time around I finally had the time to go out with my camera though.
Why was it important to for you to shoot the protests, specially on film?
I chose to shoot film simply to dramatize these events further and capture the emotion behind them. Personally I believe it was the right choice, even if digital may have been easier at times.
What do you think the role of photography is in such historic times?
This is a complicated question right now. A lot of people are shunning photographers because they believe we are endangering participants by contributing to the state’s existing surveillance apparatus. Right now we have to figure out how our images serve a political purpose as well as how to protect the people within them. Although in the case of protests I believe photography serves multiple purposes. It’s important to preserve the history of these movements so other generations can look back and remember them. It’s also important to convey the message of the protests and to capture the reality of the political struggle. Some images may serve these purposes in differing degrees as well.
How did a day of you shooting go by?
I went to the protests every day and would stay out until about 3-4am. I followed the protests until the police had exhausted and dispersed us completely. In that environment there isn’t a point in creating a route or moving between protests. Each protest had a different character, peaceful or violent, perhaps it was a vigil or a concert rather than a protest, etc. Each photographer should go where their political instincts lead them. I was primarily interested in capturing the dynamic between the protestors and the police, because I believe that ultimately any political movement will have to confront repression if it expects to succeed. Power doesn’t concede without pressure. For that reason I stayed out late and concentrated on Manhattan where most of the clashes took place. I was thinking of these events largely through the lens of Frantz Fanon’s writings in "The Wretched of the Earth" in which he discusses the humanizing effect of resistance.
Are you working on some bigger project we should be on the lookout for in the near future?
I recently became part of a collective of black photographers in New York City. If you live in the city you’ll see our work real soon, otherwise we are working on a zine and a pop up gallery soon. For my personal work I hope to document construction workers and transit workers in New York City in the immediate future.
To follow more of Jeffrey' work, head over to his Instagram .