Q&A: César Buitrago, Portrait Photographer

César Buitrago
César Buitrago

We interviewed César Buitrago, a self-taught photographer based in Minnesota. He’s one of our favorite photographers. Because he focuses on setting the mood and story behind every shoot he’s involved in. So, the viewer can grasp the emotion he wants to portray through each photo captured.

He has been published locally for Minneapolissmn.gov, where he worked with Atelier Modehaus and Modehaus designer Chelsea Lovett in NYC Bridal Market Fashion Show. César was born in Colombia, went to high school in Miami, and attended college in Minnesota. His next stop is New York City, where he is looking to continue his fashion photography career. His goal is to be able to build enough work so that in the future his work can be featured in exhibits in NYC, and Europe.

César Buitrago

How did you develop an interest in photography?

César Buitrago: Although photography has always been of slight interest of mine, I did not start considering it as my own form of expression and profession until about 4 years ago. It began as a sort of wonder, a curiosity that was based around the “how” of photography. My mother gifted me her old DSLR, my girlfriend broke up with me, and suddenly I found myself with 1) a lot of time in my hands, and 2) a camera in my hands. I started looking at images and wondering about effects that could be produced on camera.

I also started looking at documentary photos taken in the 50’s and my love for photography grew. At some point in my research, I found the street photography work of Henri Cartier Bresson. And I instantly knew that photography was something I needed to learn EVERYTHING about, specially the history photography. I spent the rest of that year learning about all the time periods and cameras; one photographer led to another, and soon I discovered the works of Irving Penn, and the many British photographers who have revolutionized contemporary fashion photography such as Nick Knight, David Sims, Theo Wenner, Glen Luchford, and many many others that continue to influence me as an artists. Fashion photography became the subject I stuck with and the subject that really moves me to this day.

2. How has photography influenced you as a person?

César Buitrago: Photography has given me the responsibility and duty of making my life, and the things I put in front of my eyes (lens), interesting. I try to live a purposeful and exciting life and photography has become my visual journal of that. It sort of has taught me to view my life through MY lens. And, in turn, it has allowed me to live an honest life in accordance to the things I believe in and desire for myself. I read a quote from Juergen Teller on an interview where he says that “photography acts as a kind of mirror-you can see me in these photos.” Photography has become that in my life, it is a mere reflexion of things that matter to me and a reflexion of myself.

3. How do you make sure that the subject you want to shoot looks the way you want him/her to?

César Buitrago: I think there are two things that are really important in regards to this questions: the first is I always have an idea in mind of what it is that I, as the photographer, want to capture in my subject/talent. The second, however, is that I always keep an open mind and welcome whatever the talent/subject has to bring. There has been shoots where I’ve captured the exact shot I was looking for but have picked my favorite from a spontaneous pose that the model made out of nothing, or a genuine laugh captured from an actual joke made on set. I guess to me, what’s more important is to set the mood and story behind the shoot, the rest works itself together with the help of the team.

4. Who influenced you the most? Is there any photographer that you consider an idol of yours?

César Buitrago: That’s a tough question! I think my influences can’t be narrowed down to just one photographer. Like I mentioned earlier, the wave of British photographers in the fashion industry are and continue to be a large influence to me. Street photographer such a Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jacques Henri Lartigue, and street photography in Paris from the 50’s has all played a role in my own style.

As far as professionally, through a young artist’s eyes, the one photographer that I look up to and hope for as a mentor is Dario Catellani. His studio work, to me, is one of a kind and his creativity never ceases to amaze me. He is someone I’d love to assist and learn from in the very near future. On a more personal level, I’d have to say that my extremely talented and hardworking friends who keep me on my toes and are a sort of support group to my photography have had a huge influence on me, even when talking about life and career goals.

These are Paulo Almeida, Johnson Lui, and Christian Gideon. I met these amazing artists by the luck of life and they have really changed and influenced me. As far as an idol, I can’t say I have any; I’m not sure why, but it isn’t in me to idolize another human. I guess I just see us all on the same playing field, so I don’t see the need to do it.

5. In your free time, what kind of pictures do you like to shoot and which ones do you avoid?

César Buitrago: This is a great question; I try to shoot street and portraits of people that mean a lot to me. When I say street I mean photos of my surroundings when I’m out in the world. I also shoot a lot of polaroids and a ton of film on my free time. If ever I’m running low on film, I’ve always got a small digital point and shoot I always carry with me. In case a moment of importance arises. I do this because my cousin Bobby once told me that “the best camera to have, is the one on you when you need one.” I try to avoid taking any posed or fake kind of photo I could take.

6. Was photography your first choice of a career? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

César Buitrago: No, actually. My first choice for a career was Soccer. I played soccer all of my life and found success through club. Which is what brought me to where I live now. I got recruited to play at a University in Minnesota, played for four years. But, instead of investing the time in trying out around the city and out of the country I realized that my true passion is photography. Ever since, it has been something I know I’ll always want to do.

7. What is your favorite photograph that you’ve ever taken? Why?

César Buitrago: So I’ve got photos that I truly love. I’m working on a couple of personal projects. One which will be a gift to my family from a vacation we took that includes several of the moments we shared. That are captured in a non intrusive way and very organically as well. These I loved the most. However, as far as my FAV photograph, I don’t think I’ve captured it yet.

Who are some of your favorite photographers? Share with us on social at @h_collective and they may be interviewed next!

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