Lithuanian born Roza Vulf is a self-taught street photographer based in Rome, Italy. She has been published in Vogue Italia and recently participated in two London exhibitions: Cityscapes Festival, and Kupala Night Artist’s ‘CUP’. In a photo genre that has been dominated by males for years, Roza is carving out a place for herself in street photography and is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, as you will see.
I have been interested in photography since I was a teenager. I owned two film cameras, a Smena and a Zenit, and I developed the photos myself. Life imposes its own rules however, so I dedicated my time to my family, kids, and work. Eventually, a few years ago, I finally got the chance to do what I love and started to devote most of my time to photography."Roza Vulf
Kujaja: What does ‘street photography’ mean to you?
RV: It is an obsession, I cannot stop doing it and I treasure every moment while I am wandering the streets. It makes me what I am. I enjoy capturing raw unposed and unstaged stories, and bringing them to the viewer as I saw them.
Kujaja: Who are some of your favorite street photographers, and how did they influence you?
RV: I love many contemporary photographers, as well as the masters. Saul Leiter, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Andre Kertesz, Robert Doisneau and many, many more. Garry Winogrand once said "When I am photographing, I see life. That's what I deal with. I don't have pictures in my head... I don't worry about how the picture is going to look. I let that take care of itself... It is not about making a nice picture. That anyone can do." These are the words of the street photography genius who influenced me and at the same time it reflects how I see it.
Kujaja: What were the difficulties you encountered when you first embraced street photography?
RV: I would not say there were real difficulties. I find it pretty natural to shoot in the streets. I always feel comfortable and relaxed among strangers in a crowd and I love to observe. Obviously I had to figure out what camera settings are the best for me. It took me some time to understand what camera, and especially what lens, I prefer in order to express exactly what I see.
Kujaja: What is the most challenging part about being a street photographer?
RV: It is an endless discovery, full of great surprises. You never know what you’ll bring home after a day of shooting. It makes you sometimes euphoric or deeply disappointed and doubtful. It makes you feel alive and creative. It gives you possibility to show the world through your heart and imagination.
Kujaja: Is it an advantage or disadvantage being a women shooting people in the streets?
RV: It can be both. When I go shooting I prefer to be 'no one' in the crowd. I want to be invisible, not to intrude on people's privacy and just to observe.
Kujaja: Have you had formal training?
RV: Not really. I was trained on the job as a teenage intern working for a local Lithuanian newspaper but the experience pretty much faded away after all those years. I am self-taught. I subscribed to a couple of photo magazines and tried to recreate the projects they showed. It was a great and useful experience. It helped me to better understand the technical side of photography. I also spent a lot of time learning online: articles, tutorials and projects enlightened me a lot. I read photography books and visit Art exhibitions; this always give me plenty of food for thought. Learning becomes more precious when you get a chance to meet some great photographers in real-time and have some photo workshops or photo walks together. I was lucky enough to have had that.
Kujaja: Do you have a style in your photos that separates you from other street photographers?
RV: I don't know about style, but we all definitely have our own visions, our characters, our attitude toward life and photographic techniques… that which separates us and makes us all different. We all see the same world, just from a different angle and with our different backgrounds.
Kujaja: What are your thoughts about shooting individually (versus shooting with a friend or small group of friends) when out on the streets?
RV: I am a loner on the street and I love and prefer to shoot alone. Still I enjoy a lot to meet up with photographer-mates and to have a good chat with same-minded people as I do believe we all learn from each other.
Kujaja: How do you choose the places you photograph?
RV: My family is spread around the world and I therefore travel a lot. So, often I am in different countries and different cities. I do not have a tendency to have a specific plan, I just go shooting wherever I am. I always follow my gut-feeling.
Kujaja: What are your street photography deal breakers (what you absolutely will not do)?
RV: I will not take photos of the homeless and beggars, unless it is a documentary project.
Kujaja: How important is it for a photographer to ‘connect’ with his/her subjects?
RV: That depends on what type of 'connection' you mean. Being connected emotionally to your subject is a must, without that a photograph would not work. To be connected directly, i.e. - asking for the photo permission - is a no for me.
Kujaja: What do you think are some clichés in street photography you steer away from yourself?
RV: The world is full of clichés and it is hard to constantly keep away from them. In Europe I try to avoid shooting the homeless, street artists and pigeons. Nevertheless, I am aware in some parts of the world you cannot avoid it and it becomes a natural feature of the photo.
Kujaja: Street photography is generally presented in black and white. A great deal of your street images are outside that box. Why this preference for color?
RV: Because color, in my perception, associates with real life as we see the world in color. Black and white is more like a dream. It can be absolutely spectacular and usually brings some special mood to the photograph, but somehow it is disconnected from reality. It is a reason I feel and love the colors more, but sometimes when color imposes itself too much, or even disturbs, or when I want to make an accent on something that is not color-connected, I convert my photo to black and white.
Kujaja: The subjects in your street photos are often shot facing away from the camera. Is this a conscious choice or something that occurs in the moment?
RV: Sometimes it is a conscious choice, sometimes it is the moment. I prefer to avoid eye contact and try to catch the moment when people are not aware of being photographed. That candid moment when they are in their world of thoughts or emotions. Usually I am driven by the facial expressions I see on the streets, but it still does not always mean that to show the face of someone will reveal the mood of the moment. In some cases somebody's back can tell a lot about the person and could create a wonderful story in the viewer's mind. It can be a pose, a clothes style, wind in the hair, a stance or any other detail.
Kujaja: What is your go-to gear on a shoot?
RV: I keep it as light as possible... It is Fuji x100s, two spare batteries, sometimes the 50mm converter. My memory card is big enough to handle a few days of shooting but I keep a spare one just in case.
Kujaja: What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting a prime lens?
RV: The last two years I only shoot with a Fuji x100s that has a 23mm fixed lens (equivalent to 35mm). It is an excellent camera that taught me a lot and became my best friend. Shooting with a prime lens trained my eye, forced me to move and come closer to the subject. I think it is a necessary experience for any street photographer. I also have a 50mm converter, but I do not use it much as the camera becomes intrusive and quite heavy to carry all day long. For me 35mm and 50mm are the best prime lenses for street photography.
Kujaja: What is your opinion regarding film vs. digital photography?
RV: I shoot digital and it is a lot of fun, but deep in my heart I am still attracted to film photography. It is another world. It delivers special mood, grain texture and colors that digital cannot bring. I find it a very personal choice and, as we all know, brilliant photography is done using both - digital and film.
Kujaja: And, finally, you’ve been published a number of times. How did you put yourself on the map?
RV: I am learning every day, I enjoy what I am doing and when some of my work is appreciated it makes me happy. It brings me confidence that I am on the right path
Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Roza.