A casual drinks & dinner session with my mates last Friday ended up in an unexpected conversation about photography with my long time friend and artist Nino Bartolo – and hence the reason I’m writing this post today.
Like most of my friends and my good self, Nino Bartolo (NB) was born in Macau to a local Portuguese family, so he embodies our unique local mixed-culture heritage. To keep it short, like many of us he speaks fluently Portuguese, English and Chinese as a native.
It was after graduating from the local school in the mid-90’s that NB’s diversified career in the artistic field took off. Mind me, I still remember when NB was a resident DJ in Signal, a former club from the local scene. It was in this very same spot that he proudly announced to me:
“Deixei os pratos para trabalhar com as tesouras”.
(English: “I left the dishes (turntables) to work with scissors”).
Because by that time NB had already started developing his career as a hair stylist – and a highly accomplished one, a couple of years later becoming Senior Creative Stylist in Vidal Sassoon.
Like most of us, he had to leave small Macau to pursue his goals and consolidate his skills. Eight years living in London gave NB the experience and exposure to a highly developed fashion design world – and so began his interest in photography.
Yet further down the line his career path was to bring him closer to hometown Macau. NB spent 4 years in Shanghai working both as a hair stylist and a photographer. To his credit, his name was sharply featured in many fashion and hair design production shows, where he was often the main focus of the spotlights.
Now back to Macau where he lives and works from, his career path has gone a full circle.
And, with this, I can get back to the Friday drinks session and the photography talk we had together.
First things first, the refreshing thing about our photo chat was that it was not gear and tech-spec oriented.
See, Gear Acquisition Syndrome and photo spec-talk is stuff for amateurs and enthusiasts. After all, for a seasoned professional a camera is not a toy, it’s a working tool. And, to this point, buying a new camera equals to buying a new tool.
The time needed to readjust your working process to suit the new tool is not necessarily what a professional photographer enjoys going through. Not to mention the payback period.
“City and Architecture”
In any case, when you are an artist and result-oriented, the gear you are using is important only up to a certain point – or, at least, not to the point of becoming a distraction. Therefore, when I asked NB what camera he is now using, I got a kind of mute rumbling:
“Er… I have a Canon 5D… a 28-70… yeah, it’s 28-70…”. For which I replied: “it must be the f/2.8?”… And I got almost no reply from him, only a small nod and a smile as he shrugged his shoulders.
This is not to say he is not interested in photo gear. It’s just that NB’s interest is not so much on digital. A Canon AE-1, some medium format Mamiya and Fuji… This is the stuff he is using now, all analogue.
And then there is his desire to get a Hasselblad X-Pan because “…that stretched panorama format… For landscape…”. But this was before we both shook our heads in agreement that the X-Pan is so damn expensive due to its cult status.
The great Simon Callow, shot by NB
Whatever the gear, nowadays NB is more inclined to shoot film. From his own words, shooting film “adds discipline to every single shot, every shot becomes more deliberate”.
Shooting film means every single shot has an impact not only on your wallet, but most importantly on your precious production time. NB actually takes care of the entire production himself, from developing the negative all the way to the print. Hence, he enjoys controlling the quality of the final output.
In the specific case of the landscape photo below shot at Miami South Beach, he managed the whole production from the acrylic printing to the very final step of hanging the artwork on the wall of a client based in Hong Kong. Every step was documented with photos he proudly showed to me in his iPhone.
“Shooting colour, the main difficulty is to get the temperature right.” Colour temperature, I ask? “Well, yes, but what I was referring to was the temperature of the chemicals”.
And it was quite an eye opener for me that he achieves this by using a kitchen tool. I didn’t ask in detail, but I understand is some sort of cooking equipment that you submerge in a recipient full of liquid and you can adjust the temperature with precision.
The point is, I enjoyed the whole conversation because it was not about megapixels, full-frame vs APS-C, algorithms, RAW files, 8-bit, 16-bit, or the so-called workflow. The shitty discussion about what software you use, Capture One, Lightroom or whatever the f***.
We spoke about acrylic prints, kitchen utensils, how to add ice to cool down the chemicals, how to clamp your film, painting with light, bulk developing negatives from past sessions that will make you look at the photo and say “what the heck was I thinking, who the hell is this model?..”
How about this for a change?
Nino Bartolo Photography
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the final product and the few photos from NB I’m showing here are some of my favourites.
If I am to pick one though, it’s going to be the black & white in the very top of this post, from the “Painting Room” series. Why? Well, it kinda takes me to the surrealist world of André Kertész and Man Ray. You know what? I don’t know and I don’t think I owe any explanation. That photo looks really cool, period.
I find the “City & Architecture” series quite intriguing as well, especially when he plays with symmetry. Look carefully and you realize some photos are actually mirror-halves, but NB plays the game by adding some lighting or other elements in asymmetrical fashion to trick you into thinking the image is for real.
NB’s portfolio is quite diverse and you can check it yourself in his Facebook space in Nino Bartolo Photography.