Photographer Marcelo Goulart: ‘I always try to make a visual impact’

Marcelo Goulart is a photographer and artist based in Brazil. His work is often inspired by his dreams and characteristically mixes dark tones with vibrant pops of colour and elements that glisten and shine.

Photography means the world to him. It was the act of taking photos that became his ‘therapy’ and rescued him from the darkest period in his life, offering a new creative outlet and a new career.

In this interview, he talks candidly about the ways photography has enhanced his life, how he finds inspiration in his dreams and what his creative aspirations are for the future.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the world of photography.

In 2011 I was at university. When I got my first R$ 300,00 scholarship (roughly 55-60 US dollars) I was so happy but I still didn’t know what to do with that money, despite having bills to pay. A few days later, I saw a professor friend of mine selling two cameras and I thought “that’s it!”. The amount was still too high for me, but he agreed to split the amount over a few months. Although I bought the camera in 2011, the first time I used it was in 2013.

I went through some complicated situations in 2012 that led me to depression until April 2013. I still remember lying on the floor, alone. It was autumn and it was at the peak of my crisis and I said to myself “that’s enough. I’m not like that, this feeling is killing me. I need to change,” and I looked to the side and found my camera on the shelf (a Fuji HS10). I decided to go out that afternoon to walk and take some pictures.

At the sound of The Cure I started photographing plants, trees, some animals that passed by me and when I returned home, I realised how good I was feeling about it. The following weekend I repeated the experience. I realised, this ‘play’ had become my therapy, and since then I photograph not only by profession, but to avoid sinking back into depression.

Since 2016/2017 I live solely on photography and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How would you describe your photographic style?

This is a question I have never been asked and I had to think for a long time before I answered. I always try to make a visual impact, with attractive colours, things that shine and high contrasts. A feature of my photos is that I always use dark tones.

What message/feeling do you hope people get from viewing your images?

Once, while photographing a party, a girl approached me and said that she loved my photos because they reflected how I am, a person full of joy inside me. That night I came home thinking about what she said. I clearly did not see myself as a happy person (I photograph to escape from depression); why did she say that? After a long time of thinking, I realised that my photos do not express what I am, but seek what I lack, thus making me feel really complete.

Can you give us a little insight ‘behind the scenes’ on a typical photo shoot with you?

My ‘behind the scenes’ usually starts in a dream. I sleep, dream and when I wake up I remember more striking scenes and start planning how to make them real.

The first step in my creative process is choosing the colours I intend to use for each project. After that I play a mental game: I play with all the colours on a blank canvas and little by little they start to occupy interesting and harmonic places; after a while, those coloured spots start to take the forms of what I dreamed. It is only at the last stage of this mental process that the coloured spots become objects, people and elements that I will put in my photo.

With the idea properly organised, I start looking for these elements. To find the models, I usually make an invitation on social networks asking who has availability. For the rest, as I have little (or no) financial resources, I try to spend as little as possible: the clothes are made by models or bought in thrift stores; the objects are the ones I find on the street and take home.

When shooting, one thing I always take is cachaça. I know people who like wine to break some barriers, to relax, but here in the interior of Minas Gerais our passion is divided into pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and cachaça, and it’s not just for the model, most of it is for myself hahaha (remember that I don’t drive, we usually call someone to take us and pick us up from the chosen places). I am a cyclist and I usually find many interesting places while cycling, and this helps me to always be innovative when creating new images. The whole photo shoot last around 90-120 minutes and we play, drink, talk, all to create the best possible work environment.

What are your typical post-production steps for retouching your photographs?

In the Develop Persona, I make the temperature adjustments so that it is as neutral as possible and slightly sharpens the photo. Then, with the retouching tools, I clean the scene and the photographed object (product or model) and then use Frequency Separation. To finish, I play with the colours using adjustment layers until I get to the combination I had originally imagined. I never know how many layers I will use, but I usually work with a few Curves, White Balances, HSL and Shadows/Highlights adjustments layers.

How did you discover Affinity Photo and what inspired you to start using it?

A little over a year ago, a photographer friend told me he used Affinity Photo for editing and I decided to try it out. At the time I had recently purchased an iPad and needed an application to work on it and today I can no longer live without it and Affinity Designer. It has everything I need to work inside and outside the home; most of my work has been done on Affinity Photo on the iPad, going days or weeks without turning on the computer.

Tell us more about the photograph you submitted to 100 Days. 100 Commissions. What was the inspiration behind the image?

One beautiful afternoon, I was walking through the centre of my city and saw a black man walking in the sun. The light hit his skin and he shone like some kind of metal—something between bronze and gold—and there I was sure that black people were born to shine. I was fascinated with that shine and started trying to recreate in photos all that shine I saw, first with oils and additions, until I decided to play with a mixture of petroleum jelly and glitter, and that was the look I wanted! At that time I called the model (a friend of mine) and told her what I wanted to create and how I wanted to do it. It took three days to get all of the dirt out of her body, but the result of the photos was just incredible.

In your opinion, what qualities make a good photographer?

The ability to see and reinvent the world. Having technical mastery over the equipment (camera, light and editing) is essential, but a good photographer emerges when the person starts to listen and observe the world more. Many fellow photographers and non-photographers come to me asking for tips, asking me to teach them something, and I always respond: watch more films that can inspire you in scenes, colours and expressions and read more to exercise your imagination. With that, you already have the tools you need to recreate the world around you using your imagination.

Do you have any favourite photographers whose work you admire?

Not photographers, but filmmakers, directors and writers, such as Stephen King, Rob Zombie, Ingmar Bergman, Isaac Asimov, HG Wells and Douglas Adams among others. Most of my references come from works of horror or fiction.

Do you remember your very first professional shoot?

No, hahaha. There have been many paid jobs that I did, but I have recently been presenting as an ARTIST and not just a photographer. In the beginning, I photographed many parties, concerts, bands, birthdays, rehearsals and weddings, but all in a more commercial and not artistic way. Some works stuck with me more because they gave me more freedom to create, and for these, I remember the whole process clearly, but I can’t remember which one was the first. One of the photo shoots I liked the most was one that I made with two of my model friends. We took the photos in the middle of a swamp, on a cold day, about 10km from the city. It was wonderful, however, at that time Brazil was facing (yet another) crisis, the truckers’ strike, and the gas stations ran out of fuel. When the rehearsal came to an end, we called the car to pick us up, but the city had run out of gas and we had to walk back to our houses at night, cold, in the dark and carrying the equipment!

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The possibility of always being in different places doing different things. I worked with computers and programming until 2011 but staying in an office talking and doing the same things every day was bad for me. Several times I negotiated to work from home, as my productivity increased. The freedom I have today to work wherever I want, whenever I want, and to create what I want is undoubtedly what I most appreciate.

You’ve started to explore illustration as a creative outlet. What inspired you to do this?

In the beginning of the ‘quarantine’ (in quotes because here in Brazil there was never any real isolation) I saw the Serif apps on sale in the App Store and I decided to take a risk. I had been using Affinity Photo for some time and at the beginning of the year I decided to learn a little about animation, but I never got along very well with other vector drawing applications. On the first day I used Affinity Designer, my passion for illustration returned. It is a light, intuitive, versatile program and all of this made me even more interested in learning how to illustrate. I can say that my biggest inspiration at that moment was my desire to create. Shapes, colours and vectors are old passions that I have. I speak of vectors because I entered university to do a Physics course (which is another passion), but I could not conclude.

How do you hope to develop this side of your artistry?

Now is not the time to make new invitations and go out and shoot in the bush, so drawing ends up being my alternative to not let my imagination drown on the beach. The ideas never stop coming (mainly for photos), so, to satisfy this desire, I try to draw, not only illustrations but also sketches for future photos!

What are your ambitions for the future? How would you like your photography to progress?

One goal I have is to live off my art. I would like one day to be able to make exhibitions of my creations in galleries, to have my photos displayed on walls around the world. I still don’t know how, but this is the dream that I have been nurturing for the past few months!

Marcelo

You can see more of Marcelo’s photography on his website and on Instagram.