Dialogues with the Travel Photographer Aaron Joel Santos
What inspired you to become a photographer?
I’ve always been interested in storytelling and imagery, both together and separately. From classic literature, to painting, to graphic novels, and, obviously, photography. I studied literature as an undergrad, and minored in graphic design. Photography for me was the perfect synthesis of all these things, and a medium where the possibilities for exploration felt really quite limitless. Did you study and train as a photographer abroad? I went to the New England School of Photography in Boston.
What kind of aspect in your photography can you define as something like a personal mission?
I don’t know about having a personal mission. As with photography itself, I feel like my style and mission are constantly evolving. Though always centered around this idea of memory and personal history. But if that’s the sort of constant, my actual work has gone through many filters: fine art, documentary, travel, and even commercial work. But within all of these, I try to stay within my framework, this idea of memory and personal history.
How has your photographic work developed since the early days of your career?
I’m a lot more comfortable with my work these days, more confident. But I think that just comes with experience. It’s more international, for sure but that’s because I travel around the world for my work, so it’s kind of an inevitability. It’s become broader as well, less narrowly focused, but I think that, too, comes from experience and getting older. When I was a student, I mimicked my professors, because they were my most immediate source of influence. Once I moved past that, I was able to figure out who I was as a photographer and not just rely on what I thought was appropriate for editorial, documentary, or fine art photography. All disciplines that can, at the worst of times, suffer from self-imposed restrictions and something of a herd mentality.
How would you describe your own style?
A little grungy with elements of perfection hidden somewhere under all that grit and grime.
What has been the greatest revolution in the history of photography?
The advent of digital photography was, is, and will continue to be groundbreaking. It cut my learning curve in half, and has helped me grow as a photographer much more quickly than I ever thought possible.
Your subjects are also celebrities. What makes you pick them?
I don’t make any distinctions between the people I photograph. Everyone has a unique look and a unique way of seeing the world and reacting to it, all of which I’m aiming to capture in a portrait.
Can we see your work anywhere else?
I’ve had work in numerous group shows throughout the years, and I’m currently in talks with two galleries in the greater Boston area about putting on a solo show later in 2016.
Which photo from another photographer impresses you the most?
I’m a huge fan of Sally Mann, and some of her images of her family and her daughters are so beautiful and otherworldly they make me want to give up on photography entirely.
What are your personal goals for the future and your next steps when it comes to photography?
I’d love to keep working with the great clients I’m currently working with, as well as gain new ones, of course. On a more personal level, I’d like to see my work reach new levels. I’d like to shoot more film and Polaroids and experiment more with some historical processes and techniques. I’d like to find time in my schedule to explore some more esoteric and far-reaching ideas. And of course I’d like to see my work reach a larger audience. I’d like to work on a few collaborative projects, both with other photographers and with organizations that are doing work I respect around the world.