Fine art photographer Henri Prestes captures Portugal as it is rarely seen. Hailing from the beautiful Serra da Estrela region, Henri chooses to go out shooting during times and conditions when most people are firmly asleep under two layers of blankets. The results are other-worldly shots of empty fields, lonely roads, snowy villages and other imagery which looks like it came straight from a David Fincher movie. Even the people living in the region often do not recognize the locations in his photographs. Looking at his pictures, it might not come as a surprise that Henri’s background is in cinematography. He picked up a still camera to sharpen his skills in composition and enjoyed it so much he decided to stick with it for a while. Naturally, we were super excited to have a chat with the good man and as he agreed to bless us with some of his time, we’re proud to present you this interview with Henri Prestes!
You mostly seem to photograph in the heart of the night. Which hours are your favourites and how do you schedule your trips?
Yes, I prefer photographing at night, usually after midnight or later, because it’s the best time to capture places without people roaming around, and it’s also a very relaxing time to be alone in the dark with only my camera. I don’t plan my trips in advance because I prefer to shoot on the spur of the moment, so if the weather looks interesting, I jump in the car and go exploring. I also enjoy shooting during the day during the blue hour because I find the light to be very interesting and full of potential for great images. Having said that, I’d like to experiment more with creating moody photos with sunlight in the future.
Do the night-time adventures ever get in the way of regular life, or the other way around?
Yes, I tend to lose track of time when I’m out shooting, and before I know it, several hours have passed. As a result, I sometimes return home very late at night, but since it’s something I enjoy doing so much, I don’t mind. I also find that being continuously engaged in a “creative mode” gives me the energy and motivation to keep doing the more mundane things in life.
Besides your camera, what do you take on the road when going on a photography trip?
I always bring a few flashlights in my backpack, one headlamp, a sturdy tripod for long exposures, and if I’m going to stay awhile I bring food and water as well. Lately, I’ve also been carrying a couple of Led lights to experiment with different lighting setups.
Do you ever get sighted by locals and if so, how do they respond to you?
At night around the countryside I normally only get sighted by passing cars, but I had a few encounters with the local police who always find it strange that I’m roaming around at those late hours but then they see my camera and tripod and understand what I’m doing. If I’m exploring the small towns during late evenings or nights, I walk around looking like a tourist taking photos so people don’t pay much attention to me.
In a previous interview, you mentioned wanting to visit Eastern Europe to try and apply your photography there. What are you hoping to find there? And where do you think the similarities between Portugal and Eastern Europe are?
Yes, I’m going to shoot some work in Lithuania, and maybe Belarus and Ukraine. There are many aspects of that region that fascinate me, from the architecture to the strange small villages, to the more desolate environments and mysterious-looking forests. Some of my favourite painters and illustrators are from there, and their images have this distinct aesthetic that has been burned into my mind for a long time, so I’m excited to see what I can come up with. I believe we’re fairly similar in terms of economy, culture, and population day-to-day life, but those are mostly assumptions from the outside, so I’d like to go in and learn for myself.
You gave up your work as a cinematographer in favour of your photography. Would you ever consider going back to cinematography, applying what you’ve learned in photography?
Without a doubt. Cinema is still a big passion of mine, and it’s where I get a lot of my ideas. I’m just not sure I’d be comfortable working with a large team to create something, and I’d feel like a cog in the wheel, so for now I’ll stick to photography, which I can do alone or with small groups. I’m also interested in learning more about painting in the future, as it’s fascinating to be able to create something from a blank canvas, as opposed to photography, which always has a starting point before any editing takes place.
Your photography strongly envokes the idea of a story or a narrative. Do you have any storylines running in your head that connect your photography?
In my current process, I’m not thinking of a specific story or narrative when I’m out shooting. I mostly focus on capturing a certain mood or interesting composition at the moment and then when I’m editing I tend to select images that might have a hint of a story or some moment of tension in them. After a few months of shooting, I begin to notice patterns in my images and begin to group them into series, some of which are more character-driven, while others are more landscape oriented. I don’t like photos that explain everything or are overly conceptual and technical, so I try to avoid overplanning in my own work.
What was it about Todd Hido’s “House Hunting” book that grasped you so much? Are there any other photo books you think we shouldn’t miss?
It was the first book I picked up as I began to learn photography, and it completely blew me away. I discovered that it was possible to have amazing images exploring my surroundings, transforming and capturing moments in the most mundane places and that gave me a lot of inspiration and freedom to just roam the places I already knew and try to make something interesting out of them. Aside from that, I highly recommend all of Gregory Crewdson’s books and Justine Kurland “Girl Pictures”.
What can we expect from Henri Prestes in the Future?
I’m looking to finally release a book with my work, I’m also interested in the future of digital galleries in the art world; I have a few artists friends who have had great success in this area, so it’s something I’ve been researching recently.