To travel the world, capturing every nuanced culture, every sprawling landscape or any slight detail that captured your eye is an idyllic dream of many. But it is an idyllic dream that Mexican photographer and documentary-maker Roberto Rubalcava lists as the very beginnings of his career. Although he has evolved a great deal since his initial foray into taking photographs for National Geographic, his practice is no less imbued with that distinct passion for his craft. With a kind heart and a rare humility, he expresses his generosity now through a new project Bottles of Hope. In collaboration with fashion designer Amanda Ericsson and puppeteer Karol Cristina de Silva, Bottles of Hope is an initiative intended to transform recycled water bottles into puppets for orphaned children in Mozambique. A true romantic, Rubalcava has a unique eye able to witness the beautiful in almost every worldly situation. A world of colour, knowledge and of course, love, Rubalcava transports us into a stunningly beautiful world that is the exact interpretation of our world as he sees it. We could all learn a lot from him.
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? Who is Roberto Rubalcava?
Roberto Rubalcava: Roberto Rubalcava is a charismatic and romantic person with simple needs who finds great joy in taking pictures and filming documentaries.
From the beginning, how would you explain your professional career?
My professional career started when I was very young back home in Mexico. I was traveling and taking pictures of the places I have been and selling them to travel magazines like GEO, National Geographic and local Airlines publications. It was so much fun. With time I started to get some commissions and keep traveling around Mexico.
What is your definition of beauty? Do you aim to create it through your images? Where do you find it?
My definition of beauty is universal. I find beauty everywhere. My images reflect my vision and the interpretation of everything I see.
What was your first camera? Do you still have it and do you still use it?
My first camera was a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm lens that I dropped into the sea in Playa Zicatela “Those Surfing Days”. When I tried to fix it I was too late. Sea salt had done its job.
Your work has been described as able to transport the viewer to another world. Are you trying to create another dimension, perhaps? Or maybe you are trying to tell a story through your work?
I guess I live in that dimension and my work is the tool to share it with others.
When I saw one image of yours, I couldn’t help but think of Shakespearean imagery of Hamlet’s Ophelia, who, very dramatically died in a lake. Do narratives such as this inspire your work?
Definitely! My work is base between fiction and reality- lots of love and drama.
Where else do you draw inspiration? Who or what influences you?
I get my inspiration by nature and walking around talking to myself. Also the old masters play a big part when I photograph people. The series done in Sweden was inspired by Anders Zorn and John William Waterhouse.
Colour seems to be crucial to your practice, as does light. Can you explain the importance of these two elements in regards to your work?
I was born in Mexico surrounded by light and color. I guess it is in my nature to see life in this way.
In your opinion is there a difference in shooting in black and white as opposed to colour in delivering the intended message of a photograph?
I see them as a different language. If you use the right language to communicate you get the message across. I’m currently working on a black and white project that I’m enjoying so much. I love the mystery and drama that a monochromatic document has to offer.
Your work is so poignantly poetic, and so sensitive. I have to ask; who are some of your artistic icons? Whose work do you find inspiring?
I’m very lucky to be surrounded by very creative people, for sure that is the principal source of inspiration.
Is travel a major component of what you do? Where has been your favourite destination thus far in your career?
The best destination so far has been London. It is, for me, the best city in the world.
If you could be anywhere in the world, where would it be?
At home with my wife
If you weren’t taking photographs, what would you be doing?
Standing on my hands
What’s next for you and your work? Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
Directing and photographing documentaries of ecological and social themes around the world. I have already started with Bottles of Hope, a project [intended] to recycle materials in Mozambique.
Images courtesy of Roberto Rubalcava from his Story We Tell (Chapters I and II) collection.