Yona Elig – A Café Photographer

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THE SOUL OF STREET LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY lies in a good coincidence and that’s probably why we’re so drawn to it. Unlike the fashion and portrait photographers, the street photographers have no control over making of an image. They have to be persevering and patient for the perfect moment, and quick on releasing the shutter as the spontaneously decisive moment occurs. This becomes even more challenging for the street photographer we have got to interview this time. Yona Elig captures street life, albeit rather indoors and converts it into a piece of fine art. She prefers to be called a Café Photographer, probably a genre she herself has invented.
Yona is an incredible photographer who started off as a graphic designer. When it was time to choose a vocation for life, she made sure it combined photography and graphic designing, the two things she has always been passionate about.
She currently lives in Geneva but travels back and forth to Paris and Istanbul where she still has part of her family.

Tell us about yourself and your interest in photography.
I was born in Istanbul, and I left for London when I was 20 to study Graphic Designing. Over there I met a few photographer friends who made me acquainted with working in a darkroom. They are the ones who got me my first beginner’s camera.
I eventually moved to Paris where I worked as a freelance graphic and web page designer. Later on after having retired I moved to Switzerland and that was when I came back to photography.
After a couple of years working with a Canon I bought my first Leica M240 in 2013 with the only lens, the 28mm Elmarit. It took me a while to tame it but I just knew that it was the right choice for my project. I still have a lot to learn and always will, however, as we only live once I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it.

Which photographic genre do you prefer? Who do you idolize?
Sincerely I like all the genres and they make me vibrate, awakening something in me. I like color, I like black and white, and of course, fine art photography (which is what I am trying to do nowadays). My favorite photographers are Saul Leiter, Elliott Erwitt, Lenny Kravitz, Irvin Penn, and a few others.

So, may we conclude that you are basically a street photographer?
Not purely so. I am more of an interior street photographer since I usually shoot inside a café or the inside of it from outside and even vice-versa. So, I would prefer to say that I am a café photographer.

Where did you learn the techniques in photography from? Can you share your workflow with the readers? Did you start with an analog?
As I studied Graphic Design at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication) they had a photography department where I had the chance of working with some of their students. That helped me get an understanding of photography. I learned a little with the help of online courses too, but since online learning was not a mode I liked much, much of what I have learned is through my own DIY efforts. Since graphic designing and photography, both are artistic mediums, I always searched for a way to bring them together in my own way. I finally came across certain techniques that helped me. 
For the workflow I use Adobe Lightroom for my basic processing or black and white conversion, adjusting exposure, highlights and then I save it as a jpg and transfer to my iPad. Hence I can introduce light while keeping part of the composition dark using the brush strokes from a drawing/painting software made only for the tablets. This gives me the effect that I want. It is still clearly a photograph but has the hint of a painting whilst keeping the whole effect harmonious.
Yes, I had used analog when I was at the university and had a darkroom to process.

Which was your first camera?
My first camera was a second hand Nikon but when I returned to photography after my stint as a graphic designer, it was a Canon with a 50mm f/1.8 lens that I loved working with.

Why did you pick photography as your pastime?
It was very easy to adopt it since it never left me. I was always attracted to design, images, and especially the desire to create. With all the new techniques, the digital cameras and of course some softwares at my disposal I was free to choose my projects and take my own path.

Do you click for pleasure or profession?
It is surely not a profession to me since I don’t earn any money from it. Whatever I do gives me immense satisfaction and therefore, I’d rather call it a passion. I am just an amateur photographer hoping to make it a profession someday.

How do you approach people when you have to click them?
Actually I am a shy person so I do not talk to people, and therefore I usually shoot from the hip and try not to include their faces directly. My method of using the brush strokes in post processing helps me hide their faces if they are too obvious in my photo. I respect their anonymity and this is how I try to maintain it. Even then if someone notices me and objects then I immediately delete the shot. I personally wouldn’t mind being part of a street shot by others; I hope most of my subjects feel the same.

What is it that you find most difficult to shoot and the one that gratifies you the most?
The most difficult for me is to shoot people’s portraits in close up. For a good portrait, I need to go near them so I could get the detail. Being shy, I don’t know how to get close to people and I never use a zoom. So I only get to do my family’s portraits which is not my ultimate goal.
The thing that gratifies me the most is when I can add a some value to my photo, make my vision obvious to viewers, and when it is sometimes compared even to a good painting. I get some wonderful comments that I hold dear to me and that encourages me more than anything else.

Tell us about your works, exhibitions and publications?
I have published some books privately, made my own website and I participated a renowned exhibition at the Carrousel du Louvre, by Le Salon National de Beaux Arts, where I was honored to receive the second place twice in two different jury choices.

Do you have specific goals and aspirations for the future?
Not really, but like I said earlier, I also like shooting portraits besides interior/street photography which is a difficult challenge as yet. So one goal would be to eventually move from only shooting my family and friends’ portraits to the other people.

What makes you frame your images the way you do, in terms of framing?
I am basically graphic designer and an artist. I have been very careful about composition and it kind of comes to me naturally. Besides I was taught this at the university.

Nowadays photography is an art medium practically extended to everyone. Do you find this commodification detrimental to the profession of a photographer or do you think photography should be a means within everyone’s reach?
Photography should by all means be accessible to each and everyone. If one day I decide that I want to do some kind of social work, I would try to tell people that definitely, photography is the most convenient way of expression. One may click great images even with a phone. Actually you just gave me a great idea there!

What message do you want to convey to new entrants to your genre of photography?
I would like to say that it is very important to be observant in this genre, as it is a kind of story you are going to tell and that story must be interesting.
My advice to the new photographers is that they should just start by shooting what they like, what their eyes lead them to. Photography is accessible to everyone and each of us have a different style whether a beginner or not. The camera is an accessory, it will do what you want. What best use would you want to make of it is up to you. I believe every one has their own way of appreciating a scene and they shouldn’t hesitate to shoot it. Sharing leads to enriching feedbacks sometimes so use it and if it becomes a passion hang on to it.

Thank you for your answers, Yona. We are sure that they will be useful to many fans.
You’re very welcome, the pleasure was mine.

Yona Elig