Art & Design Interviews Music

Gerson Lopes: From teaching music to being a successful photographer in L.A.

L.A. based portrait photographer and musician Gerson Lopes talked with The Curve about his journey, inspirations and how he balances his two passions.

You know that feeling when you really want to try something out, but you’re too scared you’ll fail or won’t make a living out of your passion? Gerson Lopes is the perfect example that will inspire you to pursue your dream career, even if you must switch professions. This up-and-coming photographer started just casually drawing his friends and, later on, became a music teacher. When he got his first camera as a gift, he realized that he always wanted to try photography. I had the pleasure of meeting Gerson and we chatted about his journey as a photographer, the challenging parts of the industry and his passion for classical music.

© Sue Bryce

The Curve: Why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer? When did you realize it’s something you want to do?

Gerson: It kind of started with drawing. I always liked drawing and in high school I always liked drawing my friends, teachers, and when I was a kid, I had two sisters and my dad always had a camera. He always took pictures like family pictures of us, all of us every year. He also took pictures of weddings of our friends but very very casual. Not professional at all. And I never really did anything about it [photography] until later, because I started playing piano and learning music when I was a kid. I studied music all the way to college, and I got a job as a music teacher. But in the back of my head, I was always thinking that I want to try to do some photography. I love pictures and paintings and one day I received a camera as a Christmas gift. And then I was like, okay now I really need to learn, I want to take good pictures. I started taking pictures of family, friends and everybody that I could.   

TC: Whose work has influenced you the most? 

G: A lot of people. But I think mainly Sue Bryce. I found her on the Internet, and I loved her work and everything that she was doing. And then she started to do online classes and I bought one of her classes. Then one day I went to her workshop, and we’ve become friends and I moved to Los Angeles to work with her. So, she was a huge, huge influence for me. But also, people like Mario Testino or Annie Leibovitz.  

“It becomes our legacy, it’s a part of the history of the person”

TC: What does photography mean to you?  

G: I feel like it becomes our legacy, it’s a part of the history of the person. In the past, people had old paintings of themselves and families. These days we don’t do the paintings, but we do more with the camera, like recordings and pictures. So, one day whenever we are not here, all that people are going to have is our pictures or videos. I think that everybody should have beautiful pictures of themselves, not only because it helps you to see yourself in a better, different way. But also, because that’s how the next generations are going to see you. So, I think it’s very important as part of your history. The part of the legacy that you’re leaving in this world is like leaving your image just soaking so people can remember you so it’s a memory. But also, self-esteem, because when people see good pictures of themselves, they feel good, and I try to help people with that through my photography. 

TC: What inspires you? What drives your passion for photography?  

G: : I feel like a little bit of what I mentioned before. I love when I see that the photography helped the person to feel better about themselves, so it’s helping people to see themselves in a different way, like I see them. A lot of people come in front of my camera and they’re like, ‘oh I’m too big or I don’t like this about myself’ etc. But when they see the picture, sometimes they even get a little bit emotional because they feel like that’s not how they see themselves in a mirror. And I study a lot of posing and I try to help with posing, lighting and everything so it ends up as a boost for their self-esteem. So that inspires me a lot too. I want to tell everybody that anybody could be in a magazine because everybody can be beautiful. Everybody is beautiful. It’s just a way that people perceive that, ‘oh, I cannot be a model, or I cannot be in the media.’ But it’s just because they don’t have good pictures. I feel like I’m helping people to feel better about themselves, and that inspires me to keep going.  

TC: How would you describe your photography style? 

G: Well, I think they’re a little bit classical in a way. I’m trying to mix a little more right now, but it’s like an old style, classic portrait, a little bit of that painting inspiration. I like simple, and I like cleaning up. I like when the colors are matching each other. I notice that in my photography I don’t have a lot of very colorful things it’s more that they match, so it’s a little more brownish gold or beige or green, black and white. I love black and white, it’s like a contemporary portrait. 

TC: You’re the editorial portraits photographer but do you have any other favourite subject to photograph?

G: One thing that I really like, and you will see a little bit on my Instagram is flowers [Laughs]. But like the very very close up pictures, like very close to the flower. I don’t know, I just feel like it’s an art and it is just beautiful. So, I tried to put a little bit on my Instagram just to get create a little more interesting space in between the pictures of people. But flowers would be one of my favorite subject to photograph.    

TC: What do you think makes the good picture stand out from the average? 

G: For me, first is the posing of the person. I’m talking about this as a photographer, because the person can be beautiful, but if they are not well directed, the picture won’t look good. So, I look into posing, how the hands, face and everything looks like. I don’t care too much about clothes as long as it looks presentable. I feel like these days there are so many styles, so I don’t really say ‘oh, this is ugly.’ And the lighting is important as well. Sometimes even in fashion, and I know fashion can be different because it’s very artistic and sometimes very crazy. But I feel like the most important thing is the person, and if they try to put the light in a way that shows more of the clothes instead of the face it doesn’t look good. So, the best pictures are the ones that have everything put together, it’s got good lighting for the clothes, the pose is good and it shows the person.

TC: What is the most difficult and most rewarding part of being a photographer?  

G: The most difficult I think is, because we are more like artistic people, we don’t think a lot about business and about numbers and the business side of photography.  I know a lot of photographers that have the same problem as it’s challenging for us to talk about business and to sell our photography or even to get clients because you need to talk about all the other sides. All we are thinking is the artistic part, like how I’m going to do the set etc. So that is hard, and I’ve been working on that to help myself to be both to be artistic, but also do the business side. So that’s the hard part. However, the rewarding part hmm, I love to see when people like my work, when they see their pictures and they post it or print it and put on the wall. That’s very rewarding [Laughs].  

TC: Expect being a photographer, you also have your own collection of music. How did you discover your passion for music?  

G: Like I said, I grew up playing piano and I have studied music since I was nine. I always wanted to record albums, but I never really pursued that. When I moved to Los Angeles, my friend, she’s dating a guy that is a music producer and they have a little studio in their house. So, my other friend was like why don’t you just record music and try to sell it to photographers as background music. For them to show their photos to. That’s how I started, now my music is selling at The Portrait Masters. The website that is most about photography, but they’re selling my music there for photographers to create promotional videos etc. And I just finished my third album! It’s coming out soon. I’m writing classical music because I studied classical piano and all these songs that I’m playing and recording are my original songs. It’s not super modern, but it’s beautiful because it’s orchestral, a new kind of music, but still orchestral music. It’s beautiful.  

“When I listen to good music, I get so inspired. I want to go and write something”

TC: What inspires you to write music?  

G: Anything. Like when I listen to classical music, I want to go and write something. When I listen to good music, I get so inspired. Sometimes I’m driving and I just start humming a melody and then I sit at the piano and try to play something. I don’t know, music comes very easily to me. 

TC: Whose work influenced you the most?  

G: Oh, I love Schubert, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart. Very classical artists.    

TC: Can you play any other instruments than piano?  

G: A little bit of percussion. And I can play harmonica. I also tried violin, I tried guitar, acoustic guitar but it didn’t work. [Laughs]  
  
TC: What is your creativity process like?  

G: So, it kind of comes whenever, I can be driving and then I just start listening to the melody and I try to sing a little bit, and then I record it on my iPhone. Then when I go to the studio, I replay that, and I try to play the same thing and then I create on top of that. But sometimes I just go to the studio and I go there with nothing in my head just listening to music. Generally, I listen to classical music before I go to the studio and then when I get there, I just try to play something and work with the producer. So, I tried to play keyboard for two and three minutes and then we work on top of that. Add other instruments etc.  

TC: Before we wrap the interview, what would be your advice for people that want to start career as a photographer or in music? 

G: For photography, I would encourage everybody to train their eyes. That’s a very important thing. It’s hard because everybody has a different eye, and everybody has different tastes. But if you have some photographers that you really like, try to study their work. The things that they do, the way they do it etc., because that will help you to train your eyes. It’s just like, let’s say you like dancing. You like ballet so you watch all the big famous ballet dancers because you want to learn what they are doing so you can do it and improve your skills. It’s the same thing with photography, but it’s with your eyes. Like where are the shadows? How did they put the set together? How they made the background. Study the details, why is the person posing like this? I try to watch YouTube videos every day about photography, at least one video day. From famous photographers, that are working on Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, photographers that are really working and that are famous. Just because I want to train my eyes to see what they’re doing; see the way they see. For music, my advice would be to get your cell phone and record what you’re doing. Record what you’re singing or a melody that comes to your head or record you playing. Record it and listen, and then try to play it for somebody else and see what they see, what they hear, and see if they like it and don’t stop playing. Even if you don’t like what you’re doing try the next day, do something else. Do it again and keep practicing and practicing because if you really want to do it, you need to do it every day. You need to practice. 

You can follow Gerson’s journey here:

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