Photographer in Focus – Alberto Sanchez

Hand coloured photography may be an outdated technique for some, but for photographer, Alberto Sanchez, it provides infinite possibilities to create his beautiful and subtly toned artwork. Sanchez runs a successful commercial photography business around the Byron Bay region, but he also has a strong interest in fine art photography. Using hand colouring, he has acquired a distinctive style to evoke a sense of the surreal and a moody aesthetic.

Originally inspired by the works of controversial Czech photographer Jan Saudek, and more recently by Brisbane photographer Ray Cook, Sanchez’s photography has an element of magic realism. His subject matter is often of people working in partnership with their environment, be it an acrobat on the trapeze, a surfer at the beach or crowds in a city street.

“I always have a magic twist to it – a little bit of the supernatural,” Sanchez says. “I like people. I like the human form. And I like the interaction of humans with their habitat. I get a lot of inspiration looking at people. They are an interesting species!”

Sanchez also admires the works of French “photograffeur” JR who won the TED Prize earlier this year, Magnum founder Henri Cartier Bresson, and South African photographer Roger Ballen.

Sanchez is originally from Aranda de Duero, Spain, and used to take photos with his mother’s Kodamatic camera. “I thought it was fantastic that I could capture all those people in that little box.” he laughs. Although photography was a hobby at high school, his musical upbringing saw him become a musician playing flute in folk music troops. But in 2000, at the age of 30, he undertook a photography apprenticeship in Madrid with Manuel Blanco and since then he hasn’t looked back.

Last year he was a runner up in the 2010 AIPP QLD Portrait Photographer of the Year and shortlisted for the 2010 HeadOn Alternative Portrait Awards. In 2009 he received a Highly Commended in the Olive Cotton Award and was a finalist in the HeadOn Alternative Portrait Awards. In addition he has received numerous silver and bronze awards at the AIPP National Canon Awards.

Sanchez’s hand colouring technique is laborious. He begins with one of his photos, black and white or desaturated colour, which he prints on archival fine-art paper. He applies the colour by hand with enamel and acrylic paint, building up the layers to achieve a rich tonal composition. Finally he coats the work with resin and mounts it on board.

Each image is out of a series of 20, signed and numbered, and due to the individualised nature of hand painting and hand finishing, each work is a one-off piece of art. Sanchez finds the unpredictable quality of hand colouring intriguing because he can never be sure exactly how the finished work will look.

“I just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. The fact that they are a one-off is why I took that approach. It is more hand crafted and I think that is what photography is lacking,” he says. “I started doing hand coloured photography because I was a little bit frustrated with Photoshop and all the technical whiz with this trick and that trick. Everybody is focussed on different tricks and all that fancy glitz but to me they look fake – there is not enough substance. I have always drawn and painted and I feel very comfortable with colours so it just came naturally and I started doing different tonal arrangements.”

Sanchez describes his style as moody. He prefers tonal shadows with just a little ray of light shining through. Ninety-five percent of the time he uses natural light and recently began selling his studio equipment and flash because he hardly uses it.

Having travelled to many countries all over the world, how did this Spanish photographer settle in Byron Bay?

“My wife is Australian and we met in Spain and eventually moved to Sydney. We came to Byron Bay in 2004 for a holiday and we stayed a week. A week became a month and then 6 months…”

Now Sanchez and his wife, Bree Delian (who runs Retrospect Galleries in Byron Bay and recently opened a new gallery on the Gold Coast as well), have settled down for a while and play an active role in the art scene of the northern rivers region. Sanchez has become one of the areas most sought after photographers and he is continually amazed by the scope of his chosen medium.

“Photography has always been a very healthy search for me. It is a healthy habit. Photography is so big and broad. You are always learning something new.”

Alberto Sanchez’s work is regularly on show at Retrospect Gallery, 52 Jonson Street, Byron Bay, but you can also check out his work down here in Victoria at Tigerfish,
15 Bell St, Torquay. This shop is crammed full with alternative surf art selected by Grant Forbes who seems to have an unerring eye for interesting art.

You can view more images of Alberto Sanchez’s fine art photography on the Retrospect Gallery website

Thanks to Alberto Sanchez for allowing me to use the following images of his work.

Rapture, Alberto Sanchez.

El Zorro, Alberto Sanchez

Siglio II, Alberto Sanchez

Tokyo 6, Alberto Sanchez

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