You probably have on countless occasions walked down a street, spotted a person, and wanted to immediately take their photograph – mesmerized by their look, their attitude, or just their whole presence. For Sabrina Santiago, a photographer based in the people watching paradise that is New York City, this sensation happens on a daily basis, and the urge to snap a stranger’s look doesn’t remain just that, but results into her having built an impressive portfolio of portraits reflecting the vibrant street culture of her home town. “I’ve met a lot of the people in my photographs on the street – street photography in New York sometimes feels like magic,” Sabrina says, “I often sit in parks as a way of trying to find new subjects for projects, there are so many faces here. And I’ve even missed the opportunity to take photographs just due to the sheer shock and excitement of a moment right in front of my eyes.”
Luckily, on most occasions, Sabrina manages to break free from this dazzle, grab her analogue camera, and take the stranger’s picture – who often doesn’t stay a stranger for too long. “Before photographing someone, I try to spend some time with them so we can each get a sense of each other. I feel there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a photographer. My goal is to show the subjects behind my lens as their most authentic self – being in-front a camera is a vulnerable situation.” That’s why to her, photographing someone is like a conversation between her, her subject, and her camera:
“Photography is an intimate experience, it’s an exchange between people: an exchange of eye contact, an exchange of silence, an exchange of energy. A camera can be used as a tool to interact with someone who you might have never interacted with, even if it is just for a brief second.”
These interactions and conversations are ones that root right back to Sabrina’s childhood – a time where she was excessively reading, always envisioning the places, and especially people, from the pages in her head, and ultimately picking up her first camera at just 13. Keeping that imaginative and open-minded approach to her subjects ever since, Sabrina now is especially interested in faces, the most direct display of someone’s personality. “Every person is so different, from someone’s body language to eye contact to sense of style,” she explains, “Almond-shaped eyes, spotty freckles, thin lips, slender noses, dark complexion – the possibilities are endless. I think I’m really drawn to people who are curious, confident, open and unabashed about who they are.”
Still heavily relying on her mind and imagination as driving forces in her work, Sabrina pairs the power of her unconscious with the curiosity that drives her conscious – especially in a city like New York. “The people, the diversity, the ambition, the addictive pulse of energy and the resilience here inspires me everyday. Even just taking a walk around my neighborhood often sparks an idea or a thought, which I then try to translate into my images,” she says, “I can have a fantasy and I can make it into an image. Photography allows me to make dream-like situations and most importantly share them.”
Because apart from the conversation between the photographer and his subject that gets sparked by taking an image of someone, the creative outlet can equally trigger a distinct connection between the photo and the audience, Sabrina says, describing her goal as evoking emotions in whoever sees her photos. “Whether my images make someone uncomfortable or if they make them smile, any emotion would make me satisfied – I find that it’s so hard to move people. I don’t know if a picture can ever be perfect, at least from the photographer’s point of view. Although, I think that’s part of the magic of art. If every picture was perfect and met each expectation, there’d hardly be any mystery. I think there will always be a gap between what’s in a photographer’s mind and the picture that results. Besides, imperfection is sometimes the best part of an image.” – and certainly of people.