P hotojournalist, documentary photographer and Canon Explorer Gali Tibbon has travelled all around the world documenting its people and cultures. Her latest journey took her to the small spa town of Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia. We caught up with her to discover more about her personal photographic philosophy – the magical moments you can see reflected in her evocative images of the town - and to find out how her first assignment using the EOS M5 went…
Following the magic
Talking to Gali Tibbon about photography ‘magic’ is a word you will often hear her use. Her tangible sense of almost mystical awe at the wonders of photography is something that has been with her since she was 14 and came across a life-changing photo in a 1956 Life Magazine Year Book she found on her granddad’s bookshelf.
“ I saw this incredible B&W grainy picture in motion – it was stunning. Until then I didn't know photography could do anything different from the usual family Kodak moment or travel landscapes. It was alive! Wow! That inspired me to buy my first camera, it was a Canon AE1 film camera 2nd or maybe even 4th hand, and I signed up for a photo course at Israel Jerusalem Museum, where I learned to process and print films. I even spent all my pocket money on film and chemicals for a little lab at home – and I never tired of seeing my B&W images magically develop in the trays.”
Following the magic has taken Gali on many photographic journeys around the world documenting different peoples, cultures and faiths. But as she explains, documentary photography is about more than “making nice images.”
“In any documentary story it’s hard to transform the reality into two dimensional still images. It’s about light, smell and sounds, it’s about the emotions in peoples’ eyes. I have to combine all these elements together into a great picture. When it happens it is like magic but it’s also hard work and a mental challenge. There’s often a language barrier, but I can feel the vibe and energy of people and it’s amazing how we can communicate with smiles, gestures and broken English.”
In the moment
Looking at Gali’s images taken in Serbia, you can see she has a magical knack for snaring this elusive energy – even with an unfamiliar camera. Part street photography, part portrait photography and part art photography, her narrative shows us intimate never-to-be repeated moments in the lives of the town’s inhabitants. According to Gali’s photographic philosophy the magic lies in those here and now moments, but as she explains it’s not all plain sailing.
“Being a photographer is about being there and having people share their lives with me for a few minutes, hours or days. It’s about capturing the here and now in a changing world – recording disappearing moments before they are lost. But first you have to get past the Kodak moment. It’s that first instinct of people to pose when they see the camera -they pull themselves up straight, blow their chests out and put on a ‘camera face’. It’s something that they learned in childhood, when film shots could not be wasted, and it’s last thing I want; but I always take that picture because it's a tension breaker. And you have to get past that Kodak moment before you can really start to take pictures.”
“Fortunately the longer I’m within a community the more relaxed they become and I can start to take the shots I want. Everyone I met in Vrancka Banja was so warm and friendly, and super cooperative about being photographed – even the sheep! - so I could capture something genuine."
“I took the picture of the shepherd - an ex- footballer who now spends all day in the fields reading newspapers and talking to his sheep – right after the rain. The light was amazing but the sheep kept running away so the shepherd told them to stop and they just froze so I could get the shot. It was like he had a remote control!”