I am a photographer — Interview with Richard Koci Hernandez

An interview with world famous photographer Richard Koci Hernandez. Learn more of what it’s like to be a professional and renowned photographer today.

Meet Richard Koci Hernandez — a national Emmy Award winning visual storyteller and one of the most famous world iPhotographers. A two time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he is currently teaching Media Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. His photographic work has appeared in The New York times, The New Yorker, Wired, Time, USA Today, and a National Geographic Book on iPhone Photography. In the interview Richard is going to tell Pixabay Community about his creative process and his thoughts on iPhotography.

Can you tell our readers a bit about how your journey into photography started?

I grew up in Southern California in a small town called Santa Paula. At 14 I left home for boarding school and taught myself photography with a camera I ‘borrowed’ from an uncle. As a self-taught photographer, I practiced more than most, shooting tons of film and spending countless hours in a darkroom with fixer-stained fingers. I also learned from the masters of the craft by studying their monographs in local libraries.
At 19 on a lark, I bet a friend I could land a job as a photographer at the local newspaper before him. It was ‘game on!’ I went to Radio Shack and purchased a police scanner and started chasing fires and car crashes in an attempt to build a portfolio.
One rainy morning around 3 a.m. a local oil refinery exploded. The scanner tones jarred me awake. I grabbed my Nikon FM camera and rushed out the door to snap some images. I arrived on the scene at the same time as the local photojournalist, who I later learned was the director of photography at the Ventura Star Free Press, the newspaper at the center of the bet. He was so impressed with my ‘initiative’ (his description) ‘naiveté’ (my description) that he hired me the very next day as a darkroom lab assistant.
I spent the next year mixing D76 developer for the staff photographers. Needless to say, I won the bet and a year later worked my way up to a full-blown staff photojournalist.
I spent the next 15 years working as a photojournalist, most notably at the San Jose Mercury News. In 2009 I left the newspaper to teach new media journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where I sit writing this account, now with the title of Professor, :)

How and when did you start to make iPhone photos?

My transition from “traditional photographer” to iPhone photographer started in late 2007 during my work as a photojournalist. I was sent to the scene of a police action and was pressured to send a photograph back ASAP so that we could post something to the website. Instead of trudging back to my car and taking out my laptop and firing up the Wi-Fi card, I realized that there was a faster way to get the job done. There was this new device in my camera bag called an iPhone and it actually had a camera. I immediately shot a picture of the scene and attached it to an e-mail and it was immediately sent back to the picture desk. So for me, it started as the realization that the iPhone was a fantastic photojournalistic tool for immediacy not particularly photography. After that incident, it was then that I began to play around with the camera and apps and really started to think about the device as a potential for serious photography on my part.

What do you enjoy about iPhone Photography?

My main reason for using a cell phone in my photographic work is the devices immediacy and its reach. In my experience as a photographer, there has never been a device better suited to shooting, processing and delivering photographic images so immediately. it has become my camera, dark room and printing press, not to mention delivery truck all in my pocket. I am in love with the potential of shooting, post-processing and sharing globally in just a few clicks. It’s a device that’s always with me and allows me to be more creative and experimental and receive immediate feedback.

How does black and white and color play in your works?

First off, I shoot everything in color with the native iPhone camera app and sometimes Hipstamatic app. I really don’t seek anything in black and white, to be honest I truly believe that masterful color photography is one of the hardest aspects of photography and I really suck at it. So it’s much easier to distill an image to its basic form of moment, light and composition and do my best to arrange and capture those aspects and not have to worry about the dangerous and complex aspect of color photography, if I convert to Black and White, it feels like my native photographic language, if I might be so bold.

Which iPhone Photography tool apps do you use?

ProCamera, Snapseed, Hipstamatic, Blackie, and Instagram of course.

How do you choose what you are going to shoot?

For me, there is very little to no thought about what I might shoot beforehand. Almost all of my images are a byproduct of my daily life, walking to work, shopping, walking my dogs, on my way to a meeting, etc. It’s very very rare for me to leave the house with the intention of shooting images for any particular reason. Everything comes after I have the shot in-hand, then the storytelling begins. I take what’s given by the gods of photography and do my best to choose an image that I have captured that I feel — during the edit — first speaks to me in some way — a very complex in dialogue issues — then ‘might’ speak to someone else, but always expecting it to speak in ways I did not intend. In truth, it doesn’t really matter what my motivations and inclinations are because I believe that once an image is in the public stream-of-consciousness it belongs to the person viewing it and really leaves my grasp and its intentions. What you see and described is your perspective on my work which may or may not be truthful intentions that I carry with me as I snapped the image. I’m not a big fan of the idea that it reveals something about the photographer, because sometimes a photograph is just a photograph and nothing more to the creator, but can have an enormous impact on the viewer. Beauty, mystery, obsession, “Hitchcockian” undertones are in the eye of the beholder.

Where do you usually share your works?

Only on Instagram. And a physical Gallery in Oakland, Ca. — Slate Contemporary.

What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

I wish I had learned to shoot more often. Practice, practice, practice. I was kinda lazy as a young photographer, I’m making up for it now, :)

All images courtesy of Richard Koci Hernandez. Discover more of Richard’s work on his website and on Instagram.