Edwin J. Torres was born in the South Bronx of New York City, where he continues to live and work on his photography. Although he considers himself a serious enthusiast, his education includes two years of film photography at Colby College in Maine while he was studying for an interdisciplinary major in American Studies. Edwin recently spoke with us about his love for shooting with film and exploring the people of his hometown through photography.
Q: There is a strong graphic, formal, and structural aspect to the images in your portfolio. Can you say something about that and how the concept of form or structure influences your creative process?
A: I love making images that confirm a certain symmetrical or structural pattern. However, it is tricky because these types of images exist everywhere and can quickly become uninteresting for me. I find the challenge in pairing beautiful form that you would find outside (i.e. trees, buildings, stairs, or windows) with a variable component. The variable piece is unexpected and can be very exciting. Sometimes it comes quickly and sometimes I have to be patient, but it is very important to act at a moment’s notice.
Q: What Leica equipment do you use and is there any Leica equipment you’d like to try?
A: I currently have a Leica M7, a 35 mm Summilux ASPH., and a 50 mm Summilux. I would love to try the Leica M Monochrom. I love black-and-white film, and I think this is the only camera that could capture the film effect digitally.
Q: What characteristics of your Leica M7 do you most appreciate? How is this camera suited for your type of work?
A: I love the build quality and the aperture priority feature. My M7 is built like a gun. I recently had it calibrated by Leica and it functions to a degree of perfection that I haven’t seen before. There isn’t any hesitation, it just works and works well. The aperture priority is a gift that I love because it allows me to shoot fast and only worry about focus and the image. This helps tremendously when I am shooting on the street and want to capture candid photographs. From time to time, I turn off the auto shutter speed and test out my own exposures to train my eye.
Q: What is it about shooting with film that you enjoy?
A: I enjoy so many things about film. I used to shoot with a full frame DSLR and I traded it in to purchase my Leica film gear. Photography is constantly changing — Instagram is now an art form, iPhone photography is legitimate to some, entry-level digital cameras are coming up with features as good as premium higher-level cameras. More people are making good pictures. With such a large proliferation of digital images on the Internet, I wanted to find a way to make the image-making process a special thing for myself. I wanted to go back to film, delve deep, and focus more on my work and development. I love shooting film because it is a real and tangible medium. I do not have to worry about backing up or losing corrupt files. I will always have my negatives and I actually get to touch and feel my files. The limitation of 36 exposures in one roll (39 when loaded in my Leica) help me to slow down and think critically about each picture I take instead of capturing a million photos on a digital camera.

Q: Are there any other characteristics of the film image that are important to you or comport with your picture-taking gestalt?
A: Certainly, one special characteristic of film is the control over the process and the final image. Each roll is different. You can process and treat your film to result in increased or reduced contrast, grain and sharpness. These differences could be a result of developer choice, temperature, development time and overall technique. A good negative is the result of my personal discipline to perfecting my craft and not just taking pictures and editing afterwards, as you would with digital.
Q: Which black-and-white film do you favor, and do you deliberately develop your negatives for high contrast?
A: Yes, I shoot primarily black-and-white film and develop out of my bathtub. I love the process and wish I could also make prints. I primarily use Kodak 400TX for my black-and-white film because of its exposure latitude, fine grain and contrast qualities. I used to shoot with Ilford HP5, which was beautiful but the contrast was a little flat for me. I enjoy having the grittier look for the street. I pair the 400TX film with either developer D-76 or HC-110. D-76 is a classic and is hard to go wrong with as a choice. HC-110 is really nice for getting enhanced contrast. I love contrast because I like my images to look and feel dramatic. I find that dramatic images are punctual and help to communicate your message.

Q: Many photo enthusiasts would regard this image as a technical failure because the main subject is cut off, the oblique camera angle seems random, and shooting against the sun has caused flare and lack of contrast. Yet, there is a certain gritty authenticity to this image of an enigmatically covered, masked person. Why did you take this picture, and what does it mean to you?
A: I find this image interesting because it speaks to the hidden nature of strangers in the street. As photographers and voyeurs we take pictures to see more and better understand things. I did not anticipate the flare. I took the image to capture the figure hidden behind the scarf. However, the flare also produced another layer of reduced visibility of the subject. This image interests me because it shows that you cannot always capture what you intend and what you did not intend could be a beautiful part of the image.

Q: This image of a person walking down the sidewalk under the elevated subway is harsh and ugly in a certain way, but it is transformed by the light into something beautiful at the same time. Do you agree, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release of your M7?
A: I love elevated subways. I find everything about them beautiful and they are an iconic piece of certain boroughs of New York City (i.e. Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens). When I took this picture, I was amazed with the pattern of light and the resulting shadows that surrounded the man walking down the street. It made perfect sense and the release of the shutter felt right.

Q: I love the surreal image of a man standing at the bottom of a staircase in a city park evidently creating giant bubbles and strange surfaces. His body language is kind of stolid and matter-of-fact, which contrasts with the fantastic thing he is creating. What’s going on here and what do you think it all means?
A: This gentleman was an entertainer in Central Park. He had a very old school outfit and he was whipping around a giant bubble with thin sticks. His stolid nature was key and exhibited his concentration on coordinating the movement of the bubble. This portrays how the best performance can come from a very calm and composed mind.

Q: Another unlikely juxtaposition is found in this image showing rows of pigeons perched on what looks like overhanging street signs. What makes the picture is that one bird near the center is in full flight with wings outstretched, so this is really the decisive moment. Did you wait for this moment or just happen to grab it, and which lens did you use?
A: This is one of my favorite images. It is the “decisive moment” that Henri-Cartier Bresson preaches. I find it hard to explain because I waited, but only for a few seconds. I saw the pigeons perched on the lines and found the pattern interesting. I looked through the viewfinder and paused. Something was missing. Suddenly, one of the birds sprang up from the lines and I instinctively pressed the shutter release. It all happened very fast and with no hesitation, but it felt good. I knew I can only think about an image so much and sometimes you have to let go and allow your instinctual feelings to take over.

Q: This shot of a high-angle view of urban vista with old apartment buildings, rows of parked cars, and traffic in the foreground is kind of a nightmare vision of the human-created environment on the one hand, but it has its own kind of raw beauty. Do you agree, and why did you include this image in your portfolio.
A: I agree. I always felt like man created landscapes are nightmarish because there is a certain crowding, claustrophobic feeling to them, especially in New York City. I decided to include this image in my portfolio because I feel that it is an important piece of the way that I view NYC as a timeless and historical place.
As an American Studies major in college, I have always been fascinated by older images of the city taken by Margaret Bourke-White or Walker Evans. This was one of my first photographs shot on my M7 using my 1967 50 mm Summilux lens, which produces a classical aesthetic. Although not typical for me, I feel that these types of photographs, which I rarely make, depict New York City in its timeless glory and allows me to have a sense of dialogue with Bourke-White or Evans.
Q: You’re a young photographer. How do you think your photography will evolve in the future?
A: I think my work will evolve in a way that makes more sense to others. As I continue to grow and develop, so will my images. I will be more comfortable with myself and around others. I will dig deep within and show people a deeper perspective and commitment to the images I make. Good photography I feel comes when you can leave all of your baggage behind and shoot like a curious child.
Q: What is your strategy for evolving into the kind of photographer that, as you so eloquently put it, can leave “all your baggage behind and shoot like a curious child?”
A: My strategy for evolving as a photographer is writing, music, and everything else that is not photography. Photography should be about your life, not the other way around. I use to spend hours reading about technique, gear, tips and finding your style. Now I have learned to keep those thoughts to a minimum and instead to focus on content and what I want to say with my work.
Currently I keep a very large journal (8.5 inch x 11.5 inch) where I like to write about my week at work, time spent with family, or any recent photo critiques. This helps me to focus and concentrate on the points that I want to make with my photographs. In saying “leave all the baggage behind and shoot like a curious child,” I mean follow your instincts and shoot what you are naturally interested in photographing. Do not waste your time thinking about the what-ifs, or any insecurity, or whether you have the right equipment or not. This is not to say go out and immediately shoot everything you see, because it may lack meaning and focus. It is important to have focus, discipline and concentration so that you can capture images that mean something to you and communicate important things to others.
Thank you for your time, Edwin!
– Leica Internet Team
To connect with Edwin, visit his website and Twitter.