Uri Portillo: Person of Interest
I met Uri at a party for my work at the last salon I was working. He is the husband of a former coworker of mine. He is always pleasant, but tends to be a man of few words. I honestly didn’t know where to start, and in those days my social threshold was pretty high so I didn’t go any deeper into getting to know him... Until I began to notice his presence and quality of photography emerging on Instagram. I made sure to comment on photos that resonated with me. I am doing my best to not withhold compliments these days, that sort of thing is tied to jealous ugliness which has no place. Wouldn’t you know, it's turned into a relationship of mutual respect.
*sigh* (happy feelings)
Start with your day job, what’s your title?
Quality assurance administrator at Building Professionals.
What started this shift to a focus on photography?
It started when I got back (to Winnipeg) from going home for the first time ever, in 2014.
His parents and he emigrated from El Salvador when he was four. The home that he’s talking about probably isn’t a place that he has many memories from, but one that resonates with him and is now helping him to feel more home in himself as he explores his creativity through the lens of a camera.
I think it was just a matter of being down there and seeing how everyone lives. They don’t have anything, but they are always so happy. It got me to thinking something was missing….
For months before that, something had been missing. It was a creative part of me that I grew up with. I used to do painting and drawing.
So when I got back it was back to the grind: work in an office, go home, office, home… There was nothing in there to fill the void of creating something.
Photography was something I have always enjoyed. I’ve always looked at books, and followed photographers, but I never actually did it myself. It was just the next expression of me doing it, and at the same time it was my first time creating a Facebook account or an Instagram account.
Of course, you wanted to give your work an audience. Not that Uri falls under this umbrella, but I think there are introverts out there that want attention and validation as much as extroverts do. Just because we stay in and work quietly at our craft doesn’t mean we don’t want to share it and create connections in that way. Online social platforms like Instagram can be such an incredible, empowering place to build each other up and to get support while pursing our creative endeavors.
I’ve been churning a little bit in the back of my mind of approaching Parlour Coffee, because it’s close to where I work right by it and I know they sometimes put up different artists work. There’s one in particular series of photos that I feel that could potentially make a collection worthy enough to be put up by them, but I haven’t actually taken the steps to actually contact them.
I remember hearing about your participation in Nuit Blanche, how did that opportunity present itself?
That was a collaboration. The people organizing it put out a call and I contacted them and said this is my idea and this is what I’d like to do. They were on board and I contributed those images to their space.
When I saw Uri’s portrait work, I was immediately interested in working with him. I’m always thinking of different ways to market my business and it’s obvious to me the importance of making my brand more personal. I had been studying the Instagram feeds of people that I admire and I decided I needed someone to take some photos of me in action. Selfies don’t cut it, and truthfully I’ve only mastered the “silly” selfie. I’m often too self-conscious or don't take myself seriously enough to do pouty lips or the infamous perked eyebrow. Everyone in Uri's photos look so at ease, candid. I knew he was the one I wanted.
Can you tell me how you handle requests that you aren’t interested in pursuing? This is a tricky one for a lot of artists. When we’re starting out we think we need to take every opportunity, which isn’t always true.
I’m a straight shooter. I thank them for considering me, thinking of me, or approaching me about their project or idea that they have. I simply say it’s really not something that I do, but I can refer you or point you in the direction of some colleagues or friends who that is exactly what they do. They are good at that certain thing and kind of pass them along.
How did this transition from a hobby to getting paid to do it?
It was a combination of things. One is my Instagram account and being consistent. People were having some connection to the work that I do. How I take my images, how I put them across. Secondly the connections with other people. I go onto photo blogs, met other photographers, met other people, and you know, it kind of gets to be a word of mouth kind of idea.
What’s been your biggest opportunity up until this point?
The biggest one came out of the blue when this organization called Find It Downtown, for the Winnipeg Downtown biz, contacted me to ask if they could print one of my pictures to put in their exhibit. It was completely random and unexpected. Everything else was through working with other people.
How do you used your skills to give back?
When I get around other photographers and other people that are interested in photography, I don’t mind giving them information, suggestions, or showing them different settings on their camera and lenses.
He told me about clients he had worked doing portrait work for their website and social media contacting him to inquire about teaching them to achieve better photos for their own daily posting. Instead of making this into a business transaction, Uri went down to talk to them about lighting and taught them some basics free of charge. This makes good sense to me, it is good business. Business is all about relationships and going the extra mile ensures future success for everyone involved.
Do you have any ambition to quit your day job?
Ummm, the thought has crossed my mind, but I guess the “realist” part is that I have a job that pays me well. It’s given me the ability to live a comfortable life with my wife and my dogs. For me to make the jump to full time photography, I’m not there yet. I can’t just jump off the cliff and hope for the best in this situation. There are responsibilities that I, being who I am, I would never walk away from.
What’s the best professional purchase you’ve made?
***long pause***…… That’s a very good question. I think you’ve stumped me.
I don’t think I have an answer for that. I really don’t. The lenses are a tool that you use, but ultimately, I just find that if you give me a camera from Shell (a point and shoot,) I can still go out there and capture great images. I think it’s different for photography it’s different than for other trades as far as tools that you need. For photography for me, you either have the eye for photography or you don’t. Plain and simple.
Most people that are really good, that I follow, respect and that I call friends that do photography… They can take a fantastic image with any camera that they have whether it is their cell phone, their professional DSLR, a point and shoot, a polaroid, pocket camera, doesn’t matter what it is. It’s different for photography.
On my Instagram account I don’t say whether I took the image with a professional camera, or my cell phone. Going back to that exhibit from the downtown biz, out of all the images that I had on my account at the time, they chose one that I had taken with my phone, not my camera.
It’s true, cameras have come a long way to the point that photography is accessible to any level of skill. His answer shows confidence, Uri is being modest though. This is such an entrepreneurial outlook! To be self-assured enough to know it’s not the tool, but the person yielding it. He’ll get it done regardless of the advantages/disadvantages afforded to him.
What is powerful to you about being behind the camera?
I think it comes back to who I am. I am a very introverted person and the only way I get out of my shell is when I’m behind the camera. It transforms me I am actually able to talk to people and communicate better as opposed to without it I won’t say two words.
I’ve really seen how Uri comes out of his shell when he’s surrounded by other creatives. It was so energizing to see him all lit up at an event for From Here & Away, as he introduced me to people, told me about their work, and chatted up other photographers. I mentioned this to him and he smiles…
That’s why, it’s because of photography. If it wasn’t for that there is no way.
The modern world is such a wonder. It’s pretty incredible that we have the luxury to express ourselves creatively through any number of mediums, and have such diversity of social platforms to reach an audience and to connect with other like minds.