The Basque Photographer: Jon Cazenave


[editor's note: this is the first in a series of interviews with photographers DVA loves]

I had the pleasure of meeting Basque photographer Jon Cazenave at the Paolo Pellegrin’s class and we ended up spending a lot of time together helping each other with our projects and edits, as well as recovering from the pace and stress with food (I recall a nice, exhausted meal at a McDonalds, where I had a bigmac meal for $17) and the occasional beer (about $10).

One of the projects he brought to show in Oslo was about the ‘underground’, life in subways in Spain and around the world. He recently wrapped up a new segment of this project and published a multimedia version of the piece titled SUBLIFE.

I’ve always adored this project and I was blown away by the new presentation. Instead of just posting the link here I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask him a few questions and have him explain his work, this project and his future plans. Jon is a fantastic guy with a huge heart and passion for documentary photography. (And, I found out today, an equally deep and historic love of Paul Simon’s Graceland as me! If that doesn’t make us brothers I don’t know what does..) Enjoy this and support him in the future.

What brought you into photography? What else have you been doing in life and work, and what has changed now that you are taking pictures more seriously?

I studied economics in Deusto University and when I got my degree in 2001 I started working in a multinational company based in the Basque Country as an accountant. I started taking photos in that period of my life to hide from the boring days spent in the office and since then, everything went so quick that in 2006 I decided to quit and go to Barcelona to specialize in documentary photography.

Do you consider yourself to be a photojournalist?

I always tell to people that “I am a man that takes photographs…” I take photographs to document the world we live in but also the world I see with my eyes and I want this personal view to be shown in the photographs I make.

How did you start this project? What was your idea? What was your plan (a story for a workshop, a book, a multimedia piece?)

I started this story in a workshop I made with Pep Bonet. He gave us a subject, “obsession”, and I thought about a very good friend I have. He is not able to enter any closed space and he feels terrified when he is forced to go down the stairs of the subway.

(please click below to jump to the rest of the interview)

How has this project evolved over the last year? What influenced your decisions to move forward in different ways?

I realized the work was well done and it was then when I started thinking about developing the story in a global way. I mean, in order to talk about the fears of my friend, let´s talk about a transport that sometimes can suggest the feelings of loneliness, lack of communication and everybody feels in that subworld.

Where have you been shooting? Has your approach changed depending on which country you are working in?

I have been taking photos in Barcelona, Paris, NYC and Bilbao. New York is the city where I enjoyed most working. The subway stations and the line structure are so big I wasn’t able to locate myself and that helped in developing some kind of surreal images. I did not have any problem with police so I worked better than in Spain. Let´s say as an example that nowadays taking photographs in the subway of Barcelona is forbidden.

Have you learned anything about the countries you’re working in from the way people act in the subways? Or the way you are able to work?

Basically I have learned things about the people living in the big cities. I was born in San Sebastian, a small city in the Basque Country so photographing people in Barcelona or NYC is really impressive. The most interesting thing is how people accept to be photographed without caring who you are or what are you doing. I have done my work in a very narrow distance from the subject and nobody ever told me nothing. People in the city are used to have their own personal space and atmosphere invaded so working without their permission is easier than in other places.

What is your impression of working in the United States? Compared to other places?

Well, I only can speak about NYC… People there are used to seeing cameras, in fact NYC is like a big scenery, when you walk through the street you feel like if you were part of a film so, a photographer has plenty of opportunities there. I also visited a few editors and their attitude towards photography is much more interesting than here in Spain. They really appreciate the work of photographers and the importance of image is bigger there in the States.

What are your goals in photography .. what is driving you to do this project and others?

The main goal is to make people feel something. I spend a lot of time finding the subjects that make me feel something intense inside and then, I try to develop the story with images and translate those feelings to the people.

Tell me about how this multimedia project came together, what choices did you make, where do you hope it goes, who do you hope sees it?

Nowadays the world of photography is changing a lot… sometimes for good, and other times for bad. I think photographers must be conscious of those changes and internalize them in order to communicate better. One of those changes is the way of presenting our work. Motion, music and sounds make people understand better what you are trying to express so that is why I made this multimedia project.

Tell me about the music you chose.

Jajajajaja!!! Everybody asks me the same question… I am a Radiohead fan and I like all their songs except fitter happier , it just makes me feel anxious and nervous. [ed- this is the song in the piece]. Well, that was exactly what I was looking for with this work. The work and the song fit together…

How does this project relate to the rest of the work you do and are interested in? What is next for you?

Another main goal of the project was to show that it was possible to develop a whole photojournalistic story without traveling. There are great stories in our daily environment that are not done yet so, now I am photographing the living of one of the oldest ethnic groups of Europe [The Basques], we know a lot of things about this people but the main goal is to give another approach to the subject. See how it goes…

How and why did you partner with another group to put together the multimedia piece? Could you tell me more about how that partnership developed and how it worked out?

i did not know to use multimedia programs so i spoke with BOTIKA multimedia (www.botika.tv), a group of people who develop multimedia solutions for customers. They got involved in the project and we were able to make an interesting thing in a few weeks. I believe that photographers must search out different ways of outsourcing for these kind of projects and also establish networks with other artists in order to develop these kinds of projects.

As a bonus… here is a picture of Jon … that I took on the last day of the workshop walking through the streets of Oslo. Best photographer’s scarf of all time, no??


  1. Juan Arriazu says:

    Great Work.
    CONGRATULATIONS JON!!

    [Reply]

  2. Nani Caldú says:

    Grande grande Cazenave!! casi tan grande como MessiAS!

    [Reply]

  3. karabola says:

    ze ondo Cazenave jauna!! zorionak! paaaaaaaa

    [Reply]

  4. EDU BAYER says:

    MUY BIEN ESTAMOS A LA ESPERA DE PODER VER LA PRIMERA ETREGA DE ESOS BASCOS ENTRE EXTRAÑOS CLAROSCUROS QUE SEGURO VAS A FOTOGRAFIAR CON TU PARTICULAR MANERA.

    [Reply]

  5. Gorka says:

    Ongi habil Jon!!

    [Reply]

  6. beldarrain team says:

    Zorionak Basque Photographer!

    [Reply]

  7. Zorionak!
    Keep on shoting!!

    [Reply]

  8. Andertxu says:

    Great work jon, great work…

    [Reply]

  9. Júlia Serramitjana says:

    Congratulations for the job Matt and Jon!

    [Reply]

  10. iguain lasa imanol says:

    Zorionak jon eta aurrera!!!!

    [Reply]

  11. andrea says:

    jode jontxu, eres un puto krak, enhorsbuena, me alegro tanto de que te estén yendo asi de bien las cositas…!!!

    [Reply]

  12. Kepa says:

    Haundia… Jon, oso haundia…

    [Reply]

  13. MIELOTXIN says:

    Zorionak hi! And the 1st photo of the interview is fucking amazing. Eskualdunon erreportaiaren zain, agoteren bat ote?? “Eskua” haitz hitz polita, eskualduna ta eskuzabala. Indikoa interesatzen bazaizu, solastu nerekin.

    [Reply]

  14. Alex says:

    Great Work Ion, hight cality and your photography is diferent. Thank you

    [Reply]

  15. [...] I’ll be posting very soon the next interview in our series, with Houston-based photographer Eric Kayne. If you didn’t see it, we started with Basque photographer Jon Cazenave. [...]

  16. [...] interview here and  full set of images under the cut, above. [...]

  17. marta moreiras says:

    que sorpresas tan agradables me encuentro navegando por la red. me alegro de encontrarte, de leerte y de saber que te vaya tan bien! felicidades jon! tu trabajo del metro es brutal
    un biquiño

    [Reply]

  18. [...] Jon Cazenave en dvafoto (EN [6f]), [...]

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