Friday Focus – David Salinas

by Christopher Osborne,

Silvergrain Classics – the analogue photography magazine.

In this Friday Focus we go behind the scenes with David Salinas from San Antonio, Texas

Issue 9 of Silvergrain Classics magazine features the remarkable work of David Salinas from San Antonio, Texas. As the magazine was being finalised for print, we spoke to David and his partner Laura Lillie about the backstories to the images featured in the magazine. I am struck about how lucid their recollection of each scene is. Perhaps this is due to a combination of the adrenaline at the time these images were shot on the street, and perhaps it is because there is a shared experience of two people who are very close?

David talks, and occasionally Laura comments. I have the impression that she is very careful to allow this to be his moment. Even though we are talking over Zoom, thousands of miles apart, the conversation flows easily.

David starts. “We talk to Ernie a lot. He’s the guy on the right. Ernie was saying how much they love each other. David told Ernie to prove it. Initially, the guy on the left, who is from New Orleans, was standoffish. After a while, he relaxed and admitted that being hugged felt good”.

The developer runs on the print came about because, in the rush to take the images, feet were cut off. “This really bothers me. It bothers me a lot”, explains David. “I am always on the lookout for things like stop signs sticking out of heads”.

“This guy had huge glasses. Possibly women’s glasses? I admired his glasses and asked if I could take his photograph. I saw a woman come out of the store out of the corner of my eye, and I was waiting for her to appear in the reflection of his glasses. The guy was mumbling “why aren’t you taking an image? I thought you were going to take a photo”? The woman was decrepit. She was just shuffling along. But it ended up being a great shot”.

“And all of the time I am thinking can I handle this if things get out of hand? Can I handle this situation”?

“This man was sitting on a super ornate step. He was crouched over like the image on the right. I lit his cigarette and started talking to him. I asked him “can I see your eyes?” and he briefly looked up. That’s the image on the left”.

“When I’m out shooting, I feel a vibe about a photo. I’m doing my thing. I really don’t care”, explains David.

“I’d spent all day shooting downtown, and I had a bunch of rolls”, says David.

“Then I saw this lady with the bear hat at a bus stop. She was with two other ladies and I turned around and started talking to her. She was an older woman, but she was like a child. Her T-shirt says “night owl”. She is holding another stuffed toy animal, and has a hospital ID bracelet on her wrist”.

“It looks cool to me. I shot it on T-Max 3200 with an ND filter. I wanted the grain. The print looks like all of those little dots in vintage magazines.

“She was a really sweet lady”.

“It was one of those first cold days of winter. I was on my way to work in an Uber. I asked the driver to pull into a gas station to buy a coffee. I got out of the car and then I saw this guy. His clothes were so vibrant. The beads were super colourful. I went straight up to him and commented on his hat and his beads”.

“He was laughing. “I’ve got to get a picture”, and started shooting. It was only then that I realised that I had B&W film in the camera. I didn’t know if the shot would work”.

“I got back in the Uber, and as we drove off I realised I hadn’t even set the camera up for the shot. I wound the window down and metered. My F6 showed the highlights would be completely blown out, and when the film was developed the whole background to the shot was blown out”.

“I remember he smelled good like he was rearing some kind of aromatic oil”, says David.

“We were sitting next to each other on a public bench. I said something and he just looked. I snapped away”, recalls David.

“I’ve photographed this couple a lot over the years. Laura talks to them a lot. She always asks how they are doing”, says David. There is an affectionate tone, bordering on admiration in his voice. “Laura talks and I take photographs. They are always really sweet to each other and I like to shoot that. They are affectionate, really lovely and cuddly. They are nice people”.

“We were walking through a touristy part of San Antonio one day, and we came across this woman sitting in a little alcove”, David recalls. “She had a walking or hiking stick”.

“I called out “Hey, I like your stick”. She was rambling and muttering. Laura was talking to her and I was taking pictures”.

David laughs. “She loved me, but I thought she was going to put a hex on me”!

“She, was kind of frail. The whole time I only saw her through the viewfinder”. David pauses to look at the image again. “The lighting is coming from across the street”.

“Her eyes are kind of mesmerising”.

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