Capturing the moment with Gali Tibbon
Photojournalist, documentary photographer and Canon Explorer Gali Tibbon has travelled all around the world documenting its people and cultures. Her latest journey took her to the small spa town of Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia. We caught up with her to discover more about her personal photographic philosophy – the magical moments you can see reflected in her evocative images of the town - and to find out how her first assignment using the EOS M5 went…
Following the magic
Talking to Gali Tibbon about photography ‘magic’ is a word you will often hear her use. Her tangible sense of almost mystical awe at the wonders of photography is something that has been with her since she was 14 and came across a life-changing photo in a 1956 Life Magazine Year Book she found on her granddad’s bookshelf.
“I saw this incredible B&W grainy picture in motion – it was stunning. Until then I didn't know photography could do anything different from the usual family Kodak moment or travel landscapes. It was alive! Wow! That inspired me to buy my first camera, it was a Canon AE1 film camera 2nd or maybe even 4th hand, and I signed up for a photo course at Israel Jerusalem Museum, where I learned to process and print films. I even spent all my pocket money on film and chemicals for a little lab at home – and I never tired of seeing my B&W images magically develop in the trays.”
“The camera takes me places like a magical compass that goes where it wants - and I follow!”
Following the magic has taken Gali on many photographic journeys around the world documenting different peoples, cultures and faiths. But as she explains, documentary photography is about more than “making nice images.”
“In any documentary story it’s hard to transform the reality into two dimensional still images. It’s about light, smell and sounds, it’s about the emotions in peoples’ eyes. I have to combine all these elements together into a great picture. When it happens it is like magic but it’s also hard work and a mental challenge. There’s often a language barrier, but I can feel the vibe and energy of people and it’s amazing how we can communicate with smiles, gestures and broken English.”
“I need to transfer this energy into images – so someone who wasn’t with me can share that experience.”
In the moment
Looking at Gali’s images taken in Serbia, you can see she has a magical knack for snaring this elusive energy – even with an unfamiliar camera. Part street photography, part portrait photography and part art photography, her narrative shows us intimate never-to-be repeated moments in the lives of the town’s inhabitants. According to Gali’s photographic philosophy the magic lies in those here and now moments, but as she explains it’s not all plain sailing.
“Being a photographer is about being there and having people share their lives with me for a few minutes, hours or days. It’s about capturing the here and now in a changing world – recording disappearing moments before they are lost. But first you have to get past the Kodak moment. It’s that first instinct of people to pose when they see the camera -they pull themselves up straight, blow their chests out and put on a ‘camera face’. It’s something that they learned in childhood, when film shots could not be wasted, and it’s last thing I want; but I always take that picture because it's a tension breaker. And you have to get past that Kodak moment before you can really start to take pictures.”
“People also think they know what you’re shooting but they don’t know what goes on in the mind or eye of the photographer behind the camera; they don’t know what detail or moment I’m waiting for.”
“Fortunately the longer I’m within a community the more relaxed they become and I can start to take the shots I want. Everyone I met in Vrancka Banja was so warm and friendly, and super cooperative about being photographed – even the sheep! - so I could capture something genuine.”
“I took the picture of the shepherd - an ex- footballer who now spends all day in the fields reading newspapers and talking to his sheep – right after the rain. The light was amazing but the sheep kept running away so the shepherd told them to stop and they just froze so I could get the shot. It was like he had a remote control!”
“And down by the river there was a thriving community of mostly men, who were completely uninhibited, people just being who they are with a real ‘live and let live’ attitude. I found it amazing. Stripped down to their speedos and showing off their bodies, whatever shape they were in – they played dominos, swam and sunbathed from midday to sunset. And they had a great sense of humour - tough guys with homemade tattoos all teasing each other.”
“The discreet size of the EOS M5 was great for these shots because I didn’t have to look like GI Joe with loads of gear. It didn’t draw so much attention to me as the photographer and it was less intimidating for my subjects. So I could go out and enjoy just being a person with a camera, playing with the light and creating art, while they just naturally did their thing.”
For Gali it's in those moments of creativity that the magic happens...
“When all the elements come together, the composition, the people’s features, a ray of light hitting a face in the moment and I have the right lens and I’m standing in the right place, I can capture that split 1/60th second moment in a single click. When these things come together – that’s the magic.”
“You can feel it when you’re shooting – it’s intuitive and emotional. You spot something you dance around it, like a bee round a flower – trying to capture its true essence.”
“You try different shots –looking for the perfect one –you can do that with digital and see if you’re on the right track (not like with film!). But I don’t know until I see it on a big computer screen if I nailed it! Ultimately though it’s about the process – which comes from your guts. Although it’s brilliant to be exhibited in galleries and museums and have people collect your work, the creative process in the here and now is the magic - and that’s more important than outcome.”
The camera – love at first sight?
Gali’s first reaction to using a mirrorless camera on her shoot in Vrancka Banja was suspicion, but that changed when she got the EOS M5 in her hands and started to use it.
“When I first saw it, it looked really cool - like someone had shrunk my EOS 5D Mark III! I liked the design and it felt solid – fitting naturally in my hand, with all buttons and dials in the right place. It’s definitely not what I imagined from a mirrorless camera, which usually have a flat thin body without grip or viewfinder.”
“And it wasn’t a struggle to use. I could set the camera up with same functions as my 5D Mark III - so I was quickly in my comfort zone. I could find my way around intuitively without having to interrupt my creative process, happy that the camera would do what I want.”
“The quality is great with rich colours and nice skin tones. It’s only a tiny camera but you can make billboard signs out of the jpegs and you can shoot in RAW. The continuous shooting is also quite amazing- it really does the 7 fps it says!”
“I particularly liked the extra dial for exposure compensation, it’s ideally placed so I can play while shooting to under or over expose, without having to break concentration or take my eye off the frame. And the EVF is especially cool because when you shoot vertically all your data flips with you – so I don’t have to do my usual squint thing trying to figure out exposure sideways!”
Plus she loved the flexible framing and focusing options available to her using both the EVF and the vari-angle touch screen:
“I never though I’d use a screen to shoot but the vari-angle touch screen on the EOS M5 gives me many more options to shoot from different angles - and it’s superfast and super convenient for navigating menus. And the touch screen auto focus system is totally brilliant!”
“I can just frame then use my thumb while still looking through the EVF to drag the focusing area to where I want it, without having to recompose my picture or lock focus in one place and then shift frame.”
Gali was especially impressed with the cameras compact size:
“The EOS M5 may be small but it’s a monster! It’s so refreshing to have something compact without sacrificing quality. It does practically everything my EOS 5D MK III does and I can use the same lenses, but it’s very discreet.”
“Including Bluetooth is a also a smart move – I can stay connected to the net and the camera via my smartphone and there’s no need for cables or a computer out in the field. I can go out with just my phone and camera and be one-man band.”
“For portraits having both the EVF and screen is great too, as I can control focus with my thumb while still talking to my subject. ”
“Nowadays no photojournalist wants be caught without a camera and potentially miss a big news event – but the EOS M5 is actually smaller than my flash so I can easily take it with me to the movies or on vacation and still take work style photos. It’s the portable EOS camera I have been waiting for!”