Introducing Javier Castán, the photographer behind Crack’s Omar Souleyman cover
Describing his aesthetic as “honest” and “natural”, Barcelona-based photographer Javier Castán lenses his subjects exclusively on film. The artform was one that came naturally to Castán – he inherited several cameras from his grandfather, while his brother studied photography.
With experience of photographing for a range of fashion publications and brands – including Converse, Reebok and i-D – Castán is the art-focused eye behind Crack’s latest cover shoot with Syrian artist Omar Souleyman. The shoot took place at the Bilbao Guggenheim in the Basque region of northern Spain, the mind-bending architecture of the gallery and Jeff Koon’s Puppy forming the backdrop to Souleyman’s portraits, which depict the artist as a tourist discovering Bilbao.
It’s fitting for Castán to portray the artist in such a way, as Souleyman explained in the cover story that he aims, through music, to “address people outside the country who are alienated and trapped away from their hometown, like me.”
Painted with sunlight, Castán’s images are rich with colour and alive with the vividness and honesty of film. Drawing his inspiration from paintings, Castán’s approach to photography embodies the mentality of a painter rather than a photographer who shoots on film. Instead of awaiting the results from a third party, Castán manually processes his own work in the lab in order to curate the colours and have a higher level of input in his own craft. Drawing parallels to the artist Souleyman himself, Castán likes to retain a sense of control over his art.
Below we sit down with the artist to discuss the cover shoot, architecture and Bilbao.
How did you plan for the shoot?
First, I tried to do some research about Omar. I’d only listened to a couple of things by him and I wanted to know him better before the shoot as we wouldn’t have much time to talk and get to know each other.
Where did the shoot take place and why did you choose that setting?
I’ve never been to Bilbao, so the first thing I did was talk to some locals I know while I did some research and online location scouting. I wanted to find a place that contrasted to Omar’s aesthetic and was iconic to the city, so the first thing that came across my mind was the Guggenheim Museum.
Where did you draw your inspiration and influences from for this shoot?
After the shoot, I got to know more of him and his music. As the Guggenheim Museum is a super touristic place I wanted to shoot him wandering around, admiring the different spots as a tourist himself. It reminded me of those Martin Parr shots.
What was shooting with the artist like on the day? Were there any highlights and/or obstacles?
It was super easy and amazing. I also got to know Mina, his manager, who was translating everything I wanted to say to Omar as he doesn’t speak English. Both were enthusiastic, laid-back and proactive while shooting.
Do you find shooting a musician different to photographing models? If so, how?
It depends more about the concept behind the shoot rather than if it’s a musician or a model. For this, I wanted an easy, relaxed shooting, and he was fascinated by the place, so it was a really tranquil morning. He is really in control of his body and knows what he wants to express with it so his body language and poses were cool, I didn’t even have to say anything to him.
What music, if any, did you play whilst shooting?
We didn’t have the opportunity as we were near to a museum. But they’re coming to Barcelona for a gig soon, so can’t wait to see him perform.
I’ve noticed that you post images of architecture and buildings often on Instagram. Is this something that informs your work?
I find shooting architecture very relaxing, so every time I travel I try to inform myself on the hidden gems and iconic buildings of every single city I go to.
Your instagram features a lot of images taken on film. What are your thoughts on analogue and digital photography? Do you prefer one over the other?
I’ve never been interested in digital. It was a natural and honest choice. But you never know. Now I’m trying to do all the lab work by myself as well.
Which photographers or artists have influenced your work the most?
Wolfgang Tillmans, Rineke Dijkstra, Tom Ordoyno, Martin Parr, Lena C Emery and Walter Pfeiffer.
Do you have any personal projects in the pipeline?
To just keep travelling and shooting as much as I can.