Meet the itinerant photographer using old techniques to capture stunning portraits

Santiago Borthwick
Santiago Borthwick   -   Copyright  Euronews
By Thomas Duthois  & Maria Chiara Paganini

If you’re hoping to have a portrait taken by photographer Santiago Borthwick, you’ll have to track him down first.

“For a long time, I have been kind of nomadic, semi-nomadic, living a couple of years somewhere and then moving on,” Santiago, who originally trained as a lawyer, tells Euronews Culture.

Santiago calls himself a hedonist and says it was photography that drew him away from law and into a different lifestyle. 

“I feel at home when I'm taking pictures… So for me, home, it's not really a place. It's always been a way of doing things.”

Taking portraits on the streets

We met Santiago on the streets of Marseille, France, attracting the attention of passers-by with his old-fashioned photography equipment and his infectious smile. 

For Santiago, capturing people's portraits on the streets is not just about making a living, it's a way of life.

“Just set out, somewhere where there's flow, where there are people walking, and then you just offer to take their portraits. It's a way of working that gives you a lot of freedom. 

"You start when you want. You stop when you want. You go where you want,” he says.

The sight of Santiago's equipment is usually enough to catch the public's curiosity, 

"They're like, ‘what are you doing?'...  That has a certain kind of magic. There are a lot of conversations that photography enables. That was how I fell in love with it. And now it's my main activity."

Making photography accessible

Doing his photography on the streets is also Santiago's way of bringing the medium to a wider range of people.

He offers his services without a fixed fee, allowing people to choose to pay whatever they want, or whatever they can, for his photographs.

“A lot of people come and ask questions," says Santiago, "and they're working class or they're more like me. If you work in a studio, you're going to get a certain kind of audience and it's usually upper-middle class or people who are more on the rich side of society. I prefer to work with everyone.”

Direct positive photography process

Santiago originally started out doing digital photography but has increasingly moved towards older processes.

"There's a lot of people who advocate for analogue, it's kind of a snobbish discourse about how things were better before... I think nowadays learning photography is accessible and that's a good thing. Digital is great for learning... but analogue processes give you objects that have this materiality to them that is kind of beautiful."

When Euronews Culture met Santiago, he was taking his photos using a ‘direct positive’ development process, which captures an image without a negative. 

This technique allows him to develop a colour image in front of his subjects in the street, as they wait excitedly or nervously to see the results. 

“It's a reversal process, it's a bit the same principle that Polaroids use,” Santiago explains.

“People are used to having instant gratification and when they see this laborious process that goes through different stages, it creates this wonder of... We can create images in another way. And it's just a beautiful reaction.”

"It gives you something beautiful for your life, not only for photography. The capacity to fail and get up again and try again. It creates this resilience. So I encourage everyone to try, and fail, and be frustrated and then... rise again."

Find out more about Santiago Borthwick, his photography and the direct positive process, by watching the video at the top of the page.

Video editor • Christophe Pitiot

Additional sources • Charlotte Cullen