A regular contributor to Santa & Cole since 2014, Salva López is one of the young talents of contemporary photography. With crystal clear aesthetic values, he is committed to imbuing his work with a cultural undertone that contextualises it.
A friend introduced him to the world of architecture and interior design, a field which Salva López feels a true devotion for, enabling him to delve into the history and visual narrative associated with a design and the planning of a particular venue or building. Nevertheless, Salva—who trained in graphic design—encountered the realm of photography in a very contemporary way, through the help he received from the Flickr digital community. From there, his work has appeared in such prestigious publications as Monocle, The Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg.
Critical, restless and constantly evolving, López takes photographs and speaks to us about his apartment, his most intimate space, as well as his personal and spatial interiors. From Stockholm—where he is currently working—he tells us how his compositional simplicity has become the constant that allows his life to evolve as a person and an artist.
You have trained as a graphic designer, at what point did you decide to work as a photographer? In other words, what led you to photography?
Salva López (SL): Back in 2007, I managed to save up to buy my first digital reflex camera, a Canon EOS 400D. Until then I had not taken more than four photographs, with a pretty bad compact camera. It all started when I came across the work of a host of benchmark photographers and the Flickr community at that time, which helped me a lot. It is strange to see how the photographers of my generation that I met through Flickr are now working to an exceptionally high standard.
What are those benchmarks of photography that you mention and which current or contemporary authors would you highlight?
SL: From my photographers of choice I would highlight Alec Soth, William Eggleston and Joel Sternfeld, because they changed my way of understanding photography.
A very coherent choice. For someone so young, you have a highly defined visual identity and a very recognisable signature style. How would you define your style?
SL: I think that my style is characterised by my taste for powerful, simple things, inherited mainly from my training in graphic design. In addition, my reference points mainly come from the documentary world. Right now, I find it very difficult to define myself. I think my photography is relaxed, unadulterated, direct, graphic and natural. I do not generally tend to use flashes.
On the subject of flashes, as a photographer I imagine you have a great respect for lighting. The tonality of light is very important in your work; it is very warm and special. How do you achieve those luminous tones, the filtered light?
SL: It is very important to choose the right time and place to take the photograph. If I am able to, I try to wait until what I think is the most appropriate moment to take the photos, and follow it up with some good tweaking.
Do you use both analogue and digital cameras?
SL: I have all formats, although lately I only use digital. I bought a new medium format digital camera. With this format I am starting to achieve a result which pleases me, similar to analogue. In any case, for some personal work I use the analogue medium format.
What formal differences are there between them in texture, light, tonality and colour?
SL: Physical film in itself already provides an interesting tonality. With digital, the photo needs to be tweaked for it to have some colour-based interest. Unedited raw is terrible, it is not easy to control and I am always unsure. Then there is the sensor size; personally, I like the medium format most since it achieves a much more interesting texture and depth of field. With digital, the sensor is not very big—even if it is a medium format—and the same result is never completely achieved.
You are very versatile; do you prefer to photograph people, exteriors or interiors?
SL: It is precisely my versatility within the sector that I am most proud of. I usually get tired quickly if I repeat the same thing a lot, so what I like most is to be able to combine these things without becoming bored.
When did you start to become interested in interior design and architecture at a professional level?
SL: A few years ago I was called asking if I did weddings. Iñaki, who called me, is now one of my best friends, and he is an architect. From this friendship, I started to become excited about the world of architecture. Also, I had the good fortune of starting to work for Monocle magazine, which allowed me to access places and meet very interesting people.
Do any of the spaces and architecture that you photograph resemble the house where you grew up? What was it like?
SL: Well, I grew up in the outskirts of Barcelona, in Sant Vicenç dels Horts to be exact, in the typical middle class residential housing of the seventies and eighties. There was nothing special about them. I actually detest this type of architecture. I think it has destroyed a part of cities throughout the whole world. Perhaps it is because of this that, on a personal level, I am drawn to photograph these places. Architects have the opportunity to create marvellous things, but in general I think they usually do the opposite.
And your aesthetic sense, does it differ from your parents’?
SL: Totally, I am nothing like them. My mother lives in an apartment in Castellón, in a typical residence of the real estate bubble with a swimming pool, golf course, paddle tennis court, etc. She is very happy there. And my father loves cool white light bulbs, which is something I hate. Perhaps what influenced me most as a child was Garbí School, which I attended until I was 13 years old. It is a school where they encouraged artistic culture.
So, what is your idea of a habitable space, of creating a home?
SL: In my case, the most important thing to create a comfortable home is the use of light. I do not like generic lights that uniformly illuminate a room. I love to create spots with their own light. Each lamp has its own small role, both in terms of light and aesthetics. When I go to bed I turn off about ten lamps; just the act of turning them off is a sign that it is time to go to bed.
Home is also the place that we recognise, where we feel always comfortable, which we are attached to, where we enjoy privacy, where we feel safe—not literally from danger, but from the outside world. Do you think that “good” interior design helps to make a home?
SL: Without doubt, I would not know how to give you a definition of what is “good” interior design, but I can confirm that until I had a nice home, I had not been even slightly organised. It definitely helps to improve your health.
In an interview with Miguel Milá from whom you have two pieces edited by Santa & Cole, the Cesta and TMM lamps, he said that the presence of a lamp, the appearance, is very important because they spend more time switched off than switched on. What do you think?
SL: Indeed, when I create my areas, the use of lamps is not only to give a suitable atmosphere through light, they must also adapt aesthetically to that area, so that it works when switched on or off. I think carefully about the still-lifes that I construct with the furniture and objects that I have. Indeed, the perfect design for me is one that brings everything together, is functional and beautiful.
Since when and how exactly was the partnership with Santa & Cole forged? How were the beginnings?
SL: My first commission was at the end of 2014. They asked me to photograph their headquarters in Parc de Belloch. It is one of the prettiest “offices” that I have ever photographed; it has an incredible light.
What would you highlight from the Santa & Cole designs? If you had to choose a lamp from the Santa & Cole catalogue, which would it be?
SL: I have a special fondness for the Cesta by Milá because it was my first lamp. However, now I like the Cestita Batería, —its new portable little sister— more, because I take it from one place to another in the house. It has solved my problem, as there is no plug socket where my library is and it creates a very pleasant ambience, to tell the truth.
Regarding the Cesta lamp that you like so much, it involves a manual process that entails a lot of time and dedication, for example, to obtain the perfect curvature of the wood. The selection of suitable materials and updating the design with new technologies is another essential of Santa & Cole each time they edit a product. In this world of hyper-consumerism, of saturation, what do you think about the slow approach of Santa & Cole, where pieces are thought through and cared for down to the very last detail?
SL: In my opinion, at this moment in time luxury consists of that. I escape from the ultra- mechanised world whenever I can, although it is obviously necessary in many areas. To have a piece where you know its origin, how it was made, etc., is of great value to me.
How do you choose the items in your house, both the classics of modern design and the photographs on the walls?
SL: Generally, I am very traditional. I prefer to buy products that have passed the test of time. Trends concern me quite a lot, both professionally and with the items that I buy. I try to be consistent in my aesthetic taste, with both my photos and objects. I like well-crafted, unadulterated items. The ideal way to check whether or not an item works is by taking photographs. In this way, I can check whether it harmonises with the rest or, on the other hand, if it clashes.
Of course, when it comes to capturing the composition of still-lifes... And owning these types of objects, do they define who you are in some way, your identity, or on the contrary do you not develop an attachment to them?
SL: Totally, I think that my house and my objects perfectly define me. Eloi Gimeno, a photographer friend and designer, defined my house as a cluster of “minimal” objects, which when together create a baroque environment. I am now in a phase of trying to get rid of those which do nothing for me—which is most of them—, but it is not easy for me because I am fond of them.
Is there an item in your furniture collection that you have a preference for?
SL: I love stools; I do not know how many I have at home. On my last trip to Japan I bought a small one made out of cherry wood. There is something about the Japanese sensibility that captivates me; I cannot wait to go back!
What are you working on at the moment?
SL: I am currently in Sweden for a furniture commission. We go to a house on a small island near Stockholm. I feel very fortunate to be a photographer and to work as one because it gives me the opportunity to get to know many places and interesting people.
And finally, tell us about your future projects and plans, both professionally and personally.
SL: Professionally, I want to enter the fashion world, I want to try new things and see if I find a style that I am comfortable with. Personally, I continue to meander between many ideas and few photographs. I want to go back to Japan and think beyond the four tourist photos.