Reality-Defying Photo Composites Master the Impossible
Juan José Egúsquiza is based in Brooklyn, New York, but he spends much of his time as a man of the world. From Paris to San Francisco to Barcelona to Lucerne and beyond, the Lima, Peru-born multimedia artist and Adobe Creative Resident makes his way across the globe with his camera in hand. While exploring, he captures ordinary moments with a click, and these images become the basis for what he calls “Impossible Stories”: brain-bending composites that challenge the way we relate to and interpret our surroundings. We talked with Egúsquiza about upcycling images, the satisfaction of coding, and the peril (plus creative potential) of doing backflips into a pool.
Q: Were you always into taking pictures? How did you express creativity as a kid?
A: When I was young, I played music—percussion, mostly—and was in a band with my twin brother, who’s also an artist. He was so creative, and making things all the time, often grabbing trash and turning it into sculptures or instruments. That idea of recycling—of taking elements that were meant to be for something and then using them to build something else—was super, super cool to me. At some point I realized I wanted to start creating my own special things as well.
Click the image above to watch our video profile of Juan José Egúsquiza.
Q: How did you get involved with photography?
A: I was 19 or 20 when I first started taking pictures. I’d be traveling, mostly alone, and all of a sudden I’d be somewhere I’ve never been before: walking around, seeing new things, observing ordinary moments. I’ve always liked those the most; like, someone throwing a cookie away in a garbage can. Once you take a picture of it, it becomes something totally different.
At first, I wouldn’t edit my images at all, but eventually I started thinking: "What if I grabbed one element from this image and put it on something else?" Now that kind of photo compositing is a daily practice.
Photoshop Daily Creative Challenge hosted by Juan José
Complete daily challenges, upgrade your portfolio and join the Photoshop design community! Register here for a challenge that runs from August 19 – 31.
Q: Has that approach changed what you look for when you go out with your camera?
A: I could spend hours taking photos. I try to take general wide shots as well as close-ups, so I can have scenes, objects, and details to play with. In the end I want a cool, weird catalog of random stuff I can use later on. I just got a new camera [a Sony a7R III], and there is so much information in each picture; once I start editing, I can enlarge and crop and zoom and play in ways I couldn’t before.
Sometimes an image can sit on my hard drive for years, until I rediscover it and decide it’s perfect for what I’m trying to do. I wasn’t the same person when I took it that I am now; I’ve gone through different moments in my life. But each image can be meaningful in new ways, depending on the experiences I’m going through at the moment.
Q: So these images serve as inspiration for your “Impossible Stories.” Can you explain a bit about these narratives, and how they’re expressed through your photo composites?
A: My starting point is always in photography, but an Impossible Story also has to start with something personal; then I’ll create a fantastic composition to share my idea. For example: When I was a kid, I loved doing backflips into a pool, until one night when I hit my face on the wall.
A: Yeah. Ever since then, I’m always really careful; I don’t backflip anymore, but I love watching other people do it. I recently did a series called “The Divers” to—I wouldn’t say face my fears, but kind of get that experience out in the world. I kept thinking how cool it would be to see someone diving from a building in New York. This was a way to share that narrative with images.
Q: What are your other essential tools?
A: Whenever I travel, I bring a zoom 24-105mm lens and a prime 50mm lens, both Canon; a full-size tripod; and I just bought a small tripod I can put in my backpack. And my laptop. That’s pretty much it.
Q: You have a master's degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. What exactly did you study?
A: It’s difficult to describe! Everyone there would probably give you a different answer but for me, it was a chance to explore how to create projects using technology as an artistic tool. I didn't know how to program when I got in, and it was really hard in the beginning—it’s like learning a new language. But I started to realize that I could apply code to my pictures to animate them, then I could upload those animations to a VR headset so you could hear them as well. Coding can be complicated and messy and hard, but I actually enjoy spending hours doing it. I like to spend time debugging.
Q: How has coding evolved what you’re able to do with your work, and how you’re able to express yourself?
A: There are different coding languages depending on what tool you want to use. Right now, I'm learning Blender and World Creator to make digital landscapes. It’s so interesting because I love to travel and take pictures of what I see, and now I’m creating images that I would never be able to capture in real life; I can just sit and do it at my computer. It’s a whole new world.
Q: Are there shortcuts for people who have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the tech-heavy stuff?
A: The cool thing is that technology keeps evolving, enough so that you can basically avoid all that coding part and just focus on the artistic process if you want. But repetition and dedication can be powerful learning tools. I taught myself Adobe Photoshop in 100 days. I made my website from scratch in 30 days. It can be scary and confusing to open up new software, but when you’re doing the same exercise over and over, you start to organize your thoughts and know yourself a bit more. You get used to these new things and think: “Ah, this is not as hard as I thought!”
All imagery by Juan José Egúsquiza