Growing up in Pennsylvania and flanked by Philadelphia and New York City, Charles Santora has long felt at ease navigating big cities. His urban comfort zone is now his life’s work, as he travels the world to photograph the human experience in urban landscapes.
His assignments have taken Charles to London, Paris, China and many American cities. Using a signature point of view and processing style, Charles captures the essence of each scene in-camera, then digitally finesses these unique moments. The results range from crisp black-and-white streetscapes to colorful sunsets to painterly infrared portraits of Austin, Texas, where he now resides.
Whether Charles is photographing street dancers catching air in Oakland, California, or opera singers in Wuhan, China, his goal is to “reveal the soul of the city.” As a way to transport his work, Charles has become fond of Frame Destination’s GalleryPouch. “I have bought 19 large size gallery pouches and have several more on order,” says Charles. “They are awesome! I now have a safe way to store my work at home and move my work safely between art fairs and galleries. Worth every penny.” Even though Charles expects 2021 to be all virtual art shows owing to the pandemic, like all of us he is waiting to see how the year pans out as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. In the meantime, he’s invested in his website with augmented reality and other cool experiential features.
See More of Charles’s Work
Charles shares his latest work (and before-and-after-retouching videos) on both Instagram and Facebook. His online portfolio is a great place to peruse his photo galleries. And keep reading the Q&A below to discover Charles’s personal guidelines for connecting with viewers, his latest project, and even his astrological sign.
Now for Artie’s Eight Q&A with Charles Santora …
1. What is your background; how did you get started?
It started out as a hobby, an intended distraction from a very stressful job when I was working on the Hurricane Sandy Reconstruction Project. I needed something to take my mind off of the work at nights and weekends. I had always enjoyed and appreciated photography, but had never dabbled in it on my own. Then my wife got me my first DSLR, and I was hooked. I fell in love with photography. As I educated myself on all aspects, I found the niche that really spoke to me. I had done portraiture, corporate headshots and even a wedding, but what I really enjoyed above all other niches is creating fine art prints. After building a portfolio of fine art images, I left the corporate world to become a full-time fine art photographer. It took some confidence-building to gain the courage I needed to make this huge move. My friends and coworkers encouraged me to have exhibitions. They love my work and that has been huge for me. I am so critical of my work, so opening up to accept and believe what others tell me about my work has really given me the confidence to do this full time.
2. How important is it for a photographer to "connect" with their subject?
It's huge! I have done a ton of portraiture and corporate headshots and its critical for the subject to feel comfortable and confident during the shoot. When subjects feel that connection with the photographer, they are more apt to relax and enjoy the moment; this will lead to portraits they love and are proud of. When the photographer and subject feel that connection, the subject will undoubtedly refer the photographer to others. This word of mouth generates more paid work for the photographer. For my fine art work, I want to take that “connection” in a little different direction. When I choose a photo to be exhibited, it’s one that I feel will create a connection with the viewer. That’s one of the test questions I ask about each proposed photograph when deciding if it should be made available for sale. Will the viewer connect with it emotionally? Will the viewer see themselves as the person (subject) in the scene? Will they feel they are part of the scene and actually want to be there? It has to pass this connection test.
3. What has been a formative experience or the best advice you’ve received within your career?
Zero in and fine tune your area of expertise by shooting what you truly love to shoot and have that be the focus of the art you create. I was shooting portraiture and headshots but what I truly enjoyed shooting was fine art images. And the fine art images that I truly love to create is urban portraiture and cityscapes. This will lead to the artist being known and recognized as an expert in that specific area. Art buyers interested in a specific genre of fine art images will better connect with artists who are known specifically for a particular genre and not an artist who is a jack-of-all-trades (good at many things but not great in any).
4. In what ways does your work reflect your personality?
I was born in Philadelphia and spent much of my life in New Jersey, nestled between Philadelphia and New York City. Living in close proximity to these two metro areas influenced and inspired my appreciation for architecture and city life. I feel a strong connection to documenting the relationship between man and structure — the coexistence with architecture and infrastructure that city life necessitates. I've been told that my work is clean, modern and well composed. I like to think my work as being well organized and fitting tightly into a specific genre as well. This is very much modeled after my personality. My wife tells me its because of my Virgo traits.
5. Creative blocks, do you get them? If so, how do you overcome them?
I do indeed get creative blocks. I overcome them by getting out and shooting. I will walk around a city exploring and collecting ideas for fine art images that stimulate me. I try not to pressure myself before I head out by insisting on a quota for great photos. In fact, recently I’ve been teaching myself to be more deliberate and more picky with the shots I take. This has helped me to be under less pressure to achieve great images, and to be more patient. This patience leads to more creativity. I also like to look at other photographers' work to get inspired. It's not that I strive to be better than anyone (that's just silly), but it motivates me to be a creator with my own signature style. It's a great way to take a break from your work and appreciate the work of others and this in itself can get your creativity back on track.
6. What is your most indispensable tool? (Not counting the obvious, like paints, brushes, canvas, camera, etc.)
Tripod. The tripod allows me to get more creative with my images while also being more patient and thoughtful when composing a scene. As a rule, I try to achieve as much of my creative process in the camera as I can, and the tripod allows me to do this.
7. Do you have a new project you are working on, or a new passionate idea?
I have recently moved to Austin, Texas, and I am currently working on a portfolio of Austin city scenes and architecture. I am also planning to do some abstract fine art photography. This has come about due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to stay sheltered. I am looking for ways to do photography while bunkered-in at home, exploring ways this abstract work can complement my urban photography.
8. What "fad" gadget do you most regret purchasing?
My work is on paper and metal prints. Recently I had a couple images printed on lustre paper and face mounted to acrylic. I just do not like the look of acrylic prints as much as I do as metal prints and paper/frame. It's also very heavy, expensive and more tricky to hang.
All artwork and/or photographs used in this post are subject to copyright held by the featured artist.
ARE YOU READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT? Simply respond to the questionnaire here to apply to be included in an upcoming Artie’s Eight Spotlight.
Last Updated February 22, 2021