(ALL PHOTOS IN THIS ARTICLE BY XAVIER PORTELA)
I’m a Belgo-Portuguese self-taught photographer and filmmaker currently based in Brussels. But the complete story is a bit more complicated. I didn’t start my career as a photographer, not even close, actually I wasn’t really looking to become a photographer until a few years ago. I studied multimedia, and I started working as a web developer for agencies right after school. During that time, photography was just a hobby, a passion that I was doing on the side, and it’s only in 2012 that I left my daily job to devote all my time to photography and filmmaking. It was a wake-up call. I left because I didn’t want to spend my life sitting behind a computer. I wanted to travel and to create for myself, not for someone else. I was looking to get paid for things I would do on my own.
After a few years of struggle, in 2016, I gained visibility after publishing “Glow,” featuring Tokyo and Hong Kong at night, followed by my first exhibition in Brussels. In 2017, I extended the original Glow series to Bangkok, and Lonely Planet selected it in the “11 unique photographic views of the world from 2017”. This series has reached more than 30 countries and has been published in various photography, design & architecture magazines. After that, I decided to make it an ongoing project. I released New York then more pictures about Hong Kong and Tokyo. I’m still working on new cities at the moment.
Initially, Glow is a collection that I created with the ambition to get back the atmosphere and feeling you get when you visit those cities (Tokyo, Bangkok, New York). In 2014, I was on vacation with no real goal other than just discovering Japan. Tokyo is the first city I visited, thanks to the jetlag I was up all night, so I started walking in the street and taking pictures. When I got back, I started post-processing the photos. Still, I was not happy with the result because I couldn’t reproduce that feeling you get when you are in the middle of the street, of the chaos, with all those people around you, the noise, the electricity around you.
This overwhelming atmosphere wasn’t there in my photos. About two years later, while I was watching a Japanese anime, that I remembered some comics/manga from Zhang Bin aka Benjamin, who is a Chinese manhua artist and illustrator. That’s when I started to play with the colors of my images, I wanted my shots to look like as if they came straight out of a manga. Vibrant and electric.
So that’s Glow, a collection of cities captured by night where the colors try to activate the brain to reproduce the variables you don’t have in a photo, such as temperature, noise, motion. Glow is what you remember instead of what you’ve seen of a place.
Working on my own personal projects like Glow is what took my photography from a passion to my career. It’s always a gamble because you have to invest in yourself, not knowing if you will sell the images afterward. But the reward is freedom, of life, of work. Being able to spend more time doing what you love instead of working for someone else has no price. That’s why I am now giving talks about the story of how I became a photographer because I hope it can inspire people who are hesitating to make the jump.
In the end, it’s all about being close to who you are rather than who the world thinks you should be.
Follow your passion!