In Focus with Edgar Castañeda: Breaking out of a safe job to become a full-time photographer
© Edgar Castañeda
Monterrey, Mexico — Like many artists, Edgar Castañeda was drawn to photography from an early age but didn’t get the chance to fully explore it until later. Now at 34, he’s been practicing his craft for four years and has been shooting gigs with Meero for over a year. With more than 100 shoots under his belt, he has a pretty good grasp of what it means to shoot as a partner photographer. We got together with Edgar to learn more about his inspirations, his decision to leave his ‘safe job’ to dive into the world of photography, and his experience with Meero.
This interview is part of the In Focus interview series. To see more interviews from around the world, visit this page.
As many freelancers will tell you, sometimes it’s hard taking the leap and leaving behind the corporate world, a feeling that Edgar Castaneda knows very well. So he did what many passionate creatives do, and dipped his toe into the water while still holding down a 9 to 5.
“Four years ago I had got my first camera and, with the help of some books and the internet, I started taking my first shots, focusing mostly on documentary photography, influenced by Mexican documentary photographers like Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, and Nacho López... I managed all of this while I was still at my last corporate job in lieu of taking vacations.”
Finally, after several years of experimenting and using up all of his vacation time improving his craft, he decided to take the leap. It was a tough decision to make, as it was an economically risky move for him and his family, but finally, passion won out over stability.
“I made the decision to leave my “safe job,” seniority, benefits, work stability… I turned it all in for a camera and lenses, venturing into photography full time at 31 years old.”
To take his work to the next level, he enrolled in a nine-month course at the Museum of Monterrey and started a three-year photography degree. Over the past few years, he has worked in portraits, social photography, political photography, but considers documentary and product photography as his primary fields.
© Edgar Castañeda
About a year ago he discovered Meero
“I was trying to find photography work on Facebook, looking for documentary and product photography and suddenly Meero showed up.”
After doing some research about the platform, he decided to give it a shot and hasn’t looked back. When we asked him if he recommends the platform to other photographers he responded with an enthusiastic ‘Of Course!’ and says he has already convinced his close photographer friends to join, which has become an advantage for Edgar as they can get together and talk about their various shoots and missions.
“In a nutshell? I like the freedom of schedules that they offer you, the photoshoot logistics: I can accept a job with just one button on my phone. (I like) belonging to an international network of photographers, and the pay is also good according to the job that is done.”
Getting to know and reassure restauranteurs
100 or so missions later, he has learned the ins and outs of photographing food and restaurants. From his very first shoot to his most recent, what he enjoys most about these shoots is meeting the restauranteurs and getting to put their work on display. He knows that creating beautiful images is a team effort and he tries to help them get the most out of their shoot.
“Sometimes (clients) are a little nervous. For them, it’s a new project: they themselves are the chefs and they prepare everything. They rush about during the photo shoot. So I talk them through it, reassuring them that the photographs will come out great. The sessions are teamwork, and I help with each detail so the photoshoot ends up being a wonderful experience!”
They may not be physically in front of the lens but their dishes are, the ones that they made with their own hands so they leave a part of themselves in that production.
© Edgar Castañeda
In order to make the most of a trip, Edgar has gotten into the routine of doing more than one shoot in a day. Between each gig, he’ll get settled into a coffee shop in order to send off his shots right away to avoid delays before heading to another mission later that day.
Advice that transcends photoshoots
This people-person loves to learn from each interaction, improving his photography whenever he can, but also getting valuable insights from the customers he covers.
“Each person has something to contribute to your life, from how to prepare a good hot sauce to a personal recommendation for a vacation... I like to chat with other people and exchange ways of thinking, ideas, and commentary. I’m always positive and take every word that I can to improve.”
He continues to shoot with Meero while working on his personal projects of documenting the traditions and cultures of Mexico, all the while explaining how these traditions came about. One day, he would love to see this project exhibited and to work with National Geographic to show off the Mexican culture that he knows and loves.
To see more of his work and photography documenting life in Mexico, check out his Instagram @fotodocumentandomexico.