The Iberdrola Tower in Bilbao hosts the latest exhibition of the Basque photographer, a space where she also presented a book on her work from the PhotoBolsillo Collection

Victoria Iglesias: "I like photographing the elderly, they have a very special look in their eyes"

The time when Victoria Iglesias joined Panorama magazine is a long time ago. She was studying journalism and had not thought of becoming a photographer. Chance was the beginning of what would become her career. Light became part of her life, those colours that announce the sunset or those that mark cloudy days. Demanding, sensitive, fighter, non-conformist, seeker... As a freelance, her photos have been published in the main media and publishing houses. Her list of portraits is very long, from Camarón to Noah Gordon, Carmen Martín Gaite, Joaquín Sabina, John Kennedy or Michael Jackson. Portraits that are in addition to her more social work, although she says she feels indebted to herself because she should devote more time to giving visibility to these issues. She is aware that she has achieved many challenges, but she tells us that the road has not been easy and that she has cried on more than one occasion at the end of a session. Among her weaknesses are the elderly, in whose gaze she finds a very special background and serenity. 


You have just inaugurated your latest exhibition at the Iberdrola Tower in Bilbao. 

After the publication of the book "Victoria Iglesias-PhotoBolsillo", the possibility arose of holding an exhibition in the Iberdrola Tower in Bilbao. It has turned out very beautiful, 5 large photographs are exhibited on large panels and there is also a giant box with a light in which 24 photographs are displayed.  The images are accompanied by text. Many dear people came to the inauguration and presentation of the book. I am very happy. 

The exhibition is entitled "Portraits with light". What is light for a photographer? 

Light is everything. There is light even in the dark. Look how important it is that if you put a tripod in a dark place at a very slow speed you can get a view that we don't normally have.  Light outlines the contours of the photo, gives depth, creates atmosphere, drama, dreaminess... Light has everything. An idea in bad light doesn't work. 


What is your favourite daylight to work in? 

Outdoors, if I'm not going to add a flash, I prefer the light just as the sun sets with its wonderful colours. When I started out, I used to use flashes in the street, I made a living, I got extension cords, it was crazy.  I also like the light of cloudy days, the grey tones of the sky, the clouds that are incredible visually speaking and we don't value them. Clouds create a world of fantasy, to see them from the plane is impressive, also that cloud that suddenly covers the sun... 

Do you remember the moment when you got your hands on a camera and decided to become a photographer? 

I remember the first time I held a camera in my hands, but at that time I didn't even imagine I would be a photographer. I was 7 or 8 years old, it was the family camera, with its film. We would take pictures of summer, of the excursions. The magic moment was when you took them to be developed and when you picked them up you tried to remember when or where you had taken them.  In Basauri, my neighbour was a photographer, Cruz, and my father bought him a camera. My dream was to be in the photos, not to take them. 


So when did you decide that it would be your profession? 

The truth is that it was by chance. I was studying journalism and found a job at Panorama magazine, but the job was as a photography coordinator. I told them I had no idea, but they hired me. The newsroom was on the sixth floor and the archive on the first floor, I spent the day uploading and downloading photos, I was in charge of cleaning up the surplus, putting them in folders, selecting them... That's where I started to learn. My first journalistic job was in El Escorial, an interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. My first published photo was of London Bridge. In the magazine they valued the graphic part more than the written part, in fact, sometimes, if there wasn't a good photo, they didn't publish the information. 

Writing or photography? 

I do both, I write and I take photographs. I like writing very much. I was always told that I had to choose and I said no. Now, if they ask me what I should choose, I always say no. Now, if they ask me what I am, I say I'm a photographer. 


You've been freelancing for many years. Freedom or a paycheck? 

I've had contracts and I know what it's like to be paid every month and to have extra pay. When I started working for myself I discovered that freedom, to have your time, to travel, to do what you want, but it's also very hard and over the years there comes a time when stability is important. Maybe if tomorrow I was offered a permanent job I would take it, because I could invest in new equipment, but as long as I had the time to continue taking my photos, otherwise no. I would take it.  

One of your main facets is portraiture, what strikes you most in a person? 

Most of the portraits I have taken have been commissioned. When I choose myself, my weak point is the elderly. I want to photograph the elderly, I've been looking that way lately, maybe because of my experiences with my father until he died of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. My mother, my sister and I went a long way to accompany him in his last years, he had dementia. It was a hard time. I entered the world of nursing homes. I have a great affection for the elderly, and now that's what I would like to portray: elderly people in vulnerable situations. 


It could be your next project... 

Yes, I need to see if I have enough time, and it's not easy, it's a very delicate subject that has to be treated with great care. In general, I like photographing the elderly, they have a very special look in their eyes, they transmit; also serenity, which gives a lot of presence to the portrait. Old people, both known and anonymous, are very interesting, like Salud, a woman I met in 2016. 

Berlanga, Michael Jackson, Saura, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Gala, Lou Reed... Which character has been the easiest and which the most difficult? 

To begin with, I always make it difficult for myself, because I search and that path is tortuous. Part of the success or failure of my work depends on the other person, it is not only in my hands. My portraits are done outside the studio, I don't have a studied lighting scheme for the character that comes in. The result is more personal, but more risky. I am a street worker. Sometimes I've cried after the sessions, because it's been very complicated, with tension. You are looking for one thing and the person you are portraying another.  For example, with Antonio Gala it was very difficult, his secretary told me not to worry, that if I acted like that it was because he liked me. I also had a hard time with Montserrat Caballé. She was angry because she thought that the interview was only with her and at the last minute she found out that it was with other people. In the end, I convinced her to pose in front of the burnt ruins of the Liceu and it was very nice, but it was tremendous. After that session, I remember I ended up crying. 

And your relationship with Camarón? 

Wonderful. My memory of Camarón is growing. He was the cover of Panorama in two issues, and in the end I had his exclusive shortly before he died. We were at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, he welcomed us very well, also his wife, La Chispa, his niece... It was a very interesting job and the most famous photo, which is not published at the beginning, I discover it as time goes by. My memory is nourished because his photos have stayed with me all my life. I met him in 1991, in Venta de Vargas, where we were waiting for another cantaor.  That day, we were there for more than eleven hours until we got the photo. Then Camarón appeared, and we were also able to interview him and take photos. The famous photo with the lighter is from later. We talked, we played cards, I even bought him an ice cream once... I would love to believe that he is watching us. I can't mention him anymore. 


Your social photography also stands out, where do you feel best? 

I am indebted to that part of my life, I think I should devote more time to it. We are in the comfortable part of life and yet we complain. When you travel to countries that have gone through conflicts, wars, hunger, poverty, disease... that's when you realise that we are privileged. I have a debt with myself that I must not forget. I no longer have so many possibilities to travel, but there are many things that can be done in our environment. In Madrid, I did a report on the disinherited of the Church of San Antón with Father Ángel, I spent several days with them, it was incredible the work done, how a church was dismantled so that they could sleep. There are so many people who have nothing.... 

We go back to the beginning of your career, photography, like everything else, has evolved. How have you experienced the transition from analogue to digital? 

I recognise that it is very comfortable to work with digital, but you lose part of the craftsmanship, such as developing. In commissions, digital gives you a lot of peace of mind, you know what you've done as you go along, but it limits your imagination. You work faster, the light catches better, before it was all slower. It's like cooking a stew slowly over a fire or quickly in a microwave. The digital world comes with social networks, maybe if they had existed when I started it would have been easier to make myself known. I've been working as a photographer for many years now and sometimes I feel like I'm always starting out. Instagram is a great showcase. 


When you started, there weren't so many female photographers. Cristina García Rodero, from La Mancha, was the first Spaniard to join the Magnum Agency. Have you encountered many obstacles because you are a woman? 

Sometimes, yes, when I started, almost all the photographers were men. How many wanted to be and couldn't? The excuse was that cameras were too heavy. I decided to attach wheels to a suitcase, back then they didn't exist. I don't drive. My father told me that what you save on the car and petrol you invest in taxis... and that's how it was. I knew what I wanted to do. 

And have you been afraid to travel alone? 

Yes, because I have lived through critical moments in my life, complicated situations, for example, in Tunisia, Chiapas, Colombia, in India, where I did a report on leprosy... You carry very expensive equipment and I recognise that I distance myself a lot; without wanting to, I move away to look for my photo. I'm like the little mice in the Pied Piper of Hamelin, I hear music and I go after it. With the camera you forget the fear.  


What do you feel when you look at your photos over time? 

When you lose the illusion, it's very difficult to get in front of a camera, you have to rescue those moments so that you don't feel the same as the movement of life. For me, in photography, the present doesn't exist, no matter how much we want to capture it, the photo taken is always the past. 

And doesn't it have something of the future? 

I like to reflect on this subject. I photographed the painter Antonio López for the first time in 1991 and the last time in 2021, and in that time, three more times. If I analyse him, I observe a certain expiration in his physical appearance, but also in the photograph, there is the past. On the other hand, when I look at a photograph slowly, I fill it with things, my own and those of the person photographed; frustrations, illusions, sorrows, joys... In a certain way, you bring it up to date. Camarón is more alive through these photos. That duality is very important in life. We are the past and also the future. 


A photograph or a dream yet to be fulfilled? 

I have a general dream: to finish consolidating what I have around me as a photographer. It has taken me a lot of work to get to where I am now, and sometimes I have the feeling that I achieve a lot of things, but then they are forgotten or don't count. I achieve goals, but maybe I need to have that recognition as the decent and honest photographer that I am. My dream is to be able to make a living from my work.

We've finished. Please take the camera, look, and go into the future. How do you see yourself? 

I see myself with my hands full of wrinkles and trembling, remembering and looking at my own photos. I also see my niece, who is a human rights advocate, with my son, both of them travelling and me looking for them with my camera to photograph them.