Interviewing Ilan Derech the half Mexican and half Jewish street/travel photographer was a great experience. We veered with ease and fluidity from photography to more profound and thought provoking subjects. It was and is clear than Ilan Derech born in Mexico City takes images for more than a pay check.
“Photography is a hobby and it still is. I love it so much so in a way I don’t want it to become a business. I travel and I take images for my own pleasure but I have pushed my images to photography brands and magazines. The reception to my work has been amazing. So photography in some ways has become a business but I ultimately take images for me.”
We have discussed with many creatives the push and pull of needing to make a living yet trying to retain the creative spirit that first fuelled their chosen creative pursuit. The facts are, the ‘business’ aspects can (in the worst cases) completely destroy creativity.
Without any hyperbole, Ilan Derech’s images however come from a higher and more profound place than mere creativity.
“This part is not that nice” he states when we ask him the moment he realised that he wanted to take images, “My father passed away-and I am going to blunt about it-I entered a really strong depression and suicidal thoughts. On one day the suicidal thoughts became too overwhelming. I had the gun to my head, loaded. I was about to pull the trigger.”
Even through the now ubiquitous Zoom, we are captured by this rare moment of candour and it is clear that Ilan Derech must regularly relive this moment.
“I can still feel the barrel on my head and smell the metal of the gun at the time: my skin tingles.” he touches his arm, deep in the moment. “It was (and remains) a very spiritual moment where it is like a flashback, a therapy a moment where time stood still. I am so grateful that survival kicked in and I wanted to live. That person from that moment died and I decided to take over-not care what people say or do. That is why I started travelling and taking images. I thought fuck it I am going to do what I want to do with my life and if I am not going to quit then I am going to live my life.”
And since then, Ilan Derech has stuck to his promise made at the cusp of his own mortality. While the thirty year old holds down a job as a new media designer, he ensures regular trips around the world capturing the places he sees in an affirmation of his life using his ZEISS camera. And while ‘street photography’ can have purists recoiling, Ilan Derech is a shining beacon for the art form.
“All these shots I am taking are all the things I did not want to miss. They justify me staying alive by not pulling the trigger. I have to shoot these images and see them to prove that I was right. I am eternally looking for images that I could have missed out on”. He is clearly embracing this rebirth from a moment that could have been so tragic.
As we talk to him in South Korea where he has been caught due to covid, we discuss the wonders of his travel/street photography*. If we are honest here at #itchysilk we don’t focus enough on travel photography and street photography. Not through any wish to avoid these branches of photography-far from it. While we love these sub-genres, there are those who recoil at the mention of ‘street photography’.
“You can’t take a fashion photographer and expect them to create great street photography.” He categorically states, “Fashion photographers have many pre-production elements and they have a vision they are trying to re-create. It’s a really hard task. But imagine having just a camera and improvising every time because you do not control anything. It’s like a very Zen moment. You have to become one with the masses and read people’s interactions. You even have to predict how people behave.” He adds illustrating the need to predict “I was in the city of Chefchaouen in Morocco (the blue city) and they have many stair cases and you know there are going to be people coming in and out. I predicated that there would be kids playing. So I set up the scene and the camera on the correct exposure and waited. I still remember-I heard a little girl talking to her friends and I knew that was the moment”.
Flitting through his work that ability to predict and be patient is telling but it is the ability to totally immerse in the chosen environment that helps to create the stunning images he captures.
“I have some really good friends in New York who are street photographers and they taught me so much. It is hard to explain in a way but if you go to a concert and at first you are listening you are another spectator but there is a moment a climax where you become of everything. As a travel photographer you start to notice the people, the environment. Everything changes when you stop being an individual and you become part of the environment. You have to blend in with everything and then you can capture truly amazing images.”
*Please note we are aware that travel photography and street photography are not necessarily the same but we do hope you all appreciate there are overlaps.