William Vázquez is an advertising, portrait & documentary photographer based in New York, USA.

Image backstory, India "The girl in purple"

Starting a little series of how I created certain photo with some back story.

I was in India on assignment working for Abbott creating imagery that illustrated their social responsibility efforts in India. I was photographing, clinics, people, milk collection, farmers, farming, and landscapes. I had free reign to photograph whatever I wanted, but the images had to tell the stories that the client wanted to highlight. There was no specific shot list just concepts.

  • Milk collection in rural areas
  • A local NGO's efforts on locating and helping women with gestational diabetes
  • Women's healthcare in rural India
  • A local NGO that provided access to clean water
  • Medicine distribution in rural India

Its not a very long list but its very daunting when you consider the process that the images have to go through before they are selected. The photographs have to feel serendipitous, show the best of India and its people, show that you are in India, simple uncluttered backgrounds, and be able to use the images in different ways. For example social media, in print, horizontal, vertical, on a cover, leave space for copy, and the list goes on. So its a lot to think about when you are deciding on an image to take, framing shots, and clicking that shutter. Plus there is no client going through this process with you and sharing in the struggles to create the images. Its my problem, and my problem alone.

In these series of photos. I was hanging around a clinic hoping to create some images of women at the clinic. The day I am there was a super slow day. The story of my life. I am either too early or too late. There were only two patients and the photos were not ideal. So I waited, and I waited hoping some other women would show up. Also it was getting later in the morning and once the light gets too high its really harsh. Not great light for images of people. Then these three girls appeared through the gate, one of them was coming to the clinic to meet with her mother.

They stopped in front of the wall to wait. I approached them and started a conversation through my interpreter. I asked if I can photograph them. They said yes, but they were very shy and would not look at the camera. I decided that I would need to separate them, and I figured my best chance was with the girl in purple. I said that I wanted to photograph them separately, but I started with the girl in purple. Just in case they decided to quit on me.

At first she wanted to be photographed with her friends and was calling them over, but I reassured her that it will be quick and I will photograph her friends after her.

This is where we started giving me a not so friendly face plus the light was a little hard. I wanted her to turn into the light a bit so her eyes would light up. Also her friend's shadow was in the shot so I had to move her away a bit.

After I got her friend to move, I was able to focus on my subject. She was shy in the sense that she wasn't able to look at the camera and smile at the same time. So I spoke to her friend and asked a question about the girl in purple. I think I asked if she was always this shy. She replied and this caused my subject to turn towards her and smile. She sort of smiled, she was trying her best not to smile. I shot about 30 frames of everyone including the final shot, and the whole encounter was probably 5 minutes.

Waiting for that "perfect moment" would make these projects go on for weeks and no guaranty of success. So I have to step in and control what I can by being selective, have a clear vision, and influencing what is going on in the image so I capture the best out of people in the time I have.

I think this image turned out great. She made me work for it a bit. The light was beautiful, as well as all the colors. Yes, it doesn't obviously feel like it was shot in India, but with the elements taken together it still gives that sense.


Canon 5D MarkIII, Canon 24-105 f4L lens




Creating images one at a time.

Back in 2007 I went to Afghanistan on assignment. I was excited and nervous for many reasons. My personal safety was highest on my mind along with all the other reasons, doing something worthy, not disappointing my clients, not mess up, in other words lots of pressure on myself by the worlds toughest critic of my I was not there to capture conflict imagery, but documenting some programs of nurse training run by the Afghan Institute of Learning, and when I had a chance something where I got a glimpse of the soul of someone. No superficial images of destruction or people beat down from the conflict. So I had to get in there, get to know people, accomplish my goals, all in a very short time frame.Being the crazy idealist that I am, along with my digital gear I dragged along a 1960's era 4x5 speed graphic and polaroid type 55 film. Super low tech, slow, and some of the best photos I took were with that camera.I met Aziza at a women's clinic she was waiting to see the doctor. We got to talking a bit (through an interpreter of course) and we connected. These are the only 2 frames I shot. You have to wait for the right moment, and create images one at a time. I liked the first one where she was being a little shy with her smile.


On assignment: Cover your eyes and hope for the best

Vigli, being extremely shy; Punjab, India "Smile!" but look at me.

When on assignment I am sent with specific requirements on what ideas the images are supposed to convey, as well as look and feel. "Oh, and make sure there is room for type! but not sure of exactly where it will go." So as random as it feels sometimes, I get mandates like "go photograph pregnant women in India with gestational diabetes." One of the most important aspects is authenticity. Keeping the images "real" is probably the biggest challenge. Its much easier when things are planned and working with models. You can control the look and the feel of the images that way. Although that can have its pitfalls when it comes to looking authentic. Working with real people it can be hit or miss, of course being a professional it is expected that there is more hit than miss. You can tell people stand there and look this way, and that way, but how do you convey an idea you want them to express in their faces and body language? This becomes particularly problematic with cultural and language barriers. Many times I show up at a persons home in a rural area of another country that is off the grid like an alien from another planet that just got off a spaceship. Although my visit is usually pre-arranged. Most people have no clue about, why am I there, what I am doing, why am doing it, why is it important,  and what is the point of it all. Not to mention I am probably the first foreigner that they have ever seen up close let alone interacted with, and a man no less which can be an issue in very conservative countries. Also I want to take lots of photos over here, over there, doing this, doing that....I get 20 minutes tops before people start getting tired of the whole thing. Plus they have work to do!

So whats a photographer to do? Sit down and have tea, share a moment, get to know each other a bit, and do more than hope for the best.

Direct Relief International newsletter cover photograph

A little girl with her grandmother waiting her turn to have her blood sugar measured at a free event in a the small town Sacaba. This past April I traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia to photograph at the Centro Vivir con Diabeties. I was working with Direct Relief International which provides technical support as well as material to the centro for them to accomplish their mission. It is an honor to be working with DRI, and the dedicated people that work there. It is amazing how much good they do in the world. Have a look at their site.

This is my second trip to Bolivia as well as visit the Centro. They are great people doing great things for their people. From the plateau city of Cochabamba to the mountain city of La Paz where it feels that you are always walking up or down hill. I don't think I will ever tire of visiting Bolivia, and its people.


Wanted: Personal Paparazzi

Much of of my time is spent photographing people working, playing, laughing, vogueing, etc, but I never have any photos of me doing those things. For example in my house there is a wall full of family photos I am in one maybe two of them. Why? because I am usually the one doing the photographing. So in my recent travels I handed a camera to my client........Many thanks Roopal! I really need a personal paparazzi.

This is a photo of me photographing a mother and daughter in front of a temple near Lonavala, India. The little girl was really personable and pretty in pink. What a beautiful family.

At the Apple store Soho

I am going to use up a few more minutes of my 15 minutes of fame that I have left, and would like you to join me at the Apple store Soho, NYC. Me and fellow APA board member Keith Barraclough will be presenting, and sharing our deepest photo secrets. After the lecture we will all be going out for drinks so don't wander off. Looking forward to seeing you. Did I mention that it's free?

Here are the deets.

APA|NY Image Makers Lecture Series:   “Not Standin’ Still… Photographers who use Video and Blogs to get more work”.

Day and time: Wednesday, October 13, 6:30-8 p.m.

Place: SoHo Apple Theater, 103 Prince St (between Mercer and Greene).

Admission: Free (seating is limited)

*No advance registration is required

Dennis Brutus 1924 – 2009

A few years ago I had the distinct pleasure photographing Dennis Brutus, South African poet, anti-apartheid fighter, human-rights activist, and just a all around cool guy. Probably one of the most interesting people I have ever photographed. Not to mention I shot it large format, and on I miss Polaroid, and the world is going to miss a truly great man who sacrificed much for his beliefs. I am glad I got my few moments with him.

Memorial is Sunday, January 17, 2010 2pm at The Brecht Forum 451 West Street, between Bank and Bethune Streets, NYC. click for directions.

Haiti in crisis

Meet Isabelle who lives somewhere near Cange, Haiti. We met 3 weeks ago when I was in Haiti working on a project. We chatted a little in my very limited French/Creole which she found quite funny, and found her to be a very sweet girl with a sense of humor. I really hope she, and her family are OK.

Lets band together to help her people, and her country. Haiti is a very special place with special people.

I have personally worked with, and seen the results of these two organizations. They are a very dedicated group of people working in great organizations that use your donations to maximum effect. Please donate, and tell your friends, family members, co-workers, everyone!

Partners in Health The PIH Vision: Whatever it takes At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.

Direct Relief Policy Regarding Donations for Haiti Because of the intense attention and the outpouring of generosity we have seen in response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti, we believe it is important to note that 100% of every dollar that is designated for the Haiti earthquake will be used only to pay programmatic expenses related to assisting people in Haiti.

The scrum.

Ok I am not a spot news photographer, but when a client calls, and says "hey can you go to the Clinton Foundation to photograph Bill making an announcement." I say YES! I jumped at the opportunity to bask in Bill's rock star aura. He even threw in a tear jerker moment in his speech for good measure. He's good! Unfortunately I did not get a chance to talk to him or get closer than 6 feet away, but it was still was a thrill. Jeez, I sound like such a groupie

Here is a photo of a small section of everyone else crammed into the conference room. I had my own reserved spot, but still had to dive in, and crawl around the floor to get a few different angles. It was a bit crazy with everyone jockeying for position. I have a lot or respect for the spot news photogs. it's a rough biz.

"Boliva, Cambodia, Kosovo"

Some spreads from my second self published photo book titled "Bolivia, Cambodia, Kosovo." It's about people I photographed in some far flung locales for a client last year. A great client and a great project. The best part was that it was just me and my camera, and I got to meet some really wonderful people. Photography made possible by Abbott Fund The book is not available in stores if anyone is interested let me know and I can have more printed up. I don't know what the cost will be. It depends on how much interest there is. I did it mostly as a portfolio piece and did not plan to sell it. Bolivia: diabeties clinic, Centro vivir con diabeties

Cambodia: Ankor Childrens Hospital, Siem Reap Cambodia

Kosovo: Neonatal hospital, Prishtina