Take the photo first
"I was 12 years-old when I had my first photo scoop. A plane was forced to do an emergency landing and my Instamatic camera got the moment when the passengers were rushing out of the aircraft and stepping into the runway," recalls Haroldo Castro. He was traveling with his dad in the interior of Brazil, documenting the summer vacation. "I was so happy to get that photo that I almost forgot that I was photographing the aftermath of an airplane accident," he justifies.
This sort of philosophy - take the photo first and ask later - is a decisive factor if someone wants to become a photographer or, better, a photojournalist. Haroldo did not become a war photo reporter but his “ photograph first” technique got him into trouble several times. "I recognize that it might be a lack of consideration to photograph someone without his or her permission. But when you ask and get his or her attention, the mood changes and all the magic vanishes," explains Haroldo. "So I started to develop a sort of Harry Potter's cap of invisibility. Take a colorful market and find a place where you just stay still for a while, in a strategic position. During the first 5 minutes all eyes are on you. After that, people lose their interest on you (as you don't move) and you become part of the landscape. Then you can gently take out your camera and shoot without being noticed."
As when he was 12, Haroldo's photography is always linked with travel. When he turned 17, he published his first photo. "I was traveling in Morzine, a ski resort in the Alps, with Michel Le Tac, a photographer for the French magazine, Paris Match. Suddenly we were surrounded by actress Brigitte Bardot, writer Papillon, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and French rock star Johnny Halliday. Both of us started to click frenetically: too many celebrities for only two photographers. A week later my photo of Brigitte with Papillon was published in Paris Match!"
Haroldo Castro began his professional career a few months later, at a part time job in Rio de Janeiro’s newspaper “Correio da Manhã”. "I can’t fool myself, it was easy to get the job, my father was one of the directors of the newspaper," admits Haroldo.
But the great opportunity with the Correio da Manhã came sooner than he expected: when Haroldo decided to study Business Administration in France, the newspaper, in need of a correspondent in Paris, offered him an exciting assignment. "Celso Itiberê was the sports' editor and he was fanatic about Formula One car racing. Thanks to his passion, I followed Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi during the 1971 and 1972 seasons, reporting about the successes of the young Brazilian driver."
Haroldo's first rolls of slides were taken during a vacation in Algeria with friends and his soon-to-be-wife Flavia. "The Mzab towns, their architecture, and the desert had a profound impact on me. I became conscious at that moment that I wanted to spend my life traveling and photographing striking places."
A few years later the first dream came true. Haroldo and Flavia decided to buy a small car in France and travel by road until India. Was it really a dream? "Definitely not. We had three big nightmares: our passports were stolen in Lebanon, our windshield broke in Iran and we were dreadfully sick after spending a month in Afghanistan," confesses Haroldo. "We found a solution for each crisis but that trip represented a tough graduation in Travelology for us," completes Flavia.
But the results were great. Haroldo brought back a few thousands of striking color slides, depicting the “bouzkachi” game in the Afghan steppes or the paintings of the Warli tribe in India. Soon magazines in France and Brazil published his images. "We prepared a package, called “40 Thousand Kilometers of Adventures”, with ten articles, each one illustrated with four or five photos. We sold the package to a dozen of newspapers around Brazil," says Haroldo. "The editors were amazed with the photos and the Asian topics."
In 1975, Brazilian publisher Bloch Editores decided to launch its own version of the renowned National Geographic Magazine. The “Revista Geográfica Universal” substituted the legendary yellow frame, a trademark, by a red border, bypassing copyright lawsuits. "The new magazine was key in my photographer career," affirms Haroldo. In the 70's and 80's Haroldo and Flavia published around 50 articles, featuring stories from Haiti to Yemen. "Editor Lincoln Martins told me one day that a reader had just come back from Afghanistan. He had traveled to such a distant place because our article published in 1976, inspired him to discover new places."
With several assignments in mind, Haroldo and Flavia embarked in a longer photography project: photographing South America. During 20 months they documented most of the countries in the continent and a few in Central America and the Caribbean. "I already knew what kind of articles could trigger the attention of an editor. It was a sure investment."
Following the good acceptance by the Brazilian geographic magazine, Haroldo opened new fronts in Latin America and Europe. Similar articles were recycled and published in other human-geography-related magazines such as Geo (France), Atlas (France), Airone (Italy), Periplo (Spain), Geomundo (USA), or Revista de Geografia Universal (Mexico).
A photographer can have extensive contacts with 20 or 30 magazines but nothing can match the power of distribution of a photo stock agency. The first to accept Haroldo Castro's photos in the late 70's was Gamma, in Paris. They were interested in feature stories - a text accompanied by 30 to 60 pictures - but, more often, the sales reflected the interest for single photos for editorial use.
In the late 80's, Haroldo Castro found in New York another stock agency that could increase his revenues. In its best years, FPG International reported great sales. "I will always remember the day I opened a monthly statement and found that a single photo of a Mexican pyramid was sold to an ad agency and I was getting four thousand dollars as my share." Unfortunately, the tiny FPG, managed by an only-women staff, could not cope with the competition of the mega agencies and Getty Images absorbed it. Today most of Haroldo's digital photos are available through Green Image Bank.
Conservation and Photography
During the 90's, Haroldo's interest for still photography dropped a few points in his priority list. When he was traveling in the field, mostly visiting a conservation project, he was also focused on recording footage in order to produce video programs. "The only moment I would take my Nikon out of the bag is when I had enough footage in the can and the picture was still there, looking at me, begging to be documented," states Haroldo.
Since 2005, Haroldo started writing his "Viajologia" (or "Travelology") columns in Brazilian magazines. First, in the Brazilian monthly magazine PLANETA and for the last few years in the Brazilian weekly magazine, “Época”, where he maintains a dynamic blog and shares his traveling experiences around the world with Portuguese-speaking readers.