Interview with photographer and Oak Stories founder, Javier Corso

Interview with photographer and Oak Stories founder, Javier Corso


The first time I saw Javier Corso’s work was in the first edition of D.OAK Magazine. On the cover it read “Singular Documentary Projects, Aged 1 year”. That declaration of intentions rapidly caught my attention and filled me with curiosity.

In this era of social networks and immediacy, a documentary work done with care and patience, allowing the photographer to get to the bottom of the matter is not common so when you find it, it is appreciated. It is not without reason that Javier has labeled his agency ‘oak stories’: Like a good wine, stories taste better when you give them time and care.

In this interview Corso gives us a glimpse into his photography and his ‘singular’ way of working.

Jorge Delgado-Ureña: Is my interpretation of your choice of agency name far off? Tell us a little bit about OAK.

Javier Corso: OAK represents everything that we believe in: that time favours the quality of things, helps what we construct take root, and values work done with rigor and care. Our values are opposed to the content of fast consumption and they guide us towards a documentary style in which the informative rigor and the audiovisual quality go hand in hand.

JDU: One of the things that stands out when you enter the OAK website is the figure of the investigator / criminologist. Is it common to have such a profile on a team?

Javier Corso: No, not at all, and I recognise that it is the least known figure within the agency. However, OAK would not exist without him. Alex Rodal, training criminologist and vocational sleuth-hound, is half of everything we undertake; a name in the shadows (from which I have a very difficult time getting him out of) that comes up with and investigates each one of the stories we tackle.

Our relationship dates back to my first years in Barcelona, when I had not yet chosen photography as a language, and the figure of the outdated detective continued to stimulate my romantic imagination. But it was not until several years later, in the course of which we had mutually watched each other grow from a distance but without losing contact, that Rodal became part of our peculiar crew.

His research is key to the type of projects we do, in which more time is spent on preproduction than on the ground. Alex also has an extraordinary capacity to adapt and learn about new disciplines, which has allowed him to immerse himself in a short period of time, into a sector that he was totally unaware of and apply his own knowledge and processes to enrich the work done in our team. I confess that I would not be at the helm if I did not have him as my first mate.

JDU: You spend a lot of time documenting the stories. Do they become something personal?

Javier Corso: It is always personal.

The advantage of being an independent agency is that we choose our own projects taking as our starting point, the interest we have in discovering, exploring, documenting and sharing the realities of a world that we do not know and that fascinate us.

Our trade is a lifestyle which demands a lot when we are at home, and that takes us away from our loved ones during certain periods of time and in which we also live with the rest of the team. For this reason, we like to consider each project as an adventure, a vital episode for all those involved, in which we strive together to achieve our objectives, but also to generate a dignified experience, a beautiful story that is parallel to the work we produce and reveal to the world.

JDU: When did you decide that being a photographer would be your profession?

Javier Corso: When I understood that the camera could be my round-trip ticket. It is a small, light object that fits in a backpack and is able to generate, in a moment, what in my youth took days to make with paint or charcoal. I became familiar with the instrument and its language at the age of eighteen, but it was not until I was twenty-one that a first outline of how to combine my vital interests to discover the world around me with a work methodology, close to the visual arts, that would allow me to turn it into a profession.

JDU: Many times I’m asked what it’s like to spend so much time traveling and away from home?… How is it to spend so much time away from home for you?

Javier Corso: The truth is that I do not spend that much time away from home throughout the year, since the average of a long-distance project that we carry out and in which I participate is one in every twelve months.

However, when you travel to a place for a whole month, its worse for those who are left behind, waiting, because it is not always possible to maintain contact and not all destinations are equally friendly. For those of us who travel, it is very demanding both physically and mentally, because we must meet the objectives and be up to the task that we have spent months preparing. And perhaps, the most delicate part of all is managing emotions, especially with groups of more than three people; you have to stay alert and resolve potential conflicts immediately.

JDU: Which historical figure would you have liked to photograph?

Javier Corso: Alexandre Dumas, of whose epitaph reads that he died as he lived, “without realising it”. A lucid and extravagant character, adventurous and literate, whose work is a universal legacy, and his biography a gap in time that I would have liked to sneak my camera into.

Javier Corso
Javier Corso

JDU: What projects do you have in mind for the future?

Javier Corso: In April we return to Japan to do a second episode of our project Matagi, a hunter community north of Honshu, the main island of Japan. On this occasion, we have the support of National Geographic, who has awarded us one of their prestigious research and exploration scholarships to document the inclusion of the first female hunters in this community with more than four centuries of history.

JDU: Reflex or Mirrorless?

Javier Corso: Reflex. Some of them are like indestructible pieces of armour, to the point in which, no matter how much ‘artillery’ I add to my gear, my first camera that is ten years old, continues to accompany me on each and every one of my trips.

JDU: Which photographers have inspired you?

Javier Corso: Robert Capa. More his life than his work, but no doubt his story has had an influence on mine.

JDU: What advice would you give someone who is starting in this field of work?

Javier Corso: Just begin: “Audentes fortuna iuvat”. Photography has always been a trade, and training is essential but at some point, you have to go out and discover at what point your legs start to shake, either with emotion or pure fatigue. Do not expect much from your first trip, rather strive to try to achieve realistic goals that are adapted to your abilities; By the time you return you’ll probably realise that you’ve learned some valuable lessons and that this journey has been the best ‘school’. Also remember that errors are lessons for your next preproduction, factors that you will never again forget.

Take time to get to know yourself, study and understand your strengths and weaknesses, and invest time and resources into strengthening the areas that are lacking.

Jorge Delgado-Ureña

A big thank you Javier, for your time and for this very interesting interview.

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