“Sometimes it feels like I ‘stole a moment’ and have to flee the scene.” The Austrian-based Carlos Dominguez has a remarkable ability to capture the fleeting, turning passing moments into lasting imprints. While his travel photos, filled with genuine spontaneity, caught my eye, it was also his fearless experimentation with AI-generated images that truly sparked my intrigue. His images have something mystical, mysterious, and the scenes are reminiscent of motion pictures. In an industry where trends can overshadow authenticity, Carlos’s voice appears clear, emphasizing that it’s not about searching for one’s style but instead feeling it. And he appears to be an individual who doesn’t merely capture images from the world but also conjures them in his imagination, driven to make them real.
As we sat down for our conversation, I was reminded of the brisk late summer mornings. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling the air, a nod to Carlos’s affection for the brew. In our interview we talked about his journey in photography, the intriguing world of AI, and his love for design and life’s unpredictabilities.
Your pictures all have a personal signature, how long did it take you to develop a style of your own?
About a year or so after starting photography, I became obsessed with finding my own style, but the harder I tried, the worse it’d get. And that was during a time when Instagram was a feed of teal and orange photos with a figure in the center, to add some “drama”. When I opened Instagram, all I saw was the same style, the same spots and the same compositions all over the place. I thought I had to emulate that, but it never truly felt like “my thing”.
Fast forward years later, my perspective changed. I began immersing myself in art galleries, diving into photography magazines, and analyzing movies for their color and composition. This “journey” helped crystallize what truly resonated with me. By now I am not even sure if I have my own style, but at least I can say I am not looking for it, and that makes me feel so much better.
I love your travel images. And although we are overwhelmed by such content on Instagram, I still find yours special because you capture moments which I know from my own experience are not easy to get. How important is patience in your creative process?
(Laughs) Good question, most people like to stay in one place once they see a potential photo opportunity. They wait for a subject or something to happen, and that takes a lot of time. But when I travel with friends or my wife, Barbara, the time I can linger for a shot is directly proportional to their impatient stares.
So the truth is that I don’t have too much time, which forces me to always have a camera in my hand “just in case” something happens right in front of my eyes. Most of my photos happened very, very quickly and usually don’t stay too long where I took it, sometimes it feels like I “stole a moment” and have to flee the scene. And yes, I had to learn how to be patient, but in order to cope with the fact that you get only one decent photo every now and then, and 95% of the time, your shots are nothing more than digital trash. And that’s a hard pill to swallow that can kill the joy.
“Most of my photos happened very, very quickly and usually don’t stay too long where I took it, sometimes it feels like I “stole a moment” and have to flee the scene.”
How do you manage to balance your aesthetic choices with the authenticity of the subject, especially when traveling?
Well, the magic of traveling is that you experience situations, landscapes, cultures and languages completely new to you. And all your senses are on alert, breathing in the atmosphere and paying attention to every tiny detail.
I started taking photos because I wanted to remember not only the scene, but what I was experiencing and feeling at that moment. So even though you might apply the same techniques to get interesting images, how you go on about them is, at least in my case, completely different depending on the subject and the context. I let the subject lead the way, and I am just there using “what I know” to share it.
And how has travel shaped your perspective as a photographer? Is there any destination that has been the most impactful for you?
Uhm… of all places I’ve visited in the last few years, the one that blew my mind with its atmosphere and personality was New York. Forget about the skyscrapers, the noise, the iconic cabs… what truly shook me was the people.
It seemed like everyone had a story to tell, and at the same time it looked like everyone was on the same boat, on the same page, rowing towards the same destination. And instead of being afraid of strangers, they just talk to you. And I am not talking about baristas just being nice for an extra tip, I am talking about strangers ready to walk with you and show you around, get you to places you aren’t usually able to visit, give you tips you’d never find in a travel guide… I felt part of the city after only a couple of days, and I had the sensation I could talk to anyone in the street if I needed something or simply if I wanted to take a photo of them and their amazing outfit.
Second place goes to Japan, and Tokyo more specifically. I’ve never been anywhere else remotely similar to that city. If you want to feel like you’ve traveled to another planet, that’s the place to go.
“I started taking photos because I wanted to remember not only the scene, but what I was experiencing and feeling at that moment.”
The colors in your photos are often dark and tinged with a moody vibe. What is the inspiration behind your color palette?
The dark tint in my photos might have to do with a preference for shooting at night or dark conditions. Because then every tiny, irrelevant source of light might become an interesting composition if there’s a subject around. Take a lamppost in the middle of an empty road: photograph it in daylight and it might not have much of an impact, but do it at night and it becomes intriguing. Dark conditions help as well with the feeling of being an observer, not being part of the scene… which is something I enjoy.
And talking about color palette. Although it changes depending on my mood that day, it usually retains a green tint in the shadows that I, personally, identify with old, analogue images. It helps me see my photos more as memories than as pieces of work or products.
In your opinion, what’s the secret ingredient that gives a photo that special feeling?
Honestly, I used to look at compositions more than anything, focusing on technique and color grading style… but after a while I discovered other artists, galleries and communities presenting a different kind of work, or “art” if you will. Your magazine, for example, was one of those new sources of inspiration and special feelings. These are some images, some with a subject, some without one, that are simply “aesthetically pleasing” and immediately get your attention because, at least in my opinion, are 100% relatable and trigger something in your brain: a memory of a person, of a moment, of a summer you loved and lived to the fullest. Those, again at least from my perspective, are way more interesting and deeper than that photo of a person wearing a yellow raincoat in front of a massive waterfall in Iceland.
“Midjourney empowers everyone, allowing them to bring their imagined scenes to life, satisfying their creative hunger.”
I know this is a big theme which can’t be answered that quickly, but your work with AI-generated images via ‘MidJourney’ is fascinating. How do you see the role of AI in shaping the future of photography?
Oh am I glad you asked that! In my area of work and in some artists communities, I have experienced a lot of negativity towards AI generated content. I fully understand the concern and the topic is extremely complex, reaching every single aspect of our society… but, as of today and when it comes to photography, tools like Midjourney are a blessing.
Not everyone can afford an expensive phone, cameras, lenses or film stock. Not everyone has the time and resources to travel to Tuscany, New York, Japan or Croatia for a photoshoot with a model. And Midjourney empowers everyone, allowing them to bring their imagined scenes to life, satisfying their creative hunger.
Sometimes, when I take the train from the office in winter, I open the Midjourney app on Discord and start experimenting. I have so much in my mind, so much I wanted to do, so many scenes and stories… but you only have a few minutes left per day if you work full time and live a more or less healthy, social life.
Some think that Midjourney isn’t original, and it’s true in the sense that it is based on human art. So much so that if you ask for a poster in a certain style, Midjourney even creates what seems to be a “watermark” or a signature. But as I said, Midjourney is only the tool and it’s up to you how you use it. Perhaps, something we should consider in the future is to tag every single AI generated image, the same way extremely edited photos are or should be tagged as such in magazines.
When I am sitting in that train with the Midjourney app open on Discord, I research potential “casts” of actors/models for my images and draw inspiration from memorable movie compositions or familiar photos. I rework the prompts, the settings, try different variations, export the images to Photoshop or Lightroom. Contrary to what some might believe, crafting quality AI content isn’t that simple.
“Dark conditions help as well with the feeling of being an observer, not being part of the scene… which is something I enjoy.”
I could imagine that you could also shoot films with your cinematic style. Have you ever considered venturing into filmmaking? What would a Carlos Dominguez film look like and be about? (smiles)
Yes, as we discussed earlier, the more I got into photography, the more I was captivated by cinema. It is not like I didn’t enjoy movies before, but I did not understand why I liked certain scenes or directors. As I became aware of the lenses, cameras, colors, sounds… I started to admire their work more and more. Sometimes I can’t help but pause the movie to really appreciate what’s happening in a particular scene. It is truly impressive.
And if I had to do a movie, it would most likely be some sort of “indie” romcom, something to laugh and cry with, to forget the real world for some minutes and dive into to feel part of it. It would be some weird mix between “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Lost in Translation”, with the aesthetic of the latter.
As someone who loves coffee, how do you prefer your morning coffee?
I’ve been doing a lot of cold brew lately at home (8 hours brew and filtered with V60) because it’s been a crazy hot year. It’s so silky, light and smooth and has none of the bitterness of the espresso… but if it’s chilly, I’d prepare myself a nice cortado and luckily where I live we’ve got plenty of great roasters to choose beans from.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Well, I suppose life will go on with its logic and inertia and in ten years, I’ll probably have a kid sitting on my shoulders talking some sort of mix between Spanish, English and German that only we understand. As for the rest, I can’t even begin to imagine because if I have learnt something the past few years, is that life is incredibly unpredictable. But I see myself smiling.
The following images are created with AI: