Fran: “Be Brave and be Guided by Your Heart.”

Sometimes you first need to own a fruit and vegetable shop to then become a professional photographer – Fran Villalba, who was born in La Gomera, one of the seven Canary Islands, knows how to make change happen. Read the interview and get inspired by a really good friend of mine who is totally in love with his work.

LJ: Fran, you are a photographer. Has that always been your job?

No, it has not. I studied commerce, marketing, and administration, and I worked in my father’s family business on the Canarian Island, La Gomera, for thirteen years. Then I owned a fruit and vegetables shop on the island of Tenerife for four years, until one day I decided to change my life.

LJ: What prompted the change?

Actually, it was a bunch of things, but what I really needed most was a personal change. At that time, my passion was music and I wanted to dedicate myself to music more professionally. The music thing did not happen, and some time after a camera fell into my hands and changed everything.

LJ: Were there any key events that marked the beginning of this new stage?

After I gave up on music, I even stopped playing completely. One day I bought my first digital camera, and I remember that I started taking my first photos. It can be said that this was the beginning of the change, although at that time I did not contemplate dedicating myself to photography professionally. Sometime later, I won the “Pura Naturaleza” (“Pure Nature”) contest organized by Solán de Cabras (a bottled water company). The prize was to study a Master of Photography in Madrid. Once I saw myself in Madrid, the feeling of dedicating myself to photography as a profession came effortlessly.

Photography is leaving my mark in the world.

Fran Villalba | Photographer

LJ: Sometimes beginnings are not easy. Was there a time when you doubted your decision?

Many, many times I doubted my decision. And from time to time, these doubts still come, but they are dispelled very easily. They disappear quickly because I love my profession above all, and my profession is a way of life for me. Photography is my way of living.

LJ: You currently live in La Gomera, your home island. How was the experience of returning home being a person so different from the one who left?

At first, there were many fears and many doubts. Due to Covid, I felt that Madrid no longer had a space for me, and I returned to La Gomera for a few months of vacation, to rethink my life and think about what I was going to do in the future. I needed a break. But when I arrived, I realized that I had reconciled with the island, I met people I hadn’t seen for years, I began to feel the affection of people when I went out, the closeness, and I began to meet new people and to discover the island in a way that I had never known before. Very interesting places and people – this was what led me to stay permanently.

LJ: What was the biggest challenge of this new adventure?

I left La Gomera as a musician and when I returned there were many people who did not know that I was now a photographer. The biggest challenge was for people to stop seeing me as a musician and start seeing me as a photographer. In fact, nowadays some people still ask me when my next concert will be.

LJ: What does photography mean to you?

Photography means everything to me. It is a way of life, and I am completely in love with the profession that I have. Capturing the moments, situations, and places in this time that I live in is something very important to me, which will remain forever. Photography is leaving my mark in the world.

Making your passion a way of life is living close to plenitude.

Fran Villalba | Photographer

LJ: You have just put together your first solo photography exhibition, can you tell us about the project?

Indeed, “Beach Scenes” is my first individual exhibition. In Madrid I did several collective exhibitions. This project was born almost by chance. My favourite place in La Gomera is El Pescante de Hermigua, where I go very often – even when I lived in Madrid and came on vacation, it was the first place I went to. It is a place that gives me a lot of peace and tranquillity, and one day I went to take a bath and I took my camera with me. Suddenly I began to see many possibilities for photography, and the project began to take place: taking photographs of people in that place, and later in other bathing areas throughout the island. For me, the connection of the human being with the sea is very important. It was amazing to see people during the pandemic taking off their masks and relaxing on the beaches. It is a purely humanistic work.

“Beach Scenes” Exhibition by Fran Villalba in Tasca Telémaco in Hermigua, La Gomera, Canary Islands, 2022

LJ: Do the people on your photos realize that they are being photographed?

I try to blend in with the place even though it’s hard to go unnoticed on the beach with a camera. But, above all, it is very easy in my favourite place, El Pescante de Hermigua, because people are used to seeing me with the camera and hardly anything changes anymore. Even so, my goal is to always capture the natural moments, since nowadays people tend to pose a lot when they are being photographed; they are afraid to be on social media, and afraid to not “look good” on the photos.

Selected Artworks of the Photo Series “Beach Scenes” by Fran Villalba, 2022

LJ: And what about the experience of putting an exhibition together?

Well, at first, I had many doubts. The doubts came regarding money, if I could afford the expense of producing the exhibition, if the investment of materializing my project was worth it or not. In the end, also with the support of my partner, Michelle, I had the impulse to create it. Just now it is placed in a local restaurant, I started with something small, and I have plans to move it to other places. Maybe I’ll also compose a book about the project. In any case, having dared to do it, having had the courage to do so, has been one of the greatest successes of my life.

Photography is a way of living, and I am completely in love with the profession I have.

Fran Villalba | Photographer

LJ: What is most special about Beach Scenes for you?

The most special, without a doubt, is El Pescante de Hermigua. The energy of this place captured in photographs is impressive. It is true that I did not want to limit the project to just this one location, but 80% of the images are taken there. It is a magical place where it feels like time has stopped, and the only thing that moves is the people. I have been photographing other beaches for two years as well, and I still do so. Even though I have said that I would finish the project on several occasions, there are always new photographs to add.

LJ: You have had the courage to make your passion a way to make a living. What advice would you give others who are thinking of doing something similar?

May they be brave. Be brave and be guided by their heart. And at least try. To not let themselves fall apart if everything doesn’t happen on the first try. I think that it is a necessity and a moral obligation with oneself to be able to make a living with your passion. If all the people in this world were brave enough to do it, we would live in a happier world. For me, it was the best thing I have ever done in my life. Making your passion your way of life is living very close to plenitude.

LJ: How was the feeling when you realized you had “made it”?

Well, I don’t know if I’ve made it yet or not, but I’m sure I’m on my way. The feeling is always of gratitude, to life, to God, to whatever you want to call it. Gratitude because every morning I get up to do what I want, and that’s amazing. Even in tough times, that gratitude is always there.

LJ: What about being self-employed in the Canary Islands? Do you do all the admin work?

Being self-employed in the Canary Islands, and in Spain, is not very difficult, but it is expensive. Unlike other European countries, there is no flat rate here. The first year is cheaper, but after that the fixed fee is quite high, regardless of the money you make. The problem is that it is not in proportion to profits, whatever your business may be. In photography and art in general, it is even harder since these professions are not considered “essential” to society. Personally, I have many expenses, such as the constant investment in photographic equipment, as well as the hiring of an advisor who can inform me of the different taxes that must be paid, and of the specific laws that I must comply with. I need the help of this person, since I dedicate all my time to constant researching, learning, and developing myself in photography.

Even in tough times, I am always grateful.

Fran Villalba | Photographer

LJ: Have you got any future plans?

I try not to look far into the future. I like to live in the present, always having new challenges. I don’t have long-term projects, but there are always ideas. For now, I’ll stick with Beach Scenes, and maybe I’ll go ahead with my idea of making a book. But, above all, I prefer not to think about the future, and go little by little.

About Fran Villalba

Fran continues to live and work in Hermigua (La Gomera), carrying out his personal photography projects and attending to more conventional photography works. His talent and versatility cover many photography disciplines, such as social, portrait, landscape, and music among others. You can visit his website to contact him for any creative photography services you may need, to look at his work more in depth or simply to purchase one of his photos.

Are you inspired? Leave some Likes on Instagram and Facebook and get in touch with Fran.

Photo Copyright: Laura Jane Hoffmann, Michelle Fuertes, Fran Villalba

Picture of Laura Jane Hoffmann

Laura Jane Hoffmann

Laura Jane Hoffmann is the founder of Passion Pilot. After working more than ten years as a Marketing Manager in the IT industry she now runs her own creative marketing agency, makes music and works as a dance and fitness instructor. Passion Pilot is her heart project. Together with her network of founders and artists she wants to support people all over the world in finding their passion through creativity, discovering the tools to execute their ideas, and starting their own business.

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