With her camera in hand, keen visual eye and intuitive flair for photography, Cristina Tomás Rovira has located herself among today’s foremost photographers. The Barcelona native also dispatches her camera skills dually as an achieved videographer. She has photographed and filmed many projects for leading fashion retailer, Brownie Spain and for the revered wedding photography company, Padilla-Rigau.
Rovira has collaborated with the illustrious music photographer, Joseph Llanes, whose images have published in Rolling Stone, Billboard, LA Weekly, Spin and New York magazine. She’s had the opportunity to photograph the likes of music icon Quincy Jones, who produced many of Michael Jackson’s top hits and is a Grammy Legend Award recipient. Rovira has photographed other music stars such as Kid Cudi, Iggy Azalea, Travis Barker and Linkin Park. She’s collaborated with Llanes to shoot at top music events including Coachella, and Hard Summer and Hard Day of the Dead festivals in Los Angeles, among others.
With an international scope of work, Rovira has assembled a career many aspire to and few achieve. Her camera capabilities produce imagery that’s sophisticated, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring. Spanning music, fashion and popular live events, Rovira’s artistic talent is recognized, sought after and indisputable. She’s engaged her talents for many companies, events and productions of renown.
I recently had the chance to interview Cristina Tomás Rovira to gain an insiders’ perspective on her own story and special skill in the realm of photography and videography, which I am pleased to share below.
What was the best part about growing up and living in Barcelona?
CTR: I love Barcelona for a lot of reasons but mostly the art and the architecture. Barcelona is the center of the Modernisme movement, not to be confused with modernism, a world-wide movement in the arts and architecture. In my opinion, Antoni Gaudí amongst other artists, but mostly him, built buildings that gave the character that the city has nowadays. The Modernisme is characterized by the predominance of the curve over the straight line, by rich decoration and detail, by the frequent use of vegetal and other organic motifs, the taste for asymmetry, a refined aestheticism and dynamic shapes. Gaudí wanted to step out of the norm and create his own world in a beautiful way, not following the rules, making his architecture fantasies real. I feel that it kinds of describes myself. I spend 50 percent of my day daydreaming about what I want to create or become and the other 50 percent trying to make it happen. I still get mesmerized when I stop in front of the Sagrada Família or La casa Batlló. Barcelona inspires me in so many ways. It has a lot of energy, there’s always something to do: music, exhibitions, sports, photography, art, tons of bars and restaurants, young people eager to create, to enjoy life through art, living, doing what they love even if that means having money one month and struggling the next one. I love the environment. People like to be outside all the time. People don’t just hang out at their houses or inside bars. Even in winter, people have beers and drinks or have dinner outside. I love that. I love meeting a friend to have coffee at 5 p.m. and lose yourself in a conversation realizing is 8 p.m. and you still have coffee in your cup.
I think growing up here really shaped who I am today. In Barcelona there’s a lot of diversity. It makes me appreciate how amazing it is to be unique, to speak your mind and to listen what others have to say.
What is it like to work and shoot in one of the world’s most beautiful, vibrant cities?
CTR: There’s good things and bad things. Working wise I feel like in the United States people who are not in the business have this sense of appreciation for entertainment and art, and creativity that Spain lacks of sometimes. A lot of times I find myself trying to convince a client about why my price is what it is. We have to hear over and over again, ‘Yes those cameras make the 95 percent of the work. Of course you are going to have a professional result with a professional camera!’ But that doesn’t mean my work is good or bad based on my camera. It is like saying that a guitar player is good playing the guitar because they have an expensive guitar, when the reality is that they can play a beautiful song with a plastic guitar as well, as we can do a beautiful photo, or video with our phones or cheap cameras. The good thing is once you show your work you actually convince them or when they try to do it by themselves and they fail trying. And the other side of the coin is that Barcelona is surrounded by incredibly talented people that will encourage you to be better, to learn from them. And as I said, Barcelona has a lot of diversity. It is a city that inspires and is growing as an art and culture city more and more every year. I admire so many professionals in Barcelona that are making amazing movies, TV shows and photography. They started here and by working hard they have earned the respect in Spain and they are having a big impact internationally as well. That inspires me.
What was your initial inspiration to pursue a career in photography?
CTR: I’ve known since I was about 10 years old that I would work in the field of image and creativity. I loved to watch movies and TV shows. I loved how those movies made me feel after watching them, then then my parents bought me my first camera and something clicked. I was already hooked. I wanted to create things to show people and make them feel what I felt watching movies or photos.
What were some of your early projects or assignments?
CTR: My first photography work was in a music Festival in Barcelona and it was an amazing experience, and after that my family and friends were my best agents. They would recommend me every time they had a chance. And I would work for free in a lot of projects offering myself. It was the best networking. One work led to another and eventually the money came into the picture, and then I would work for free again, and then money. It was kind of a roller coaster, but it helped me to understand when it was worth working for free and when it wasn’t. After two years, when I was still in college, the clients would recommend me to their partners. For exemple, I was a monitor at a hockey club summer camp and there were two videographers that would be filming the whole summer to give the kids a DVD at the end of the camp. After three years being a monitor, the videographers retired and I saw my chance to offer myself to do it. It was one of the best decisions ever. I’ve filmed and edited six summer camps since then and it helped me to develop my technique and style by trying new things each year. Working with kids is always rewarding and challenging at the same time. The summer camp had around 350 kids each summer and it was a great showcase for my work because the parents of those kids would watch the video over and over again and would end up hiring me for their business or projects.
You’ve been working with Brownie Spain since 2014 on fashion films. Share with us a little of your experience collaborating with the company as videographer.
CTR: Brownie is a great example of being at the right place at the right time. Brownie wasn’t doing video at the time but they hired a top model from Spain to be their image and they decided that they wanted to do a behind the scenes video of the photoshoot for their summer campaign. They hired me because the brother in law of Anna Rigau, from Padilla-Rigau, was taking the pictures of the photoshoot and recommended me to Brownie. It’s always nice to network! After the behind the scenes video, Brownie decided to start making fashion videos to showcase their clothing lines at their stores and to use for their website and social media. They liked my work and they decided to start the new video adventure with me. They took a chance on me and I will be forever thankful.
I make two or three videos per month. With the importance of social media, you need to have new material every other week because people get bored if they see the same stuff for a long period of time. That made me evolve as a videographer on so many levels and I felt in love with fashion videography. Making people engage with clothes through a video is an amazing feeling.
Since 2010, you have worked in the niche area of wedding video production with Padilla-Rigau. What does a finished wedding video look and feel like?
CTR: We started offering videos that would last four minutes max. But eventually we started to offer a 15 minutes videos as well. We have never done a video longer than 20 minutes. The couples can book both videos, the four-minute one and the 15-minute one, or just the four-minute or 15-minute video by themselves. So it depends in each wedding, but a final four-minute video would be essentially the highlights of the day. It is really intense as you just use the best moments of the day, so everything on it is kind of emotional. I love the four-minute videos. The 15-minute videos are more for the couple. They want to see more so we make between two and four minutes of every part of the day. For instance: No. 1: getting ready plus the groom greeting the family and friends before the ceremony. No. 2: ceremony plus people hugging the bride and the groom. No.3: the photoshoot with the couple. No. 4: dinner. No. 5: party.
How do you enjoy having the chance to shoot and work at weddings?
CTR: I wasn’t thrilled when I started. I really thought people who couldn’t make it in the professional videography business were the ones doing weddings. I couldn’t be more wrong. It is a great way to learn, to connect with people with feelings and emotions, to make a movie out of a real situation and with real people. Since I started, I have met amazing photographers and videographers that shoot weddings aside of their regular gigs because they love how rewarding the job is. And I feel the same way. Even though I love doing fashion films and music and everything, I don’t think I would ever stop filming weddings.
What has been some of the more memorable feedback you’ve received from happy newlywed couples?
CTR: Here in Spain there’s this commercial for Estrella Damm beer. Since 2010, they’ve released a TV commercial right when the summer starts. Nowadays it is kind of a tradition. The summer in Spain doesn’t start until the Estrella Damm commercial is out. I love the color, the vibe, the energy of these videos. I would look up the director of each commercial every year and admire their whole work. My goal when I was starting in 2010 was to be able to make videos that would inspire people that feeling.
The first a couple told me they felt like they were the main characters of a Estrella Damm commercial. I felt over the moon. But pretty much every single couple who would send an email saying how happy they are with the work.
You spent some time in Los Angeles where you worked and mentored under Joseph Llanes. How would you describe the experience working with a long-established photographer such as Llanes?
CTR: The best experience of my life. He takes his mentoring work really serious. With Joseph and his wife, I felt like disappointing my own parents when I disappointed them. Joseph is so passionate about his work. He loves photography, he loves art and his energy encourages you to be a better person and photographer. His mind is always creating. Sometimes you look at him and you can tell by the look in his face that he is in front of you, but his mind is somewhere else, creating. And what I noticed after one month there was that he believed in me, and he pushed me to get over limits I didn’t even know I was able to pass. I learned more working one year with Joseph than four years in college. He started out struggling and he has become one of the best music photographers. That inspires me in so many levels. It’s the American dream.
What are some of the key lessons learned in your collaboration with Joseph Llanes?
CTR: To work fast, to be on time, to reinvent yourself in every project without losing your touch so people can recognize your work. And to treat the people who are working with you with respect and listen to what they have to say. And to shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
How would you describe the photoshoot with Quincy Jones for Billboard Magazine? What was Mr. Jones like and what was the theme or setting for the shoot?
CTR: Quincy Jones was one of the first big personalities I got the pleasure to work with. I remember getting home that day and writing down all my feelings to share with my family and friends. I didn’t want that feeling to go away.
The photoshoot took place at Quincy’s house. And what a house. I was already floating and I hadn’t even met Mr. Jones. I would say to myself, ‘well, you are about to meet the creator of the “Fresh Prince.'” I loved that when I was a kid. I would wake up every day during the summer to watch “Fresh Prince” with my brother before heading to the summer camp. Quincy Jones was responsible to create a show that would build an amazing memory of my childhood.
Anyway, we had the lighting set and we had some free time to enjoy what was happening around us. There were Grammy awards everywhere. I remember saying, ‘oh wow, there’s the reflection of my face in a Grammy, cool.’ And when I was still recovering from the Grammy moment, I noticed that there was the first draft of the “We are the World” song hanging on the wall, signed by everyone involved in that world anthem. I failed on holding tear. My emotions were all over the place.
Then it was time to work. Mr. Jones was in the room and my brain switched. Joseph needed to see I was going to be the best assistant. So when we started the photoshoot, it was all about the photos. It could have been my neighbor who was in front of the camera. I was ready to work and paying attention on what Joseph was asking me. Between takes we chatted with him and he was the nicest. He noticed my accent and when I said I was from Barcelona he came up with a bunch of his memories in Barcelona. I was so amazed, like when my granddad would tell me stories about his life.
The shoot was for Billboard magazine as they were writing an article about his 80th anniversary, so Joseph needed to shoot the environment of his house and portraits of Quincy Jones. It was for the printed edition of Billboard, but they did an online story too: http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/1552189/quincy-jones-80th-birthday-qa-video-photos
There was a photoshoot you participated in that promoted “Fruitvale Station” in The Wall Street Journal. What was your experience shooting with Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler?
CTR: It was a quick photoshoot at the Four Seasons Hotel. We’ve set the light before they came to the suite. We’d set three different lightings in three different parts of the room, so when they got there it was a quick photoshoot. They were amazing, ready to work and make our work easy.
You have photographed music events at many famed venues such as Coachella and the Nokia Theatre in LA. What’s you approach in working those types of musical venues and events?
CTR: I would assist Joseph in those events and you have to be ready to run. Coachella is huge. It has so many stages, a lot is going on at the same time, plus Joseph does all the portraits of the artists. Scheduling everyone’s shoot was a crazy thing to do and follow. You had a photoshoot with one band at their trailer at 12:05, for example, and at 12:10 you had to be at another trailer because another artist was waiting for us. It was crazy. But Joseph has done that for several years. He just keeps going without blinking!
Who have been some of your favorite bands and music professionals that you’ve photographed?
CTR: I would say the ones I was a fan before working with them. Phoenix, for example, was great. They were really nice people and my mix tapes of my teenage years were filled with Phoenix songs, so it was an amazing experience to meet them. I loved to work with Lorde, Two Door Cinema Club, One Direction, Miley Cyrus was definitely awesome to shoot. And when we did the festival Supreme, it was one of the best nights of my life. I am a huge fan of comedy and I got to meet Jack Black, amongst others. I would walk around the festival and recognize the actors and actresses from my favorite shows. I got to meet Adam Levine from Modern Family. And Pink was there too.
What are some of the top publications your work has appeared in and what do you enjoy about your editorial shoots?
CTR: I started publishing a lot when I was in L.A. I’ve met amazing people from Spain living there. Lucas Vidal, an awarded composer, has done the music for the “Fast and Furious” franchise, for example. He was the first person publication and it was at Esquire Spain. It was a big step for my career. And I’ve published in many more magazines and newspapers since then, but besides the Esquire one, the publication I’m more proud of is when I did a whole story in one of the most important magazines in Spain, shooting the cover and all the pictures from the story inside. The article was called: “Dreamers in Hollywood,” and we photographed and interviewed Spaniards who were working for big companies in Hollywood like Pixar or Disney.
You’ve worked as photographer for the ATP’s Barcelona Open tennis tournament in 2015. What’s been your experience shooting sporting events and photographing athletes in action?
CTR: I really enjoy shooting sports events. The energy around a competition is always amazing. The people are really excited about what’s going on and the athletes are in their zone. I like to capture that moment when an athlete is feeling pain or struggling or full of energy and joy because they are playing a great game. There’s a thin line between a moment of glory and a moment of disappointment in sports. And to capture that is great.
Shana, Swarovski, Codigo Basico, Estel Alcaraz and Pompeii Brand are some of the fashion entities you’ve worked with. What are some of the elements that you try to bring to a successful fashion shoot? What’s the general goal and needed execution?
CTR: Listen to what your client has in mind for their idea for the video and make that happen in a way that you feel that you’ll recognize your own style in it. You can’t make the same video for Pompeii brand than for Codigo Basico. Pompeii is a brand founded by millennials and Codigo Basico’s target is women between 25 to 35. When you understand your client, you understand what you have to do.
What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of your career to date?
CTR: Being able to live doing what I like the most. I never feel like I am working because I enjoy doing it. I made my passion my career, and that’s priceless.
What do you enjoy in your free time?
CTR: I love spending time with my friends and family, doing all kind of activities. I like sports. I don’t enjoy hiking that much. I wouldn’t do it by myself, but with friends I love it and I feel amazing sharing moments with them. I like going out and dancing. I love to read biographical books. I’ve read so many! I love music and I spend a lot of time looking for new music to show my friends. I like to travel and I like to go to see live music. I need to go at least one a week to a concert or a bar were they play live music. I go to museums or exhibits and my friends and I are always looking for new restaurants to try.
What’s next up for you?
CTR: I’d like to start making more music videos, either if they are documentaries or actual music videos. But mostly it’s about being able to make every project that I have in mind a reality.