Street Photography Part 2
John Minihan above. All other illustrations: Val Prudkii.
Extracts and Articles
Doing Street Photography
Michael David Murphy
Edited version Ian Wright
Stop thinking about how to approach taking pictures of people and just start doing it. There are many ways to begin, but first, free yourself from your own (psychological/ethical/moral) constraints. You’re not considering taking a picture of Jennifer Aniston sunbathing to sell to the Inquirer, it’s just your neighbor and their dog sitting on a stoop. It’s no big deal. And smile. Smiling helps.
If you’re going to spend time considering someone as a subject, you should spend an equal amount of time considering how you can show your subject some respect. If you’re going to take a picture of someone, you better not waste anyone’s time, and you better do a damn good job. So, if you’re walking around wondering what to shoot, take your lens cap off. Pre-focus your camera. Decide what kind of depth-of-field you want. Consider the light. Get everything set-up so that you’ll be able to react quickly, efficiently, and perfectly, should the right situation present itself (regardless of whether or not you ask permission).
Simply, respecting your subject doesn’t necessarily require asking their permission. Respecting one’s subject may mean taking the best possible picture you can in the least intrusive way possible. Figure out what works for you and your particular situation, then get it done. Quickly.
I’m most interested in photographing people when they’re having private moments in public. When they’re straight-up candid. Most people on the street are just like you and me and are thinking about a thousand things rather than wondering if that person walking toward them may or may not have a camera and may or may not be preparing to take their picture. You may feel exposed as a photographer, but breathe easy; by and large, people have far more interesting/complicated lives to mull over, and they’re not worrying about you and whether or not you’re about to fit them into your photo-project.
Photography takes concentration and focus. Street photography takes both while juggling constantly changing variables; shifting light, bodies in motion, someone who’s chasing you, etc… Sounds kind of like sports photography, actually. I like to think about how photographing people in public is like playing music. You need to have your technical chops, but you also have to listen, and be aware, with your ears and eyes wide.
When you’re relaxed and focused, you can see all the elements of a picture and how they might come together. Everyone takes pictures, and it’s easier than ever to click a shutter. Yet, it’s as easy to take a picture as it is difficult to take a good picture. Sometimes the good ones are gifts, sometimes the good ones require days of standing still and being quiet, sometimes you find them after weeks of looking for something else.
I recently saw a film that showed Garry Winogrand photographing on the streets of Los Angeles. He had his Leica in front of his face for the amount of time it took for him to compose the shot and click the shutter. The rest of the time, the camera was hanging around his neck and he was grinning like a big bear. If you’re going to model yourself on an example, Winogrand’s approach might be a good one to follow.
Permission. Yes or no? Do you ask someone if you can take their picture, or do you take it and run? It can be a big question. My answer: I rarely ask permission.
Why? Books could be written about what happens when someone knows their picture’s about to be taken (and yes, I find myself on the side of those who believe something is “taken” when the shutter is clicked) and I’m not eager to see the results of my asking. To me, asking someone for permission narrows a situation’s potential. Sometimes this is a good thing, with fantastic, unexpected results, but I like to look for fantastic, unexpected results elsewhere.
Many photographers do an incredible job of capturing people in the street, and they’ve asked permission. Asking permission is respectful; it opens-up a dialogue, and ultimately engages you on a societal level more than refraining. But it’s not my style, and I’ve been disappointed with the photographs I’ve made after asking. This is not a philosophical point (it may be the morally correct thing to do, actually) it’s just that I like my photos better when I don’t.
If you’re going to ask, expect to be rejected. (I can’t think of a time someone has said no, but still.) More often than not, you’ll be treated with curiosity. Who are you what are you doing why do you want to take my picture? And if you’re quick on your feet, you may be able to spend some time getting to know your subject. When I ask, it’s usually because that person has something so extraordinary going on for themselves, I can’t let the opportunity to photograph them walk away.
I ask permission when I’ve gotten into eye contact for awhile with the subject, and they appear curious about what I’m doing, and/or I feel exposed about what I’m doing. It’s a bit of a power play. In my view, street photography is more about athleticism than aggression, but silently getting in someone’s face with a big honkin’ SLR is definitely aggressive. So go ahead and ask, especially if you want to put the camera right in their face.
I use a 50mm prime lens for nearly everything. This entry’s about honesty, so it bears mentioning that working with a 50mm or 35mm lens is an honest way of taking pictures. Their shortness requires your involvement in the action on the street. It’s obvious what you’re up to; you’re taking pictures of people in the street. With a zoom lens, you might as well be in air-conditioned comfort in Qatar punching in coordinates for Baghdad. If you’re going to photograph on the street, get rid of the zoom and crawl out of your bunker.
If anyone engages me, I don’t give them the silent treatment, I tell them straight-up what I’m doing. My explanation is usually about light, rather than people, because ultimately, I wouldn’t be at that particular place if the light sucked. And I’ll show them why the light is good; I’ll point it out and we’ll watch it for a bit.
Most want to know what you’ll do with the images. I usually don’t mention the web, unless they seem receptive. Most have no idea what a photolog is (even in San Francisco), god bless them. I tell them it’s for personal use, that I’ll share the images with friends, and that I won’t be selling them to an ad agency or anything like that. I’ve been lax about getting business cards made, but this would be a great way to work - to hand someone a card.
When I ask permission, I smile and say, “may I photograph you?” or “can I take your picture?” (depending on their age) and thank them, even if they refuse. I never use the rapid fire burst mode because it’s cheap, easy, and some knee-jerk part of me thinks it’s disrespectful. If I were walking down the street and heard the heavy slap of an SLR mirror pointed in my direction, I’d be cool with one, but not four in quick succession. It’s overkill, even if one of the four is the great shot. Get the great shot with your shutter finger, not your burst mode. If you need an example of this, check out James Nachtwey in “War Photographer” photographing Palestinian rock throwers. If there’s ever a time for burst mode, it’s in conflict - yet Nachtwey chooses not to. You can be far more precise shooting single frames, and if you’re shooting digital, there’s never a card lag.
Street photographers are small potatoes. Expect everything; to be ignored, to be asked a lot of questions, to be frowned upon, pointed at, and photographed. Above all, realize that you’re taking someone’s picture, and there’s a price you may have to pay — you may have to engage the world and explain yourself. Do it ahead of time, if you choose, or be prepared to justify your actions after you’ve clicked the shutter.
In my own experience, I’ve been interested by the candid aspect of street photography - how people have private moments in public, and how these moments look when committed to film (or jpg). It didn’t take long to realize that these kind of pictures are difficult to take with three things that would theoretically make it easier; a zoom lens, a motor-drive, and a big, powerful camera.
In street photography, smaller can be better. A 50mm prime lens can be easily concealed. I’m not talking about stashing the thing inside your shirt (this isn’t about taking spy pics) but it helps to be able to rest your hands on something and look like a normal tourist, rather than someone with a huge lens coming out of their torso. If there’s anything you can do that will make your camera an afterthought to the people you intend to photograph, do it. Henri Cartier-Bresson used to wrap his shiny chrome Leicas in black tape. I’ve taped-out all the white logos on my black camera. Who knows if this kind of thing helps, but if it buys an extra third of a second with a subject who doesn’t recognize that you’re carrying a camera, it’s worth it.
If there’s a tremendous spot of light and I’m waiting for people to cross into it, I’ll often stand looking the other way, and I’ll know the timing of the crosswalk signals such that I’ll turn and have my camera prefocused and ready for the shot at the exact instant that they hit the spot, and no sooner.
It’s a bit like baseball, when you’re pitching with a man on first. If you don’t want the runner to steal, don’t tip your hand. Keep your cards close. (Don’t mix metaphors.) When I’m photographing, I want everything to happen as if I weren’t there, so I try to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I often wear headphones. Sometimes sunglasses.
I’ll look off into the distance as if I’m shooting something “over there” rather than what’s right in front of me. I’ll stand in the shadow of a lamppost, or at the exact corner of a building to capture people as they turn the corner (into great light) before they have a chance to react.
Currently, I’m most interested by light (and its effects on people) rather than people who are amazing to look at but poorly lit. Which means I have to be comfortable with letting potentially great photographs walk away. Bruce Gilden gets around this by using a hand-held flash, even (especially) in daylight. Because my tastes are more site-specific, the subjects of my photographs select themselves. They’re in the right place at the right time or they’re not. I don’t force it. I don’t follow people down the street and I don’t take multiple shots. I either get it right or I fail.
A few examples: Helen Levitt famously used a right-angle viewfinder on her Leica for street shots. There are viewfinder adaptors for the latest greatest digital cameras, too, but they’re pretty expensive. They may give you an extra second of candidness before someone recognizes that the contraption you’re bending over is a camera and that you’ve just taken their picture. Twin-lens, medium-format cameras (Diane Arbus used a Mamiya) or cameras with waist-level viewfinders (Hassleblads) are great too (except for their weight and loud shutters) because their perspective is unique. It’s rare to see someone taking pictures from their chest (while looking down), and the results can be startling.
Walker Evans famously rigged a camera inside of his coat, threaded a cable release down his sleeve and took portraits on the New York City subway. Magnum photographer Luc Delahaye followed-up on Evans in the 90s with a series on the Metro in Paris. Martin Parr’s done a series of sleeping commuters in Tokyo, shot from above.
If hiding your camera’s not your thing, look for architectural spaces where you can be protected and where the light’s good. Loading doors are often recessed into buildings, providing great nooks to photograph from.
Your actions immediately after taking a picture can be just as important as what you’re doing beforehand. Because I loathe burst mode on a digital SLR, I’ll take my one frame and immediately look up into the sky, as if I’m looking for something “up there” rather than what I’ve just photographed. It distracts the subject away from paying attention to you. I do this habitually now - even at weddings, when it’s completely unnecessary.
If I’m shooting digital, I never immediately check the histogram. If I just had my picture taken by some guy on the street who immediatly was looking at the results on his camera, I’d definitely start asking questions. As the photographer, I like to keep the questions to a minimum. That said, when they come, be honest.
I recently heard Bill Owens give a lecture. Owens isn’t a street photographer per se; his approach is to get to know his subjects, to be trusted, to spend time with them. He talked about how he’d be scared of photographing in the city, and carrying around expensive gear, and that photographing tourists is like “shooting fish in a barrel”. In many ways, he’s right; it’s too easy. But if you’re looking to get started, and you live in a city where there’s a heavy-tourist area, it can be a great place to cut your teeth.
When it comes to photography, you can have your eyes closed to influence, or you can follow the exact recipe that’s worked for photographers you admire (as in “needing” a Leica with a 28mm lens). Either (or) might work for you; I’ve found that a path right up the middle works well.
A few times a month, I make a point to carve out a couple hours and go to the library (usually between 10-2, when the sun’s high and the light’s uninteresting), or a museum bookstore, so I can spend time with books that are too expensive to own.
Monographs, compilations, histories, explorations. My local library is (literally) stacked with all kinds of photo books, so I just grab a big stack and head to a desk and plough through them. There are a few books that have really opened my eyes when thinking about street photography, so I figured I’d mention them here.
And again, you might find enough direction and inspiration by watching television or flipping through fashion mags — I’ve found books to be the best way to study the history of photography, to realize what’s been done, and to think about new ways to approach the age-old issue of photographing on the streets.
A few years ago in a gallery, before I started taking photographs seriously (I used to think of photography as “an easy art”), I saw a few images from Philip Lorca DiCorcia’s “Heads” project. I remembered them when I opened-up DiCorcia’s book. Although DiCorcia’s methods (expensive lights, cameras and lenses) may be beyond your means (or interest), the results are stunning, and get at the core of what street photography is all about; people as their elemental selves.
I’ve found much guidance from compendiums, specifially Magnum Degrees (and more recently AP-20). In the larger compilation-type books, you’ll find photographers who are new to you, and perhaps aren’t as popular as the biggies you already know. I hadn’t seen Martin Parr’s work before seeing it in the Magnum book, or Gueorgui Pinkhassov’s incredible street shots of Tokyo (including the inside cover).
Sure, there are more Bresson books than you can shake a stick at, and even if you’re tired of looking at his work (or Winogrand’s or Meyerowitz’s), there’s much that can be learned from slowing down and taking on a particular image and figuring out why it works.
Keep your eyes wide; visit your local library if you appreciate the tactile feel of books and their high-quality images (so much better than the Web); look at old stuff even if old stuff bores you - figure out why it’s working compositionally at least; when you find something you like, make a list of everything you like about it. Then try it with one of your own images and don’t cry.
Shooting digital allows you two things; it gives you the latitude to make mistakes and develop skills, or it lets you take thousands of crappy pictures. Quality vs. Quantity. One or the other.The oft-discussed long-term benefit of digital photography is that people who may have never attempted traditional photography (because of the price of film or equipment) will make great photographs with their digital cameras. The same thing’s been happening over the last ten years with cinema. But has the quality of movies improved (thanks to the ease-of-use and relatively low-cost of digital video cameras)? We can thank small cameras for the explosion of documentaries, but are there better feature films?
As with any practice, or hobby, you usually want to get better and iron out the kinks. A great way to kickstart and observe your own improvement is to develop a theme. A location. A subject. Visit it; revisit it. If you’re out on the town with friends and you don’t have your camera and regret it - bring it with you next time. Make notes of your missed opportunities so they won’t happen twice.
But getting better as a photographer has as much to do with not taking pictures as with taking them. Just because your digital camera gives you the freedom to take pictures of everything doesn’t mean you have to. Developing a theme (as well as your skills) requires discernment, an editorial touch. Everyone likes to do their editing later, at home, but you can save yourself an organizational headache by doing some editing on location, on the street.
When you get home, learn how to take a look at your own photographs and be critical. If you’ve taken a picture that you really like, try sitting on it for a few weeks, then take another look and see if your feelings have changed. (I find it hard to appreciate anything I took more than a year ago.) Most important, try to divorce yourself from your own emotional connection to the set/setting/subject and try to look at your shot with the fresh eyes of someone who doesn’t know anything about you or photography. Still like it?
A little more on not taking pictures. There are great pictures all around you. If you let a few go, it’s kind of like fly-fishing - you know where the hole is, and you can trust that the fish will still be there tomorrow. Street photography is satisfyingly infinite that way. The pictures are always out there, even if you’re not.
And just because you’ve brought your camera and raised it to your eye doesn’t mean you have to take the picture! Even if you have your finger on the shutter and everything perfectly framed doesn’t mean you have to take it. Sometimes (somewhat inexplicably) I’ll let the good pictures go. I’ll have them framed and focused and then boom, I won’t trip the shutter and the moment’s gone. But the moment’s with me - it’s in my head; I’ve taken a different kind of picture, one that can only be remembered. Sometimes those are the best kind of pictures to have.
Back to themes; take a look at the entirety of what you’ve been doing and see if you’ve developed a series without realizing it. Last week, I discovered I have lots of pictures of people walking down the street with balloons, and I have pictures of kids riding piggyback or on the shoulders of adults. Neither interest me much as a series, but they’re something, which is a place to start.
Photography is a way of learning how to see. If you can learn how to look (or see) without your camera, all the better. Sometimes I’ll visit a place without my camera just to survey and see how I’d approach it when I’m with my camera. I have a habit of clicking my fingers together every time I see something that I’d like to photograph. That way, I can walk down the street and have a normal conversation with someone while interacting visually with my environment, from a photographer’s perspective.
If you’ve discovered a location where people are involved and pre-approved access is required, all the better. Show-up, tell them you’re a photographer, be honest (or not!) about your intentions, and see if they’ll allow you to shoot on a later day.
Best of all, themes and recurring ideas give people a hand-hold when looking at your work. We’ve all seen great street photography before — how are you going to stand-out, or differentiate yourself from what’s come before? Defining your own unique approach by developing themes based on subject matter or location is a great place to begin.
Do what you do, keep at it, and eventually you’ll do it well.
If you persist, something good will happen. Eventually. If you’re out shooting, and you’re only photographing people’s feet, or the backs of their heads (or worse, their butts) tell yourself you’re not going home until you take five pictures of people straight-on, from the front, at close range. (If those are the kinds of photos you like.) Push yourself. Try something that’s uncomfortable, that will stretch you.
If you don’t think you take good pictures, you’re in a good place. That means you’re thinking critically about what you’ve done, and have an idea about what kinds of pictures you’d like to be taking. You’re halfway there. The other half will figure itself out, but it requires drive, consistency, and the willingness to persist, especially when things are gloomy. (Frankly, I don’t know what I’m going to be able to photograph this Winter with all the fog, crappy light, and aggressive schedule at my day job.)
This past weekend a photographer told me not to concern myself with the flavor-of-the-month in the art world. I wasn’t, but it’s good advice, still. Street photography is passe, yo! It’s all been done before. She told me, “they said, Phillip Lorca DiCorcia ‘reinvented’ street photography, but who knew it needed reinventing!” I really like stories about Gary Stochl, or other “outsider” artists who are generally self-taught and spend decades laboring in obscurity because they love the process, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Street photography’s dead. Long live street photography.
Street Photography : Some Viewpoints
Definitions of Street Photography from Street Photography for the Purist :
Edited version Ian Wright
Why is it so hard to define what Street Photography is about? Why do all attempts do describe this genre remain so oddly diffuse?
Why is there no 25-pages-manual, something you can read and (hopefully) understand and off you go? You may be able to operate your gear well, you may have done amazing macros, table-tops, architecture-shots and even portraits, you can and should read all of the following – and yet you may not have a clue afterwards, what Street Photography is about. Because it is something very personal. Because you have to leave your shell. Because you have to – in some cases – expose yourself. Because you have to love people. Street Photography is about sympathy, not hate. It is about community, even if it pictures solitude. It can be ironic, but never offending. When you are taking street shots you are commenting, much like a journalist. And this gives you a good deal of responsibility.
Street Photography is easy. And it is difficult.
It is easy because you find your subjects virtually everywhere. You don’t need to go for the extraordinary. Far from it. The ordinary, everyday-thing is our matter of interest. It is difficult because the line to taking snapshots is very thin. Snap-shooters produce pictures, but don’t take photos. Snapshooters just direct their camera to whatever comes in sight and press the button. The gear is not important for this matter. A snap-shooter with a Leica is still a snap-shooter.
Street Photographers work differently. Their photo has been created in their mind - long (seconds or milliseconds) before they release the shutter.
Street Photography is “about seeing and reacting”. Quite close to the core of the matter. “Seeing” is the important part. Light, lines, fore- and background, movement, things and people that happen to interact for a second. If you don’t see these moments, feel them, live in them, all the time, with or without camera, then Street Photography is probably not for you. The “reacting” part is craft mainly.
Although photography is magic, you can train your photographic view. But don’t try to be someone else. Not even like Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB) or Eugène Atget or Martin Parr or Lee Friedlander or Rainer Pawellek. Idols are fine. Learn from them. But don’t imitate. Be yourself. When you go out hunting on the street, it is you, with all that you know and feel. You react to people, people react to you. This is what makes the really special photos special.
If you don’t feel well in public places, if you happen be the autistic type of guy, Street Photography is probably not for you. If you think that using a 300mm makes you a Street Photographer, you are dreaming. Get close, be part of the scenery, visible or unnoticed, but don’t behave like an intruder or bully. If you still carry the manual of your camera with you in your bag, come back when you are able to operate it blindfolded and/or from your hip. But if you feel that your camera is an organic part of your body and the lens your third eye, go out and play. HCB once said: “Photographers are like butterflies. They flutter from photo to photo.” Be a butterfly.
The concept of capturing time; savoring moments, emotions, actions and thoughts will eternally captivate man's intuition and imagination. The search for eternal life has remained fruitless, but for over a century photographers have been able to do second best.
The photographer has an unique opportunity to seize a moment, freeze time, and at the end of the day hold something tangible to remind him/her of that precious 1/15th, 1/60th or 125th of a second. The fashion photographer draws upon the color, composition, grace, and mood of a contrived setting to create images symbolizing tomorrow's hottest design aesthetics and trends. A Photojournalist, armed with high speed zoom lenses and magnesium alloy enforced Canon 1dmk2 bodies, create images to tell the story and deliver reportage that represents the people and places they encounter. While they both work within the broad spectrum of 'art', each has a defined purpose.
The question then is: what is the purpose of a street photographer? What is the importance to society and photography as a whole, of a street photographers images? The truth remains, our world is filled with an untold amount of images waiting to be captured. A street photographers challenge is not finding the shot , but missing it. Bottom line, street photography is a tradition. The art has been carried down by those who cannot take another step before capturing that moment. This tradition of capturing the world around us, for the sole purpose of retaining the unique situations that make life charming and exciting, is what separates street photography from the rest.
A street photographer, making his way from A to B, is not a pedestrian. He/she is a recorder of the world around them. This is not something you start or stop doing. Street photography is a practice that goes on 24/7, 365 days a year. Unlike a photojournalist who searches for an iconic moment of action and emotion, a street photographer relies on the common, everyday exchanges between people to reflect the mood from a bustling metropolis, to a calm midwestern suburb. The light glistening off the chin from a child hastily gulping from a water fountain. The moment of relief from finally taking a seat on the Green Line train after a long day of work in the office. A conversation between a young boy and an elderly man, digress on the finer points of life.
These are the moments that are cherished by a street photographer. These exchanges between people; the small details of our daily lives that would go unnoticed- they define our humanity... and it is the role of a street photographer to isolate those moments in order to show how beautifully simple our world really is.
Street photographers are one of many flavors of modern historians. Bloggers. Filmmakers. Writers. We all do our part to record our own versions of history, but why do we do it? Do we do it to help ourselves remember what life was like in our own pasts once we are gray? Or do we do it to help others to see what we see, now, in the past, and in the future?
I can only speak for myself. So... I will tell you why I am a street photographer, and why photojournalism is so important to me. To me, everyday life is fascinating. The routines, the surprises, the mountains of new things we all experience every day. One can walk down any given street and see thousands if individual stories being played out in real time. We see slices of life; a few sentences, or maybe a paragraph, of someone else’s life as you brush past them in a shop, or a coffee house, or anywhere. Where do those moments go once you’re finished with them?
Who records them and keeps them safe? Who proves they ever existed?
I do. You do. Anyone who carries a camera with them in every day life. I will tell the story of the fish monger and the street artist. I will tell the story of the girl and her great-grandmother; the man on the street and the boy at the funeral. The woman in the window and the little girl who just needed to dance. I will even tell my own story from time to time.
It terrifies me to think that these moments could be lost forever. I don’t know why that scares me, but it does. I need to remember. We all need to
remember – that’s how we learn. You can learn more about life by keeping your eyes open during one average day on the street than you can from a week of news broadcasts. News is fed to us in a straight line. Life lessons are all around. News is archived, but life rarely is.
As a photojournalist, my mission is to tell a story. An objective, candid, story. The goal is to tell this story in one amazing photograph. When I was younger I was taught that the perfect news photo doesn’t need a caption. Is this possible? Is it common for all elements of a photo to naturally fall into place? No, of course not. In fact, it’s maddeningly rare. But sometimes – sometimes – it happens. And when it does, it’s like the most addictive drug in the world. Sometimes when you push the button, and you hear the click, you know. You just know that you’ve recorded something special, and your stomach flutters, and your lungs fill with a rush of air, and you feel truly wonderful. I liken it to the rush you felt after your first kiss. You know the feeling I mean.
I always have a camera with me. During jury duty. Sitting in the ER after injuring myself. While eating lunch. I learned that my camera should always be with me, and that lesson was kicked off by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, who once told me, after I had asked him if he had any advice for a young shooter, “Shoot shoot shoot.” At the time I felt a little ripped off but it wasn’t long before I realized that his advice was spot-on. Shoot everything. Always be ready. The best photos are often made by surprise.
In the chaos of the city or the town we find the beautiful details of life. We give them order through our simple observation with composition. All you have to do is look; it’s there. That photograph you’ve had in your mind forever. There it is. I think it was Mr. Cartier-Bresson who said, “A successful street photograph – or any photograph for that matter – is when eye, mind and heart come together.”
For me street photography is not only going on my own – often solitary – photographic quests but looking at other’s work. By looking at this work I can tell much about a photographer. His or her worldview comes to mind the most. No matter your worldview I think the successful street photographer should leave his or her politics at home or on their blog. I don’t believe they should intersect one’s work documenting chaotic life on the street. The best work is unforced; it comes naturally; moments either happen or they don’t. Or … your skills of observation need honing and practice.
Then and only then will you discover that there are no laws or rules – except, of course, having to do with exposure and composition. Develop the eye of a fetishist voyeur. A spy. A ghost. A voyeur spy with a great eye. … I find that there is actually more mystery in places one knows intimately. Open your eyes. Go for a walk. Right in the middle of the chaos. Find your photo. Then find another. Don’t force it. Just go and see and make photos of the history happening around every single one of us. It’s out there.
Real moments are not contrived.
Without your input.
In as much as I think that much of HCB’s (Henri Cartier-Bresson) work was soft or “only famous” because “he’s famous” I will give him credit where credit is due. I fully agree with him that perfect moments exist. These perfect moments can be framed within a composition that lend to what could be considered a great photograph. Notice I haven’t said anything about exposure or light? To succeed at street photography light and exposure and depth of field should all … ALL … Be second nature to the photographer.
Urban landscape doesn’t count.
Just so you know.
Street photography is its own genre.
There may be buildings in your photographs, however, the building cannot be the subject. A human subject adding scale is still urban landscape. But it can, in fact, be street photography. Street photography is about its humans … those people inhabiting a particular place. At a particular point in time.
Life is not contrived.
One must not stand out.
One must blend.
You’d be better off studying the art of shadowing and surveillance than photography to be a successful street photographer. If you’ve gone through the trouble of blending in with “the locals” of wherever you are, you know what I mean. You see this moment developing between a mother and child or a group of teens up to no good or an old man perhaps reflecting on his life near a church where he may have married the woman who “made his life” but now is gone … And … You put a giant camera to your eye …. You’re noticed. Your moment is fucked.
An SLR has its place. So does a view camera. As does a little digi. Even medium format. None of the aforementioned belongs around the neck or on the shoulder or hidden under a jacket of the street photographer. This is the world of the rangefinder. … I implore you to start off your street photography quest with a rangefinder. If you counter this that you can use an SLR with a long lens and stand away from the action, you’re not of the correct mindset to really understand.
You have to be in the “middle of it.”
Immersed in the action.
There’s an energy which is palpable … when you’re onto something. You can feel it. Right down to your fingertips. You’re a hunter.
Humans in their human-zoo.
Experiencing what humans experience.
The grand gamut of human life.
Life on the street. Or anywhere just off the street. Where humans gather. And have solitary moments. Or interact with their brethren.
The carnival of life on the street is everywhere.
For me street photography is defined by the work by René-Jacques, André Jacques, Izis, André Martin, Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau, Olivier Garros, Elliot Erwin, of course, Mssr. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Christian Sarramon, Atget, for that matter, Marcel Bovis, Sabine Weiss, Philippe Gautrand, Edith-Claire Gérin, Albert Monier, Bernard Plossu with work from the eighties, Claude-Raimond Dityvon from the nineties, Édouard Boubat (who’s work is very underrated), Jean-Claude Gautrand, Michel Lamoureux, Jean-Louis Courtinat, André Kertész from the twenties and thirties, Martine Franck, Joseph Koudelka, Séeberger from the turn of the 19th to Brassåi – naming just the very well known.
What do the above have most in common? A significant number of the above photographers used Leicas and wonderfully rich Leica glass. All of the photographs that are iconic to me, at least, were in black and white. But … foremost in my mind as a common denominator is the fact that these photographers loved their subjects. Whether they are your neighbor, a tourist, perhaps a guest worker or anyone … they’re our global neighbors and we all – should, at least – love everyone simply because they’re human. Our eye as street photographers should be tuned to their humanity. We shouldn’t discriminate.
Sometimes a homeless person looks beautiful whilst during other times they appear somewhat like their environment. Conversely, pretty people have ugly moments. Nonetheless all subjects should be treated with respect.
If you look hard enough you’ll see the couple who’ve been married for fifty years having a moment where you know they had a great fifty years. You may also find a young dad showing his son or daughter a duck for the first time. Someone looking at a menu. A private moment between two lovers whether or not they are “involved” with others. I love photographs that show an inherent compassion for another human.
Seeing the culture inherent where one lives.
I love that.
Whether it’s by going myself or just looking at a well-made photograph.
I want to be transported.
I don’t think contrived moments have anything of significance in the genre of street.
In fact, nothing about street photography should be contrived.
When I think back to the original list of photographers I named my favourite photographs made by them are the covert variety.
Not the portraits. None with eye contact. Eye contact includes the street photographer as part of the definition of the photograph and I’m not sure I like that.
Seems to me that when there’s eye contact the photographer is making his or her own impact on the subject and it comes through.
Being the casual unobserved observer is what it is all about.
A bystander with a camera.
That’s what I aim to achieve. If I become the “fly-on-the-wall,”
the viewer will become that as well.
I see life around me everywhere.
Street photography is life.
In a pure and raw form.
It happens now.
It happened then.
It happens in an instant.
And in that instant the photographer should know his or her equipment extremely well.