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Friday, November 4, 2011

Street photography... more questions than answers?

"Street photography is a type of documentary photography that features subjects in candid situations within public spaces such as streets,parks, beaches, malls and other settings."

Street photography has been around since the camera became mobile. In recent times though, a lot of photographers are dedicating their time, money and sites to this "new-found" style. Not to mention the amount of workshops being done on it
 Now don't get me wrong,- personally i like to walk around making images of life on the streets in general and searching for that big shot! However, I like to do this much more, when I'm on holiday in a foreign country and get to see other cultures and people, different from my usual. My question is... is this art, or a way we like to document the present, or a form of doing something-to-keep-busy-and-hope-to-sell someday or both?

                                                  Fellow travelers looking were to go?

No doubt that the Grand Maters like Monsieur Bresson, Senior Kapa and Monsieur Doisneau was making art when they did some of the great images of all time. Was this because there wasn't so many photographers around then? Or was it that the images became as big as they are due to the fact that it was something "relatively new" in the time and age? 

                                                       One of HC Bresson's famous images.

Go onto any account in Flikr and you are bound to see row upon row of street-scenes. Now i don't know about you but for me most of these are, to me anyway, meaning-less. I certainly don't want to look at people walking on the streets with no other intention but to simply walk. 

If you go and look at the Master's images you will see that they managed to capture ordinary people doing something not so much extra-ordinary, but just that something different, in the ordinary world. Now in so many studies of arguably the greatest,- Henri Cartier Bresson's work it is said that he had great patience in walking around and waiting for the correct "set-up" in a specific scene that he already chose. 
                                    One of HCB images where patience was obviously a virtue.

Some images are also a lot closer to the subject than others were it is quite clear that he was observing a large field-of- view. Inevitably this bring the next question,- is it "correct" to use a zoom-lens today or does it have to be primes?  And even with some of these great images there are a lot to be found wrong with.

                                                    Is it street if you use zoom lenses?

Look at the image of the boy carrying the wine. The frame cut some people off in the background and it is framed skew to one side, the main subject's feet are cut off,- and yet it is one of the greatest images! Why? Some say it is the emotion on the face, you decide. 

I stumbled on a photo-blog where the said photographer walk around and actually ask people if he can photograph them in their daily activities! Is this street photography or just strange people posing on the street in normal situations? Will this guy get the Bresson moment? I think not.

                     A not-so HCB moment where i asked the friends to pose as they were playing.

Bresson also never shot in color, -which brings us to the question, - Does street have to be in B+W? Even on this topic you will find a million and one answers and opinions. Purest will tell you that b+w expresses  the view of the scene better, while others will say we see the world in color so why shoot anything else? I guess the topic on image post processing has also been around as long as photography itself ?

                                                        Color street shooting or b+w?

Go to You-tube and look at the way some of the photographers are shooting on the street. More than one are using a on/off camera speed-light. Some jumps from behind hiding spots and shoot the people’s surprised faces or shove the camera/flash combo into their personal space and make images this wayand call it street photography. Is this street-photography?

                                       Should your subject not be aware you made an image?

Should your subject be aware that you are making an image of him? Should they be looking at the camera or must they be "caught " in normal daily situations? Is it wrong to show an image of a subject when they are in not so classy situations? And we are not talking about the legal aspect of street-photography here,- that changes from country to country and can be discussed later.

                                         Should the subject be aware of you making the image?

Is art not subjected? Meaning the one looking at it will know if he likes it or not, will make-up his own mind whether he likes what he sees or not and will think differently about what he see, than the next person.
Experts will have more serious thoughts on subjectivity. They can/will find fault with an image and there-for will degrade or reject the image. But as said before masters like Bresson made mistakes in the framing/set-up of certain images and yet they turned-out to be some of the best. So what is the golden rule?

                                                         Is street about "stolen moments"?

It is necessary to look at your own images with a critical eye. It will help you to work harder on making better images and look for that HCB shot! When one looks at your own images you will naturally be partial towards your images. 
You are after all, the creator of it, you felt emotion when you made the image and you saw it in context with what transpired before and/or after the image was made. But remember that your "audience" will not be in this "mood", - they did not feel the emotion or in what context it was made and that make them subjective. It is here where an image needs to stand on its own. The viewer must be "transformed" to the moment the image was made and then he will see it in a different way.

                                           Look at your own images with a more critical eye.

In some ways showing images to audiences, especially if the are not friends/family will make you look at your images more realistically without being partial. 

                                                         The kiss - Robert Doisneau

Let me end of today with one of my favorite images, it is by Robert Doisneau and my favorite because i have heard many stories about it. One said it was posed, one it was a total Decisive Moment, another that it was two lovers,- but my favorite is that the lady and the gent sitting, you can only see his shoulder, was having an argument, the chap was walking by and grabbed her and kissed her just to show the gent and help the lady,- therefor her hand is hanging loosely, as she was taken by surprise and his smoke is still in his other hand. Monsieur Doisneau was sitting having a coffee off cause! 
Does the truth matter in this case? You decide, but if you are a romantic...

What-ever your view on street-photography,- don't let any-one stand in your way of doing what you love. It is after all a way of expressing yourself. This is in no way meant to turn you to one side or the other, it is merely a bunch of thoughts put into a few paragraphs to make you think, or not.
I for one, will continue to make images, - whether it be on the streets, in color or b+w, people close-up or from afar, subjective or objective, it is after all, my expressions.

                                                                       Au revoir!

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