Each year I shoot fourth of July pictures on a local reservation where rules do not matter. I see children from 3 to teenage years blowing off fireworks unsupervised. As crazy as it sounds I love taking pictures of the scenes in “Firecracker Alley”. I am writing about this because it makes me happy and gets me away from reading too many blogs and magazines about technical photographic nonsense.
Speaking for myself, I read lots of blogs that provide lots of advice. I see people, me included, get so enamored by all the technical gibberish that is out there. What we forget is what gives us happiness and peace when we are off with nature or shooting on the street. We forget what the camera is about and how it makes images. We forget that the camera is not with a darn. It isn’t about good gear, great gear, fast gear, the gear with the most ISO, pixels, etc. It’s about you the photographer and how you connect with your yourself and your environment and not the ISO, speed and pixels!
A camera allows you to go at your speed, at your pace…no matter your level of expertise. What you snap is a moment in time that is gone forever but etched for a life time. All the technical gibberish and whether or not you machine has super natural powers is irrelevant. Remember that!
Imagine for a moment what Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with in the 30s and 40s. He said, “The only thing which completely was an amazement to me and brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi. When I saw the photograph of Munkacsi of the black kids running in a wave I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street.” He then went on an acquired the Leica camera with 50 mm lens in Marseilles that would accompany him for many years. He described the Leica as an extension of his eye. I truly wonder what he would say today? I think he would not care and would be shooting with an iPhone. While this is debatable, I am sure you get the point.
Take a deep breath and quit squabbling about useless nonsense. Use something that feels right to you. Shoot anything and everything. Have fun, smile and enjoy life a little! Start or reconnect on a new journey and become inspired by photos. Don’t let nonsense diminish your passion. If you get overloaded with tech talk and bar room experts run away, go somewhere peaceful and quite. Get grandpa’s old film camera or that old 3 mega pixel in a box under the bed and be at peace. Look in that old shoe box, take out those old picture…be inspired…and say…if it is to be it is up to me!
Our nations birthday is coming..get those cameras ready!
We have all have seen niffty images of street performers. Seattle is an excellent place to see some of the best performers in action. The City of Seattle regulates street performers. You are free to perform so long as you have a permit. Given this, I believe it provides for an orderly and fair system. It weeds out bad actors and provides a safe place to visitors. If you want to shoot street performers, Pikes Place Market is no doubt the place to go!
In previous blog entries, I have expressed on more than one occasion that the equipment does not matter when you are expressing yourself through street photography. More and more I am seeing folks walk around with an iPad mostly shooting movies. Most folks now that one of the downsides to the iPad and iPod is that photo resolution down right SUCKS! Does this mean you still can’t have fun with iy…no! It just means that you can’t blow up billboard size images. My iPad and I presume all iPads come loaded with the app Photo Booth. If you have an iPad and have used it you know that you are in for some of the most hilarious moments of your life. This app unfortunately is not available on the iPhone or iPod. I wish it was.
So, yesterday, I set out on a journey with iPad in tow to focus solely on taking images of street performers. I have taken 100s of street performer images but, after a while they all look the same…yep that guy singing with his guitar and his mouth wide open…sure its expressive but whether you’re in London, Boston or Seattle, they all look the same! So, how can you make it different? How can your images stand out? How can you make these performers look like real super stars? Simple…use your iPad…I hope you like them!
F for what and A for what? Alright, I could not resist. I anticipated correctly that the Facebook IPO release would be a failure. Why do I think that? Because! Just think about it, the FB model is to sell advertising. Advertising on FB is doomed for failure. Yeah I have a FB account…only because my wife and son forced me into it. I am trying desperately to introduce myself through FB through my photography. Thus far its been a big fn dud! Yeah, I have a couple oh hundred friends. My son got almost all of the for me. I see all the click advertising on the right. I haven’t clicked once, nor do I have a desire to do so. I see ads for an Alaskan Cruise and Boston Celtic attire. There is no way I am clicking…there is no way that most of you are clicking. GM and other big advertisers have already bailed. They bailed on the eve of the IPO release. Smart move. Dumb asses on Wall Street created a bunch of hype. What they created was mass foolery. They faked people into thinking that FB is the next Google. Well it’s not. FB will die just like My Space and we will all be looking for the next social bug.
Apple on the other hand is doing well. I have no iPhone but I have an iPad and iPod. They make me happy. The stock is good and solid and it does not show me drama like my daughters FB page. I went to the fair not long ago equipped with only my iPod…no DSLR, no point and shoot…just my simple iPod loaded with crazy photo apps. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and remember the old instamatic camera, Polaroid, the 110, the 126, etc. iTunes has all my childhood memories from free to $1.99. For $1.99 I purchased my Hipstamatic and a variety of films. It also comes with a few lenses. There is the John S, lens, the Jimmy, and Kaimal Mark II lenses that come standard. You can purchase others too. I purchased all the films: Blanko, Ina’s 1969, Kodot Verichrome, Blackeys B+W, Blackeys Super Grain and a few others. Off I went to the fair to take a few snaps with my trusty iPod at the Puyallup Fair:
So, how do we end this…Use what works…have fun doing it…blurry is OK…iPod today…something else tomorrow…Facebook dies…Apple lives…Get rid of the hoodie Zuckerberg…Ok, you finish it the way you want…
Starting out in street photography for most is a difficult proposition. Let’s face it shooting bugs and flowers is a much easier task that dealing head on with a 300 pound guy in the middle of your lens. Bugs and flowers don’t talk back. On occasion people do. So, here are a few tips:
You do not need some big fancy DSLR with a 200 mm zoom! Start with a simple point and shoot or an old film camera with a fixed lens or even your iPhone or camera phone. This will force you to engage Shooting people from 1 block away is not street photography. You need to get up close and personal with your subject. Standing in front of a crowd with a big camera and lens will give you away. You will stand out like a big dork wearing pink undies on the 50 yard line at a football game. Small, compact and simple is the key!
What? Get in range? At first, most are trying to overcome the fear of taking a picture of a human on the street at close range. I could tell you that in order to catch the perfect shot you have to be within 6 feet of the subject. At first, try to get within 20 feet of your subject, then 15 and to be the ultimate master of overcoming your fear of entering one’s personal space shoot for 6 feet or less. There are artful ways of doing this which I will discuss later in another post.
I think it would be foolish to think that everyone on the street is a nice guy. From time to time you will get an idiot! How you handle dealing with the idiot is another thing. There are strategies, like ignore him, look the other way, keep walking, tell them that you were taking a picture of something behind them or….whatever fits your fancy. There are no rules on the street. There are no laws here in the US that I know of that say you can’t take a picture on the street. Just be aware of your surroundings. There is no doubt that you will misjudge people. For example, I saw this “Hells Angel” biker sitting on the edge of a park bench in Seattle. I took an image of him from the rear. What appeared to be an elder woman ( I assume his mother) motioned him to say I was taking a picture. He turned around and said “hey!”. I said “WHAT!”. He didn’t say anything in return. I am pretty good on my feet. I am not a meek or small person, so I can get away with a bit of a bark every now and then. The bottom-line is beware!
In open spaces my general rule is “just shoot it”. When in a more intimate space like a walk up window where the guy is selling pastry, ask. It does not have to be candid to be good. I have found that for the most part people like to have their portrait taken. There is a general sense of honor that goes with it. If they say no, just say thanks and move on. I have never had an ugly moment by asking.
Street photography is a hobby. It is supposed to be fun. Take your time and challenge yourself. For example, stand on a corner and just observe. The fact is that most people are not necessarily aware of what’s around them. They are generally on a mission to get something, buy something, meet somebody, go to a meeting, etc. They have no sense of the baby strolling buy or the pigeon eating crumbs off the ground. When you are aware and observe, you become a better photographer. Pick a location and wait for something to walk into YOUR scene. Get ready, pre focus and shoot at the moment you make it. Patience does pay off!
About Pete Ansara: Pete is a world recognized photographer based in Seattle, Washington.
If you are a passionate photographic craftsman you understand the urge to shoot. No one but you can make the decision of when, what, where, why and how come to choose what you shoot. When I go to Pikes Place Market in Seattle, I usually spend three or so hours walking from the entrance of the market on Pike Street and proceed to the other end and across the street to the park. If you have been there you know what I mean. When it is especially sunny like it was today, the challenges of exposure present more challenges. My favorite time to shoot is when it is overcast. The sun just reeks havoc from late morning to early afternoon. Walking to the park from the entrance is perfect because I have the sun behind me. Walking back from the park to the market entrance plays fierce against the lens.
As a street photographer, you are not usually walking around with reflectors strobes and other photographic tools to help you overcome these light issues. It is you and your trusty servant, your camera to over come. I shoot with a range finder. This adds a bit more complexity. Rangefinders are more prone to sun flare. In addition, focussing in direct sunlight can be trying. This is why I do a lot of zone focussing. Many times when you think you were in focus, had the framing perfect, later you will find that you were slight off.
About half of what I shoot is generally focused and the other half has potential treasures. Maybe the image is out of focus. Maybe an element shows up that you did not necessarily see when you took the shot. There are many imperfections about photography. The out put has lots to do about decisions! You make the decisions by thinking and knowing about light and what your camera can do. There is no information about right or wrong. There is no guide that tells you what angle to shoot . Most of everything I know is rooted in 30 plus years of shooting and based a lot on what I think might work! If you stop thinking and stop experimenting then you will become stagnant! Practice your craft.
I read many photo blogs…al types of blogs…Leica blogs, HDR blogs, landscape blogs and so on. Many of them are informative. Many of them are entertaining. Some make me scratch my head. We live in an age that load websites full of what the next step is. You’re not going to carry a blog or a 10 pound instruction manual with you. You are going to carry your brain! Use it…experiment with it! If you have to wait for an answer you will never get the shot off.
There are more than ample subjects on the street to shoot. You will always take more photos that you will use. It is your responsibility to select the ones to show. You may think you are doing a service to an audience if you show all your images. You risk turning them off. YOU have the vision and the final decision in bringing the best ones out. So, take lots and show few!
When editing, think about what you will crop, where you will crop it and how you will present it. Color? Black and white? You can ask someone. This may not be a bad idea. I have made the mistake of changing my mind. You are the photographer…the artist…the conductor…and the genius behind your talent. In the end, you pick what you know worked.
I was asked once to exhibit some of my work at a local art fest. I presented about 15 or so images. They were all framed and displayed in gallery fashion in a nice jewelry store. I noticed that people would get very close to inspect many of the images. I used a process called High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) to process my work. I noted that many people would say things like (without them knowing I was the artist) “is that real”, “that looks just like a painting” or “do you see that” or “that is amazing”…and so on. Many said, “your camera takes great pictures”! Don’t you just love that line? This experience taught me some valuable lessons. Among many things, it showed an appreciation for my work and that I made some good decisions on what to show and how to present it!
So, what is the story behind the picture? Images have a unique, strange and powerful way of shaping the way people see the world. Photographs shape and influence perceptions of reality. How you tell the story in the picture is up to you!
I leave you with a few photographs. Here, I share a picture of an experience…not the experience. What do you like? Why? Just shoot it!
No I am not speaking of the novel A Tale of Two Cities written Charles Dickens in 1859, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. I am speaking of Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California.
I had the liberty of shooting each of these cities a few days a part. By way of location, Seattle is about 30 minutes from my front door. LA/Burbank on the other hand is a quick 2-3 hour flight away. I visited my son, his girlfriend and her family while in LA. Because we were so busy I did not have the ability to do any street shooting until about 6 hours before my flight left. I ended up shooting on Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. If you ever want to go there, I would fly into Burbank airport and not LA. I would stay near Universal Studio (recommend the Hilton). Located directly down the hill from the Hilton is the Los Angeles County Metro Rail system. It is an underground system that is surprisingly, clean, safe and cheaply priced. In 2 stops or less than 5 minutes you can be in on Hollywood Blvd. using this system.
So here is my take on both cities:
Back in the late 80s and early 90s I was stationed at Norton, AFB in San Bernardino, CA, less that an hour from Hollywood. I visited often on the weekend with my son and daughter and friends. There was always something to do and things to see. We always topped of the night with a slice and a coke. I found a quote on a travel blog that said, “The boulevard was originally a seedy area in the 1980’s (tourist just posed pictures at Grauman’s Theater and Roosevelt Hotel and Walk of Fame and just leave) but a gentrification campaign was done in the 90’s and today it has a number of attractions.” Okay, yes it has attractions but not sure about being something different from when it was when I last visited. The same attraction that were there in 1992 remain there today with a couple of additions:
Bob Hope Square (Hollywood and Vine) (2003)
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre
El Capitan Theatre
Frederick’s of Hollywood
Hollywood and Highland
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Wax Museum
Masonic Temple Home of Jimmy Kimmel Live (2003 for Kimmel)
Musso & Frank Grill
Pig ‘n Whistle
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium
Capitol Records Tower
The texture, sound and smell of Hollywood is the same. It hasn’t changed! It is still the same old dirty place I have always known. The boulevard is still filled with aggressive suited up Batman’s, Elvis’ and other super hero’s that demand you hand over some payola for a picture. Snap and don’t pay and ye shall receive free of charge a bit of attitude, a snide comment or an “F” bomb because you wear a Boston Red Sox hat. I received the ultimate high-five from Bat Woman or Cat Nip Woman or something below.
So does this mean that Hollywood is not a good place for street photography? Heck no, just be prepared for the ultimate in verbal exchanges and straight forward harassment. And do not be naive. The bottom-line is that there is a certain level of “street” that goes into LA or most big cities. There are lots of opinions on how to approach certain street situations and certain circumstances. Just don’t be an idiot. Be calm, cool and collected. Have some class and swagger about you. In the end, the best advice is use your judgment. The likes of Bruce Gilden, street photographer extraordinaire and others have opinions about this. Many people disagree with them. I would strongly recommend you check out Bruce at http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/photobooth/2011/01/video-bruce-gilden.html
I have live about 30 minutes or so just south of Seattle for the past 13 years or so. I know Seattle well. I know the streets well and what generally to expect at any given moment. Just like Hollywood, the sights, smells, sounds and textures remain the same year after year. What changes are the scenes and the people who are random moments captured in time once you push the shutter button. What you see and capture is a moment of an experience. You can never bring anyone the experience, you can only show the experience in a picture. I generally shoot in an around Pikes Place Market. Just like Hollywood Boulevard it has lots of people and things going on. A couple of distinguishing traits between the two are:
a. A noticeably big difference in the presence of law enforcement. Noticeable in Seattle are bike, foot and horse patrols. In Hollywood, I can only recall one Sheriff’s car parked around the 6000 block in the 5 hours I was there.
b. No money, no picture!. If you frequent Seattle you would generally see the same street performers. My all time fav is a group called “A Moment In Time”. You can see them in front of the first Starbucks, rain or shine every weekend. You can see them in brief right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoLPOdnjc0Y There is never any outright badgering for money, by any street performer in Seattle! In Hollywood, it is a way of life.
c. A sense of community and safety! Seattle has it!
d. Cleanliness. Seattle has it!
e. Fresh air…need I say?
I am not here to bag on Hollywood. The facts are the facts. Sure you can disagree. I have no problem with that. You are what you believe! The whole point of this blog is to share a bit of perspective, share a few photos and maybe provide a few tips. So for those of you interested in street photography here are a few pointers:
Generally, I say Get up close and personal. If you are the introverted type you can overcome your fears of shooting on the street without a bazooka lens held 5 blocks away. The more you shoot, the more you will overcome your shyness. A lot of getting a good shot is luck and being in the right place at the right time. Every once in a blue moon I get someone who has an issue and has something to say. I haven’t been hit yet. You can always say something, like, “I’m sorry”, or “I was taking a picture of the apple tree behind you.” or something like that. Just be ready and shoot it!
If the light blinds you, shift directions. Normally, if you are shooting something with the sun in front of you are destined for some crappy pictures. If the light isn’t right it isn’t to be…plain and simple. Look for light play on shadows off of people, buildings, fixed objects like bicycles tied up on a parking meter or other fixed object. If it recently rained, look for puddles and reflections. Change your body angle, up and down and side ways. Look at the puddle or something that will give a reflection from a distance or up close and personal. Always be thinking! Remember that the right garbage can in the right light with the right reflection can be a cool image.
Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Remember that things do not always have to be perfect! The image does not have to meet certain rules to provoke thought and a wow moment. The scene can be out of focus or have some movement in it maybe because you forgot to put your camera on the right settings. This just makes you more aware and a means to improve you picture-taking. KISS also means that you do not need necessarily a gee golly whiz camera with all sorts of bells and whistles that you have no clue about. Try your camera phone, or a simple point and shoot or even dust off the old 35 mm film camera you have in a box in the attic! Yep, they still develop film. And if you use C41 processing, no matter if it is color or black and white, Costco will develop a 36 exposure roll for and unbelievable price of around $5 scanned to a disc!
Step right up and line it up! Lining things up when your just starting out can be a challenge. Read books, check out websites and blogs on basic composition. Look at the masters, Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson. Study them. Look at their images. Take something from them and feel the emotion when you hit the streets. In the end, I say the best way to line and frame things up is by using the edges in your frame, like a building or something else in the background.
In the end, remember what comes out of your camera, comes out of your soul! There is no how to book on street photography. The best advice I can give anyone is to study others both good and bad. Take the points and tips that help you. Live on the edge a bit. Come out of your skin. Be soulful about what you shoot. Shoot first to please yourself…it will patch the hole in the heart if you have one. Remember that people have opinions. If you show your images, people will have opinions. Take the good with the bad, whatever that may be. In the end, you are who you are! Remember Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s famous words…“ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Just shoot it!
I will leave it to you to tell yourself which photo’s are from Seattle and which from Hollywood.
A few months back, I was in Seattle near Pioneer Square. I stumbled upon a long line of people with pets. There were cats in crates, dogs in arms, children on leashes and one homely ferret happily on display by its happy owner. I heard one gentleman way in the back of the line say “doggone Tater”! Everyone, in the line just roared with laughter. I was in stitches! The gentleman’s dog was violating the street code of behavior. Poor Tater the chihuahua was trying to pick a fight with three cats in a kennel…come on Tater…first you were out numbered and second you would have got your ass kicked and found your way into a fiesta boorrrreeeto at Taco Bell!
As I was thinking about what to write for this blog post, I thought about the word doggone. I know the majority of you have heard this term of endearment. Perhaps it was from some John Wayne movie.”Doggone it, say it ain’t so Joe”! A peak on the online dictionary lists several meanings:
I found many iterations and origins of its meaning. For you Brits and Scots, there is a story out there that The Oxford English Dictionary states this phrase is actually an alteration of the Scottish term “dagone” which is also a minced oath for “goddamn” as well as “dog on it.” Another imprecation is the old English “pox on it.” The thing I like about Google is you throw a few words into a search box and comes lots of options. I typed in “pox on it”. The most I ever heard about pox was when I was a kid; I got the chicken pox or “he’s got chicken pox, stay away from him!” OK, then I came across this blog post from a site called, Honour and Inspiration (must be British as they spelled the word honor incorrectly):
Pox on it all: Wednesday, 13 August 2008
I think my son has chicken pox. Actually, I’m pretty sure he has but I don’t want to believe it as it makes me feel weary just thinking about it. He had it before but as he was only 2 months, the doctor warned us he may well get it again. I caught him scratching his scalp and he asked me what the bumps on his head were – closer inspection: classic dew-drop spots in little clusters. Only on his scalp so far though, which I thought was weird. I thought it usually started on the tummy, but maybe I’m getting confused. Anyway, it would explain the grouchiness and the constant feeding the last few days. Though ironically, he seems much better since the spots came out. The biggest pain will probably be keeping them entertained while we can’t go anywhere there will be other people, or have anyone over that hasn’t had it. At least my daughter was 2 when she had it and she got a fairly thorough dose too so I won’t have them both ill at the same time. Here’s hoping it’s a mild dose as before!
I could not stop laughing! Please forgive me if you take the above seriously. I just cannot get over that this person “hopes” for a mild dose!”. I mean who in the world would wish their child pox of any kind, mild or otherwise? Man, what a digression from where I started!
All these good folks lined up with pets and cherubs were on the west side of the building. It was a happy scene. People were all patiently waiting to get a shot, a neuter, a spay for their pets. They talked about life, the day, how thankful they were, etc. I engaged these gracious people for two hours. Not a bad word was spoken. They let me take their pictures. Several stated that they never had a portrait taken. They posed, they spoke and they were happy that I was there…a stranger street photographer with nothing better to do than join their company. On the south side of the same building it appeared to be less hospitable. I walked by and was threatened. I was taking pictures and was warned to “walk on, no pictures”. It was a scene right out of a bad movie. It was west meets south, good vs. evil!
What the entire day told me is that a pet, no matter what it is, a gerbil, hamster, ferret, dog or cat can sooth the soul. In a troubled world of economic worries and uncertainty good people with limited means find a way to take care of the animals that take care of them in ways that are unexplainable. If you have a pet I am sure you have this sense of love and devotion to your pet. They don’t talk back to you. They are loyal soldiers passing time that is meaningful and memorable. I often read stories of a pet saving a life wether it be from fire, illness or some other disaster. We see dogs on TV sniffing out the potential of live bodies under crumbled building after an earthquake. We see beagles at airports sniffing out potentially harmful agriculture that could cause havoc on farms, people and livestock. We see the dog that walks the blind man down the street or the dog that alerts a woman to an oncoming seizure or a drop in blood sugar. For many of us, our pets is our life line. Not so long ago I lost our boxer, Chillie after almost 12 years of life. She was a loyal friend to the end. So, for all of you, please remember that a pet can give a person dignity, courage and help them live life!
The other day I was in Seattle at Pioneer Square. It is a cool place to relax, watch people and take a few snaps. There is a storefront wedding photography business close by. On a Saturday, I generally see people in wedding garb posing somewhere in the square. I have also see other photographers taking family and portrait shots. It is a decently photogenic location. If you just wait a bit something is bound to happen that makes the perfect random photo. Henri Cartier-Bresson calls these opportunities The Decisive Moment. Bresson lifted a bit of text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz stating that, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”. He further stated, “Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”. Good stuff to ponder. I observed this couple playing fetch the stick with their dog repeatedly (thank goodness). I kept snapping to try to catch this speedy guy in mid-air. It took about 10 tries but wallah, I captured that one random or decisive moment that Bresson speaks of.
Next I stumbled across a photographer shooting a model with 20’s garb. I asked what they were doing. They casually stated that they were friends and were out and about taking “fun shots”. She noticed my camera, Leica M4 loaded with film. Since they were having fun I asked if I could take a couple of shots. She said she “approved” because I had a film camera.
These opportunities are all around you. So carry a camera wherever you go. Hang out at the park or somewhere you know that has lots of activity like people walking by, playing fetch with their dog and so on. Keep it simple; an inexpensive digital camera works. You camera phone works too. You do not need anything fancy. Jot down a few things that you would like to capture. Don’t neglect the everyday subjects as everything is everyday if that makes sense. Take the opportunity to learn. Ask other photographers questions and search the web for information. For example, if you have a camera phone, there are free photo apps out there that can be fun to use to enhance your images. Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more! Use different settings on your camera if you have them. Read your manual or research on-line to use creative options. And last, snap, snap, and snap some more you may catch that “decisive moment”.
If you had only one shot left in your camera with an understanding that whatever you snapped a picture of could change the world in the most positive way, what would you take a picture of? Why?
I have been shooting on and off for over 35 years. I was the guy on the junior high field trip that brought the instamatic and extra film. Back then like today, you really don’t need much equipment or instruction to start snapping. Today’s technology has so many advances that I am almost afraid to see what is next. I still shoot film and lots of it. My trusty Leica M4 has never failed me. It requires no batteries, just a bit of film. My son tells me that I am just stuck in time. I am not sure how he can say this. I shoot digital too.
Just the other day as he was admiring my Leica. I described to him various types of films, grains, color vs. black and white, etc. Astonishingly, he looked in my bag and pulled an old flash extension with flash cube. It was an old Agfaflux C with Sylvania Blue Dot Flashcube. After I explained its purpose, he thought I was joking began laughing hysterically. Oh well, what the shit does he know. For those of you who as perplexed as he, I thought I would add the history of the photo graphic flash http://photo.tutsplus.com/articles/history/a-brief-history-of-photographic-flash/
So, what is street photography? I’ve seen lots of definitions and observed lots of images from “masters”. I am not sure if there is a precise answer. I shoot lots and have my own simple definition: Street Photography is the capture of a random act in a public place. An act need not be active like a person running down the street or a dog jumping over a puddle. It may be passive, a person in thought, a man sleeping on a park bench or a dead bird lying on a sidewalk. There is no subject matter. It is not necessarily journalistic or storytelling by a series of images. There are no rules. It is about you seeing and reacting in a moment of time.
There are many known photographers; Gary Winogrand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and less mentioned but one of my favorites, Robert Doisneau who gave us thousands of frozen whimsical moments. And more recently, an unknown master discovered at an auction with the sale of discovered negatives (mostly medium format) named Vivian Maier. Vivian shows us that there are those of us that are less recognized but with talent that religiously and passionately snap random acts in public places. Her work is simply phenomenal. I am now studying her work. You can read more about Vivian here at this link, http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/
I could sit here and write as many do about technical composition, geometry of the framing and other things that quite honestly I would rather save for another time for those that may be interested. The truth be told is that I just love looking at and studying the works of those that are famous and of work of those that are well I guess like me to gain different ideas and perspective. When I shoot those random street moments I shoot both digitally and by film. For a little of my personal perspective, I will share a bit of perspective when I shoot film.
I purchased my first proper camera in 1977. It was a Canon AE-1. Before that though, I was stationed with the USAF at King Salmon Air Force Station, Alaska. Besides protecting the air against the Russians (cold war was still on) among the few things one could do at a remote station was use the hobby shop dark room. So, before I even began shooting with that proper camera, I started assisting this old crusty sergeant in the dark room mixing chemicals and developing his film. Not long after he introduced me to shooting with his camera a Mamyia 645. I was privileged I think to be indoctrinated into photography in this way. I was hooked from there.
I am not hooked on any one type or style of photography. Unlike music, I like it all. If I travel to scenic locations I shoot lots of landscape stuff. If I am more urban, which I mostly am I shoot lots of street. I use several types of black and white film. Primarily though, I have been using lots of Ilford XP2. It is a chromogenic film that is C-41 processed which means it is processed the same as color film that anyone can process cheaply at the drug store or Costco. I mainly like it because it is cheap and you can get it developed pretty easily. You will find many folks who have bad things to say about this film. I could care less. Use what floats your boat and forget about ridiculous opinions.
I like shooting with film because I am thinking more. In my Leica M4 I mainly use a handheld light meter to measure light unlike a digital camera where it figure out everything for you. Doing this make one think more. You have to set manually shutter speed and aperture. Your brain has to work fast so you can capture great shots. Sometimes you don’t trust the meter because there is a mix of lights and darks so you compensate. There is 35 years of experience behind the thought of it all. And even after 35 years do I think I am an expert! No! So, Let me show you a few:
Initially, I saw a boxer. I have a fondness for boxers. I recently put my pet boxer down after 12 years. I just plain ole love boxers. Yep, that is what I saw initially until “Java Man” walked into the scene. In his left had he is carrying two cups of coffee. Not one but two! Why? Who in the heck knows. You could say he was on his way home from Star Bucks. It is about 30 feet away and to the left across the street. No doubt you can see he is on a mission. Besides the coffee he has a rolled up Sunday newspaper (yep it was taken on a Sunday). So, I know he is on a mission. He is on his way to sit and read the paper. What is the young man sitting on the bench thinking? What is his loyal boxer thinking? Who really knows. Only you can make your own conclusions! This is the beauty of taking a random act photo (RAP for short).
How did I come across this scene? Just like any other. I hear lots of commotion. The civilian to the right was a loud mouth. His buddy to the left was scared straight. Both had a bit to drink but the little guy on the right was a loud mouth and causing a disturbance. The police began a simple pat down on the guy on the right as he was talking to him. I took a few shots and left. As I was there though, I could not help but wonder about the police officer to the left straddling his bicycle. He took no defensive position. He appeared uninterested as you see in the image. One guy in the background looks on. I wonder what he is thinking. What about the two civilians with the officers? Who are they? What is their story? Where are they from? Do they have a job? Do they work at Microsoft? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover!
I could not resist taking this one. A horse patrol officer looking up and sitting tall on his trusted steed. What is he looking at? Me? No, I am to stealth, not that it matters for this one. As I look at this I am wondering about the tourist to the left snapping one-off. He’s taking a shot of the ass end. Can you believe it? Or is he shooting at the market across the street? I haven’t a clue but, if I had to guess I think he’s shooting the horse and officer. I like that it is an everyday scene in Seattle. People conversing. People strolling. What is going on here? Make up your own story. Give it your own twist? That is the beauty of taking a random photo.
There are lots of way you can approach taking a random photo. Oh yeah, there are some rules. These rules are more opinions of others who have the same passion as I. They love and feel connected to people and what happens randomly on any street corner, anywhere, anytime. If you have an old 35mm lying around or you need to dust off your digital then do it man! Do it now! Get connected with everyday life in your own way and your own time. You don’t have to take photos from 100 miles away. Get in the scene. Be part of it. It is up to you!