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.