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Street Photography from the North East and beyond

Q&A with Pittsburgh Street Photographer Jaime Bird

I find inspiration from the constant energy on the street.

Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

The third in my interview series is with Jaime Bird, a Street Photographer that I was first introduced to on Flickr and who’s work stood out due to the interesting characters captured and what felt like an almost vintage feel to her photographs.

I thought too that it would be interesting to get a female perspective on street photography and the challenges (if any) that may present.

I want to thank Jamie for taking part and being such an open and interesting interviewee and I would recommend everyone who reads this to check out her great work afterwards.

Lets start with an introduction, Jaime. Can you tell me a little about your background, where you’re from and what you do for a living?

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have always loved the creative side to life, I studied interior design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and I currently work in interior design. Having a design background, I think I notice details and the small parts of the whole that makes street photography a natural choice for me.

When did you first get into photography and specifically how did that progress to street photography?

When I was about 10, my grandfather gifted me with a Vivitar 35mm camera. He would take me to shoot fall trees and landscapes, this instilled in me an interest and love of photography. Through the years I always had a camera nearby, but it wasn’t until the past 4 years that I started to seriously take it back up again shooting around Pittsburgh. I explored the city and shot things that I thought were interesting, architecture, street art, and happenings. The photos never included people, that came about over the last 2 years. Honestly, it wasn’t until I joined a local camera club that I found out about street photography. It was almost overnight that I became fascinated with this genre and decided to explore it further. A year ago I got a Fujifilm X100T and I have been enjoying exploring the camera as well as Pittsburgh with it. There is an incredible street photography community and sources of inspiration that will assure that street and documentary photography will continue to thrive.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? Which other photographer’s work do you admire and why?

I find inspiration from the constant energy on the street. The constant ever revolving sidewalks, crosswalks, and people that make up the city. I have an ever growing collection of vintage street and documentary photography books. Everyone from Robert Frank, Edouard Boubat, Dave Heath, Louis Faurer, and of course Vivian Maier. I find myself looking to these photographers for inspiration and education. I am self taught, and these books provide me with so much knowledge of composition, history, and the fact that they are the pioneers of street photography is a great resource to visit over and over. Todays street photographers I admire greatly is Bruce Gilden. His unapologetic approach to street is so bold, there is something to be learned from each of these photographers, something to strive for. Personally, I gain inspiration from fellow street photographers, one in particular, from Manchester, UK we met thru Flickr and have done some projects such as Urban Decay and Shop Shots and because Manchester and Pittsburgh are quite similar it was an interesting project to be a part of. We put together some books of our combined work and it was great to challenge myself creatively and to work alongside another photographer.

Street photography to me is like being in a living, breathing, photograph.

Image courtesy of Jaime Baird

Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

What is Street Photography to you?

Street photography to me is like being in a living, breathing, photograph. Always changing, always unpredictable and never the same street twice. Its my way of telling a story, my way of sharing the viewer that we collectively have something interesting, all of us have a story. In some ways its a release and adrenaline rush, to find a subject or happen upon a scene that I feel so compelled to capture. Taking a shot and holding that instant, that person is documented forever, the viewer can extract what they want from the image. Street photography can at times be revealing, in ways that we as humans as everyday people portray ourselves when we are in public, either alone or interacting with others, its interesting to observe these interactions and watch these characters act out a non scripted play.

Your Twitter bio states ‘I don’t see things normal’. Tell me more about that.

The statement, “I Don’t See Things Normal” describes how I perceive the world around me, even when I don’t have a camera in hand, I am always noticing and seeing beyond what might be considered the “norm” to look at someone who might be different, to see their individuality and to capture that. I continuously work at training my eye to see things differently, to try and develop my own style.

What’s in your bag that you use to shoot with?

My bag is very bare bones actually, I shoot with the Fujix100t that has a fixed 35mm lens, I also carry a notebook and a pen. Working with a fixed 35mm has been challenging at first, I have been shooting with it for a year and I think in the last few months I have learned to get myself close to the subject. The camera is quite fast and in street photography timing is everything, I like to say the Fuji doesn’t fail! I came from using a 50mm lens on a DSLR and while I loved the 50, I have grown to appreciate the 35, I love the smaller size of the Fuji, the fast focus, the discreet silent shutter button has been an integral tool for my work.

The people here have a tough work ethic, Pittsburgh was built on the backbone of steel mills. Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

Image courtesy of Jaime Baird

Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

How do you go about your work? Are you discreet or do you approach people first? Some of your work looks as if you do have interaction with the subject?

My shooting style is strictly from the hip. I have developed this over the past year, mostly out of my shyness and my desire to not disturb the scene. I almost feel invisible on the street, I have never had any confrontations, and I have been fortunate to be able to capture so many great subjects so closely. My style of shooting is I usually am walking past a subject, while holding the camera down by my waist and taking the shot. I have only had 3 interactions with subjects over the course of the last few years, everything I do is completely candid and unposed. I like the unpredictability of shooting from the hip, the challenge of getting the shot and composing it without looking.

Tell us a little about Pittsburgh as a location for Street Photography? It’s people and locations.

Pittsburgh, the “Steel City” as its called, reflects that very feeling. The people here have a tough work ethic, Pittsburgh was built on the backbone of steel mills and the gritty landscape of old architecture nestled in with the new, and the generations who occupy this city. I have an affinity for vintage street photography and living here affords me the opportunity to work on an ongoing project of vintage street shots done in modern day. There are so many older generations of people that still have wardrobes from the 50s,60s,combined with the historical and carved stone buildings. Pittsburgh is great for shooting street photography, there are some others that shoot in the city as well and we all carry our own style and being that the city is broken up into neighborhoods that stem from the downtown area, there is always an endless cultural, diverse neighborhood to capture.

I think being a woman, there isn’t much feel of threat.

Have you ever encountered any problems taking photographs on the Street and how did you face them?

I have been incredibly fortunate to not have had any confrontations or negative encounters. I feel like I have an invisibility about myself when shooting. I think being a woman, there isn’t much feel of threat and I shoot from the hip, so I am discreet and always moving. I also try to preserve the integrity of the subject, I wont take the shot if I feel uncomfortable or uneasy about the situation. It comes from shooting so much, that sense of your gut telling you when the time is right.

What for you is the most challenging aspects of street photography and how do you approach those challenges?

Some challenges I have faced in doing street photography fortunately have been very few and far between. The biggest obstacle I face would be finding the time to shoot as much as I want to shoot. One challenge would be finding the right fit for my vintage street project, many days I come back empty handed because the subjects were simply not there that day. I don’t reside in the city itself, I rely on public transportation most of the time to get me into town to shoot, a 40 minute bus ride each way, can make for a long day, but its all part of the experience of shooting street for me. Also, chasing characters as well as light can be challenging, the buildings cast shadows and can vary from block to block, I have limited working knowledge of the camera so I rely on the camera to give me results. Im self taught so I have limited technical ability with the camera and any photo editing, I think in some ways it has hindered my photography because I don’t have a firm grasp on settings. However, that being said, I have embraced the artistic side and kept my work simple.

Image courtesy of Jaime Baird

Image courtesy of Jaime Bird

What advice would you offer to someone just starting out that you wish you’d had been told when you started?

Something I wish I was told when starting out would be shoot for yourself. That is the most important piece of advice I could offer. Only you know your own vision and what you want to say with your work. Photography would be boring if we all shot in a certain style, only in one genre. Trust your instincts, learn to have quick reaction times, and keep your creativity thriving in everything you do. Secondly, invest in books, they provide so much inspiration, and can learn so much from them! I buy them second hand, and have a growing library of photographers that I can always reference back to their work. Their photography is the purest form of street, as they were shooting film, no editing. That’s how I choose to present my own work, limited editing, I use a free app called Snapseed, I try to keep the image as close to what I saw on the street. At the end of the day, shoot for you.

Have you anything in the pipeline that you’re planning that we should look out for?

I have this interview!! Im so honored and excited about this opportunity, thanks again! At the moment I don’t have anything in the pipeline, I am however continuing to work on my personal project of vintage modern street photography. I hope to compile enough images to eventually make a book. In October I will be traveling to Manchester, UK to visit a fellow street photographer, im excited to get the opportunity to explore another city and shoot with someone who’s work I admire. I would love an opportunity to show my work in a gallery, and I am in the process of getting a website together to gain a wider audience. My website will be , look for it soon!

Finally, where can we view more of your work?

You can view more of my work, and I hope you do, on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook! Website to come soon, .

@jaimele321 on Twitter

Jaime Bird on Flickr

@Jaime Bird on Instagram

Posted on Jul 22, 2016