Street Photography has taught me more about taking photographs than any other genre of the art.
I love photography, adore it even and I spend most of the precious recreational time I have wrapped up in the subject and involving myself in the creation of the art.
I’m also very much self-taught, everything I know about photography has been gained through reading, observing, trying (and failing) and persisting and trying again.
It’s only recently however (about the last 12–18 months to be imprecise) that photography has really come to the forefront of my life and although I’ve taken photographs for many years and tried different styles and genres, I have naturally and somewhat unconsciously gravitated to street and urban scenes.
It’s not that I don’t care for other types of photography but I’ll freely admit to never being someone who is going to get up at 4am to catch a sunrise. I love cities, the people, the architecture and their hidden side streets and alleyways and growing up in the North East of England in a very urban environment I suppose it was only natural that is what I would end up capturing in photographs. For me there is no better way to totally switch off than to walk the streets and attempt to capture the melancholic beauty, art and soul that can so often go unnoticed.
Street Photography has taught me more about taking photographs than any other genre of the art. It has freed my mind from distractions that I believe would otherwise have got in the way and suppressed my enjoyment of photography if I had taken up another style.
Expanding a little on that, I have a career in IT and being from a technical background I’ve always coveted the latest and greatest gadget (a craving documented quite nicely by MG Siegler), this also meant I was always on the want for the next best camera or lens too, never quite satisfied with what I had. As I delved in to other styles such as landscape work, I felt burdened by the amount of gear I had to take with me and the gear I had was never enough, however whenever I go out to do street work all I take with me is my camera and 2 spare batteries, it’s incredibly liberating.
I don’t carry regrets. Long gone are the days of wishing I had attached another lens to capture a particular scene, I live with the one fixed lens I have and adapt accordingly. It also challenges me to look at every scene from a different perspective.
Photography isn’t looking, it’s feeling — Don McCullin.
As I started observing the work of modern day street photographers who use what some would consider ‘lesser’ digital camera equipment (such as the Ricoh GR series as used by Michael Ernest Sweet and Eric Kim) I was blown away by the images they took and how they made me feel. I came to the realisation that great photographs have little to nothing to do with having great cameras and all to do with capturing a moment and putting soul in to the picture.
If there was ever an example to demonstrate this you can look at the 2015 winner of the World Press Photo Awards (won by Warren Richardson). It isn’t ‘technically’ a great photograph with its noise and lack of sharpness, yet it invokes emotion and thinking and captures a split second in time that tells an almighty human story.
It’s particularly true with street work that you need to be able to adapt to the ever-changing scene, whether that be an event unfolding before you or a change in light as you walk around a corner.
I’ve had a Fujifilm X100T for just over a year and it’s now the only camera I own (apart from the one inside my iPhone) and due to its pocketability I’ve been able to carry and shoot with it on an almost daily basis. It’s such a tactile device that I can amend it’s aperture and quickly re-focus while I’m still viewing the street in front of me rather than needing to look down at the camera and that’s hugely beneficial and makes the whole photographic experience a pleasurable one.
Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. — Henri Cartier-Bresson.
I’ve also come to realise that great photographers are so because they develop a unique style. One of my favourite modern day Street Photographers is Michael Ernest Sweet and he’s spoken in some detail previously about how important it is to find your own photographic style to enable you to stand out and be recognised. A specific example he gave was to invite friends around, blindfold them and erect one of your prints on a wall beside two by other artists and if those friends all know which print is yours, then you know you’re on to something with the style you’re trying to adopt.
It is certainly true if you look at work by ‘the masters’ (take Saul Leiter for example), his work is instantly recognisable with the colours and composition of his abstract street scenes and I find that this above all else is probably one of the hardest areas to learn but if you take enough photos you’ll begin to naturally create your own style and if you can master this then you’re definitely going to stand out and potentially be recognised as a great street photographer.
Of course, all of this is just my own opinion but I’ve found that its helped me to focus, improve and enjoy the whole process more. Photography is a continual learning exercise and I’m constantly inspired by fellow street photographers old and new and every time I head out to a city I adopt this thinking and get excited and what may transpire.
The point to all this and what I’ve discovered is; be happy with the camera you have, learn it, love it, find your style and just take photos.