Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5
Anyone can compile a list of 10, 20, 50 photography quotes.
Better to pick fewer and actually think about them though, IMO.
Depth, not width.
Stream of consciousness.
I’m diving in.
“Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.” – William Klein
In terms of the number of people doing it, it’s fair to say street photography has never been more popular than it is now.
You can thank Instagram, as much as anything / one else, for that.
What you can also thank Instagram for is the way you can curate yourself an unending feed of verrry samey #streetphotography shots.
I guess some people just love shooting clichés.
So for you to stand out to anyone who follows you, for your work to not blend into their unending stream of verrry samey #streetphotography, isn’t easy.
I don’t think William Klein is suggesting you get clumsy by design.
But flaws can be, and often are, beautiful.
The Japanese have a concept called wabi-sabi, which is concerned with the acceptance of transience and imperfections in the aesthetics of a given object.
As things become old and weathered, it’s the imperfections brought on by the passing of time that make them beautiful.
Perhaps that’s why vintage Instagram filters were so popular – until they became passé.
You can’t really take old photographs today. But you can forgive or celebrate any imperfections in the ones you do take.
You can even add some intentionally.
Wabi-sabi values simplicity, asymmetry, and roughness.
Don’t be clinical with your composition if clinical means being verrry samey.
Different is better than better.
Chase Jarvis is a cool bloke. I listened to a podcast where he talked about developing your own style.
It’s episode 33 here.
Listen when you have time and see if you can develop your street photography style so it looks only like your own.
As William Klein said, and wabi-sabi backs up, it doesn’t matter if it’s clumsy.
“I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history.” – Gilles Peress
Gilles Peress covered war, revolutions, conflicts, and the people caught up in them.
It’s easy to understand what he meant with his quote.
How much do the rule of thirds or complementary colours really matter when you’re photographing the human cost of world events?
Never would I equate today’s #streetphotography to war photography past or present, but Gilles Peress’s quote does sing to one opinion I have of it.
That much of it will be entirely worthless in years to come.
Some may say it’s entirely worthless now. I’d disagree.
No matter the quality of the work, if the person enjoys doing it then it’s not worthless.
No matter what the legacy of the street photographer will be, if they’re making a living off it right now, it’s not worthless.
Not today. But at some point in the future it will be, in a way that the work of Gilles Peress never will.
As more people shoot street photography, more people will become technically proficient at it. The general standard, if we’re talking about well-composed shots, will rise.
But if the current idea that we’re shooting for Instagram continues, that’s all they’ll be.
Well-composed shots, but with not much else to offer.
Anyone can learn about the rule of odds and negative space and golden ratios. But not everyone can tell a story worth revisiting in 20 years.
Or even in 20 seconds, with today’s audience.
Do me a favour. Take a look at the Beijing Silvermine project.
Yes, it’s not street photography. It’s a huge cache of found family photographs. But that helps to illustrate the point.
The images weren’t taken by people wanting to get likes for their leading lines. They were shot by families wanting to preserve memories.
It relates to the Peress quote like this: a lot of the photography in Beijing Silvermine isn’t good, if good means well-composed shots taken at the decisive moment (ugh, BTW).
But it has far more value than most of what we, as a collective, me included, shoot today.
It’s the evidence for history Peress talked about.
Can you say the same about your street photography?
If not, have you considered producing work that allows you to do so?
“A photograph is not created by a photographer. What they do is just open a little window and capture it. The world then writes itself on the film. The act of the photographer is closer to reading than it is to writing. They are the readers of the world.” – Ferdinando Scianna
If you read much about photography, be it street photography or otherwise, you’ll come across the term making, rather than taking, a photograph.
The idea comes from a quote by Ansel Adams, who said ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make it’.
It’s a distinction I like. Especially when thinking about photographs of people.
We’d all like to think we’re composing or even constructing a shot of the subject than just claiming an image of a face or a landscape with the connotation that it – that is the image of it – belongs to the person or place we found it.
Ferdinando Scianna seems to be thinking differently. He’s fundamentally disagreeing with Adams, and taking it to a whole new level while he’s at it.
As much as I like the Adams quote, I like the Scianna one more.
There’s more philosophical tommyrot to get your teeth into.
If you make a candid image on the street then the subject matter – the scene – would have happened whether you were pointing a camera at it or not.
So did you make the image, or are you just allowing into your camera an image of something that would have taken place regardless?
You could argue that making your image depended on you being there at that time, in that place, pointing your camera at that specific angle from that precise distance, and pressing the shutter at the exact moment you did.
And I would say that doesn’t matter. That the image you got would always have been there for you to get.
The only difference is you allowed it to be written on your film or memory card, whereas an infinite number of other images – that happen every single nanosecond of every single day – will never have that privilege.
Those poor bastards will never make it on to your Instagram.
But the world will happen whether you make a picture of it or not. So, as Ferdinando Scianna suggests, as photographers we really are readers and not writers.
Something else I like is the idea that man doesn’t invent. He discovers.
The light bulb, the printing press, the device you’re reading this on.
All are made from naturally occurring materials.
They weren’t invented. Someone discovered how to put everything together in the right way to make them what they became. So long as someone did, the ‘invention’ was always going to happen.
It’s a similar concept to the photographer as reader idea. All the parts are there. They just needed someone to add the final piece. The open camera lens.
So if we’re reading the world with our candid shots, what about posed ones?
Surely those are more made in the sense Ansel Adams meant?
This version of me disagrees.
Let’s talk multiverses.
If – if – the universe is infinite and there are infinite versions of the photographer version of you in an infinite number of worlds capturing every conceivable pose or gesture or scene from every conceivable angle and distance with every conceivable shutter speed and aperture and ISO setting, it’s inevitable that the portrait or landscape you just spent time setting up would have been made by someone, somewhere, at some time.
You didn’t make that photograph.
It would have happened somewhere in the multiverse.
It just happened to have happened in your universe.
You didn’t write it.
All you still did was open your camera and let it read it.
p.s. like everything on My Favourite Lens, I didn’t write this article for it to be universally (heh) agreed with… tell me where your opinion differs in the comments below 😀
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