Thursday, 2 August 2012

Back to the streets again

I very often find that when I externalise my thoughts, whether it be through having an in-depth discussion or writing this blog, new ideas and concepts will fall into the space left by those recently departed. It reminds me of the old video game of Tetris where different shaped blocks keep falling to replace those that have served their purpose and vanished.

This continual flow feels much healthier than keeping everything inside, letting my thoughts trundle round my head left to stagnate. I guess this is why so many people enjoy writing - it is a genuine form of therapy. Even the tiny bite sized chunks we share on sites like Twitter can benefit us, hence its popularity (I think its a forum for the mental ramblings we need to evacuate each day, in the exact same way we need to eradicate our waste products). Social networking keeps our minds regular!

The reason I mention this is that after writing yesterday's blog on street photography, I now inevitably have further thoughts about it that have bubbled to the surface. Therefore whilst the subject is fresh in our minds, I'm going to add a little more to it.

For me, the key to street photography (and also most other genres) is for the subjects to appear as natural as possible. Candid portraits of people going about their business or resting on a bench can, by definition, only be taken without them realising a picture has been shot. As soon as most of us are aware that we have a camera focused on us, we tend to go one of two ways - either we react uncomfortably and feel shy or our inner starlet shines through and we start posing and pouting. Neither outcome makes for much in the way of a decent photograph (although there are always exceptions to this as with everything else).

So, ideally the street photographer needs to be fairly inconspicuous and record our observations of the human species without them even realising. This does create a moral issue around privacy invasion and potentially even voyeurism. From a legal point of view, one can generally take photographs of anyone and everything if you are are in a public place. This is good news, but of course, legalities and ethical conduct are often far removed. For me, the fact it's not against the law isn't enough.

There will be many points of view as to whether taking a picture surreptitiously is a good or bad thing (to use the most basic black and white of judgements). I believe that at the end of the day, the morality of it all comes down to your personal inner feelings - a mixture of your intent and intuition. When I'm taking pictures of this sort, I know that I'm not some kind of pervert or deviant. I know from the bottom of my heart that I'm doing this as a genuine artistic endeavour that celebrates the diverse nature of life and humanity.

However I would never feel comfortable suddenly surprising someone, sticking a lens in their face paparazzi-style and hounding them as they did their shopping (even though this is legal and wouldn't even be classed as stalking if it happened on only one occasion).

I believe you have to be sensitive to the situation you're in and therefore, no single rule can ever be applied to cover all scenarios. For example, although I always try to be as unobtrusive as possible, when taking photos of children I always make myself known to the parents so that a) I'm not seen as a weirdo lurking in the shadows whilst spying on kids and b) the parents can object if they're not happy with what I'm doing.

At the end of the day, I know that my motivation for doing any kind of street photography is wholesome and honest. In fact I believe you need this integrity in order to have the confidence to take pictures of people in public. If you haven't ever done so, try taking your camera out into the streets by yourself and take some candid portraits. You may be surprised at how difficult it can initially be to get over the fact that whatever your intent, you're still breaking social rules. I suspect that even the most determined weirdo wouldn't ever be this open about taking pictures if perversion was his motive.

That's not to say that you won't get jibed by your mates when you show them a candid portrait of an attractive 20something (although I find that doesn't happen so much when you show them the same but with a wrinkly 80 year-old as the subject). Although this used to sadden me somewhat, I've now learned that art provokes all kinds of different reactions and their source is, of course, inside the viewer. Any kind of teasing from your audience or questions about your reasons for taking such pictures are a reflection of what's going on inside the minds of your audience and not yours. Once you realise this, it can be fascinating to see what comments others come out with - they can be very revealing indeed!

I'd like to share another of my favourite street photographs with you:

When I saw this couple walking along, I was struck by how perfectly in synch they were with one another. Their footsteps and body movements were in complete harmony and they really did look like a single, complete entity. They were incredibly relaxed and a perfect embodiment of 'easy going'. I love how even the markings on the soles of their matching shoes are very similar, suggesting they have trodden the exact same path together in this way for many miles. Street photography captures all aspects of the emotional spectrum, but I always find it nourishing when that is a positive, romantic and uplifting moment.


  1. I like that you mention the natural setting. I may be repeating what I said yesterday (I don't want to go back and look), but it's only fair in photography to have a person appear as natural as possible considering everything in nature can only appear natural. A flower does not bloom brighter when someone is looking (to my knowledge), and likewise neither should a person. Good or bad, happy or sad, I enjoy people in their natural setting best.

    Also, that is a wonderful picture. They are indeed in sync, and I suspect very comfortable with one another. That would be the greatest treasure in a relationship, the overall implied image of harmony and comfort in the image you captured.

  2. Many thanks :-)

    I do love the idea of a flower blooming bright and posing for the camera though!