Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Life on the streets

If you've read my blog before or follow me on the twitter, you'll be aware that I am a big fan of photographing nature. Another area of picture taking that I'm a passionate about is the genre known as 'street photography'.

On the surface, taking pictures of life on the streets of Britain may seem a million miles away from the tranquillity of bugs, birds and the beautiful landscapes found in the countryside. But in actual fact, I have found that they are almost the same.

Watching the human species in its natural environment is not very different from watching a group of ducks (not sure of the collective noun for ducks - a 'quack' maybe), going about their business on the river or a solitary bumble bee steadily going from flower to flower. After just a little while of taking a step back and observing human behaviour, it's soon very easy to appreciate that humans are basically animals that are wearing clothes. A skilled species of monkey that has fooled itself into thinking that it is something above and beyond all other life on the planet. But deep down we all still know that we are a creature like any other, acting on animal instincts and following the herd.

This isn't meant to detract in any way from how amazing it is to be a human being. In fact to me this actually makes us and all of life more special - we are all participants in a wonderful creation (whatever your belief on how that came to be) and not at all separate from the fish, animals, plants or those greasy haired things that often appear on the Jeremy Kyle show.

Few would deny that humanity contains a fair amount of skewed thoughts and mental ideas that can easily bewilder us - often just eccentricity but at worst downright madness. For me, street photography allows me to temporarily step outside of this, away from the intensity of the human experience and take on the role of an impartial observer who simply records on film what he sees going on. Usual judgements about others are suspended as are typical social and cultural norms, all in the name of producing some pictures that when viewed by other people, help them see themselves in each of the subjects.

The photograph is a mirror held up to reflect all of our experiences which is why many people find street photography resonates with them. It shows us things and provokes reactions within us that may well otherwise be filtered out during our everyday experience. Life is frozen for a second as we are invited to glimpse the extraordinary in the ordinarily commonplace. A good street photograph is therefore a true gift as it can open our eyes to secrets that are in plain view for all to see if we just take the time to slow down and look.

This is one of my favourite street photographs that I took back in the spring this year:

The bricked up doorway is one of my favourite places in my city. It reminds me of Platform 9 and three quarters from the Harry Potter books. Run at it in the right way and you may end up in a magical parallel world. Alternatively, running at it hard enough will probably mean that the parallel world will resemble an A and E department. More importantly for photography is that it creates a nice backdrop which frames people as they walk down the street. If you can find one of these frames in your vicinity, it's always worth loitering around it occasionally to see what sights you can capture within it.

The young man jogging past was clearly taken by the young ladies just disappearing out of shot. The fact that he's looking around whilst running shows a keen interest as he's potentially putting himself in danger in order to catch another glimpse.

The girls were animated and giggly - maybe it is this that has caused him to react and question what's going on. Are they laughing at me? Is it in a good way or not?

Potentially, two social conventions have been broken by both sides - laughing and staring at someone else. Although this may cause embarrassment or upset in some scenarios, here it is clear that the mood is light and friendly.

I like that, as with many street photographs, unanswered questions remain - did anything ever come of this, or was it just the briefest of encounters? Whatever the conclusion, we can surely all relate to the experience of the desire of another glance (however fleeting), motivated by the ever mysterious force of attraction.


  1. Fantastic post! I love the image as well as its description - especially because you mentioned Harry Potter. It really does look like the platform!

    I like the idea of slowing down time and seeing a moment for what it is in its simplicity. I take a lot of pictures of random people on the street or in a particular setting when I travel. My friends and travel companions question it sometimes, but photography in tourism is more to me than simply looking at structures. I like to capture everything around me, and that includes people.

    1. Thanks Jenna!

      I totally agree - the life and soul of anywhere lives inside the people. You haven't really visited a place if you ignore the spirit created by its inhabitants. Ugly, decrepit locations can be home to beautiful people and vice versa of course :-)