How I Define Street Photography
We're going to talk about street photography now, which is so different from what we've covered so far today. This is really much more of a free style, you know, you're out there in the world kind of photography. It's generally found in the public, often it's a candid moment, of course we'll talk about portraits in street photography, but it's dependent on keen observation of the environment you're in, mixing aesthetics and timing, using your senses, again we talked about that already, how important it is to use your senses as though you are an animal on the hunt, and anticipation. That's all street photography's about, anticipation. Sort of observing things and watching stuff come together, and then boom, in the right moment, snapping the shutter. Or, touching your phone. (laughter) As the case may be, so you know, it involves people, it involves architecture, daily life, certainly magical light helps a lot, but that helps a lot in everything in photography, doesn't it. Interactions b...
etween people, a sense of place, mood, and really the best street photography is an intoxicating mixture of all those things. So, what I want to share with you are some of the images that I made at the Ballard's Farmer's Market couple of days ago when we were out shooting, and you know in some ways this was a little more of a controlled situation, cause I want you to think of street photography as whether you're traveling or you're in your own home town or city and you're walking on the street or you're just observing and capturing moments, okay? And generally they are moment that will not happen again. In this situation, we're in a bit more of a controlled situation, but an enclosed situation. So I just, I was, well you'll see in the video, me freaking out and all that, but this was the very beginning of the morning, it was raining, and there wasn't much light, and I sort of noticed in the distance as the sellers were putting up their tents. I love this idea of where there was just partial, it's this idea of a partial person, and this is right before I got bulled out. No, no I didn't make someone happy, but this is an example of where I saw the side of this truck and I thought it was really cool. You know often that's how I'll work, where I'll see one or two elements that attract me, and I'll use that almost as my anchor in the frame, or in the scene and then I'm just finding the right angle and then I'm waiting for things to happen. So that's an example of that. And this is a case where it's candid moment, but we've gotten permission from this particular seller, so I was able to get really close and she's again unloading her produce for the morning and preparing it. I like the way her face is obscured by the sac, and I love her hand. This in a way is a quintessential image for a street scene, where it's something that I, I mean it's simple, it's not a complicated picture, but I sort of saw him from a distance and I rushed up and made a few frames before he looked at me. That's another thing about street photography, is quiet often you'll also have to deal with, you have to make sure you're safe, that you're being smart and careful, you have to calculate where am I? Am I in a dodging part of the city, or am I in a place where I don't know anybody, if you're a woman, that's another set of factors you have to take into account. It's just the reality of things. You know, so that because the act of photography can be viewed as an aggressive act in the world we live in today, even with your smart phone. Less so than if you have a bigger camera. But still, you need to be conscious of that. This was just a lovely moment, we were walking on the sidewalk and I noticed this family, and I just thought this was a really sweet moment. I did not ask for permission, that's another thing. With street photography, you kind of, it's a weird one, if you ask for permission, you pretty much destroy the moment. Now if you want to do a portrait, that's one thing. But if you're trying to capture a candid moment, then asking for permission is sort of a nonstarter. So it's sort of like, not a risk, but something you have to take into account. There are times where I have been in a situation and I wanted to make a candid picture, and I looked at the subject, you know it's usually probably an individual, or a scene, and I was like, can't do it. Because I'm going to be way too much risk. Whether because it's a volatile situation, or the character, there's a character in the frame that looks, it's usually a man, that might be aggressive, so these are all things that you have to take into account. In this case I thought what's the worst thing, angry parents, they'll chase me down the street, I don't know, and then of course, Mr. Creepy, following the family from behind. But we'd already gotten permission at this point. Alright, so I'd like to share some of the work I've done, examples of street photography from my career. This actually, this picture is recent, and it was in Milan. I'd just gotten flown from Ghana to Italy, and I emerged out of passport control, and this guy- You know this is one of those moments where I'm not thinking about taking a picture. I got flown overnight, I'm kind of wasted, and I look up, and I'm grabbing for my phone before anything changes, and uh boom, I must of taken maybe two frames, and I don't think he ever knew that I did it. You know, which is another thing actually, I wasn't grabbing by my phone, but that's what it felt like. Because it was one of those, wow what a great scene, I hope I can get this before anything changes. Because unlike in the Ballard's Market, where I am purposeful, I'm stepping out of the car with my camera ready and I'm looking for pictures. In this case, it was just the serendipity of the moment. And thankfully I saw it and I reacted before anything changed. This is in Mexico last year, just I was, when we talk about anticipation, so I was sort of, I liked the angles of the street, and I saw this family, these people walking down on the sidewalk, but then I also noticed this guy, very close to me, coming down right next to me, so I positioned myself and waited for the moment where I'd get this sort of layered feel, where I have someone really strong in the foreground and then the people in the background. I see there's a question, or a commment.
I was wondering, people take all these photos and they're posting them online. Are there any legal ramifications? Property releases, model releases?
Yeah, that's a great question, and for me doing work on the street, I feel is fair game, you know. But I don't take it for granted that they will feel that. Do you know what I'm saying, that the subjects, or the people I photograph, so I'm hyper aware when I'm photographing on the streets, that I have legal rights to photograph on the streets. Now, there are places in the world, like France, actually believes it's not legal, you do need permission even on the streets to photograph, because they have very very strong, very stringent private, privacy laws. Having said that, I've photographed in the streets of France and, you know, I mean there's just a point where it's like really, you're going to sue me because I took this picture, okay, there's not much to get anyway, but you know I just feel it's one of the, I try to be sensitive to the fact that again, as photographers we're weird with what we do, we sometimes loose sight of the fact that for other people, it is not natural, it is not okay, it's not okay with me to photograph me and my daughter walking down the street, even if you have legal protection to do it. But I do believe, that if you're sensitive to those things, and if you carry yourself in such a way that you're sensitive to those things, I think most of the time it works out alright. So I don't know the laws in Mexico, in relation to this specific picture, but in general I photograph freely in the streets. And then I just, I prepare myself to deal with, sometimes negative reactions. And in terms of posting it, or having it published, legally in most places in the world, you're within your rights to do that. Now, you can't do it for commercial use. So for editorial use, online use, websites, blogs, magazines, newspapers, books things like that, it's alright, but you couldn't use this in an ad. Or a corporation couldn't use this to promote them. I don't know why they'd use that picture anyway, maybe for cowboy hats, but--
Well you had said that, now I've kind of forgotten exactly what you said, but as far as dealing with the ramifications of after you've taken the image. For the first time ever, I was negatively approached recently over some pictures I was taking in a public space. So how, how do you diffuse this? Do you just say okay and walk away, do you, I'm just curious, because you're doing this a lot more than I am, how do you handle it?
I'm sorry, I always have answers to these questions, there's not one answer. So it's everything from "oh my god, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to do that" to like "What's wrong? I'm a photographer, I'm here photographing." You know, it's pretty rare I do that, that's more if I feel like I need to be, I need to push back to make them chill out, but generally it's much more like, I'm sorry, now if they become belligerent, not violent but belligerent and yelling, then it's like you just want to figure out how to get out of the situation. There are times where it's like they'll say, "Delete my picture!" I mean I've had that happen in military situations, but in this case if someone were to like say delete my picture, then delete it, and photograph again on the card, and use image rescue. But it is a tricky one, because it's totally legitimate that someone would not want to be photographed. Totally legitimate, and on the other hand I also don't want to make these pictures and create this kind of negativity with my subjects, so I try to be diplomatic as much as possible, and I explain, oh I'm so sorry, I'm a photographer, I'm doing street work and I just thought you look great, or I thought it was a really interesting scene, and then you see, how did that fly? And if they're like, oh okay. Sometimes again you can turn it around into an incredibly positive interaction. And then you just have to make that determination if the person will not stop and they're getting like intense then what you want to figure out is how do I extricate myself out of this, because you don't want to get into a fight about a photo.
Well I don't want anyone annoyed at me because what I'm doing. Okay, alright. Thank you.
You're welcome. So this is just is in the lower east side of Manhattan, I was going to a meeting, and there was this crowd and there was this scene, I guess some guy I don't know if he was drunk or he fell asleep at the wheel and he crashed into this, thankfully no one was hurt, so, you know again, it's the idea that one of the other, one of the advantages of mobile photography, cause I don't carry a camera around anymore. This is my camera, my phone, so I can capture a scene like this that is totally unexpected and unplanned. This was in Nicaragua, and just there was this lovely light reflecting off the buildings and there were these great bicycle rickshaws, and you know again I'm always looking, I'm always looking like what's right here, but I'm also always looking what's over there. What's there and there, so I'm using my peripheral vision, I'm using my depth vision, what I have left of it. No, so you know I can anticipate so I see this facade, and I kind of like the color, and there's this great light coming in from the left, it's sort of early-ish morning, and then I'm watching things go by and I'm thinking oh, this might be a nice spot to wait, and then I notice this woman in the red-covered rickshaw coming by so I position myself and boom, shoot. You know, hopefully at the right moment as she passes. So anticipation. Observation, anticipation, and then reaction. This is in northern Nigeria, where I was actually covering, in this case I photographed with my 35mm camera, my Canon as well, it was a military check point, and I gotten permission to photograph it. It's interesting, I sort of felt this picture would be more interesting with my phone than with my 35mm camera. You know again, working with foreground background. Foreground background, but I love the eye. I love the eye in the face of this sort of partly torn poster, there's just something kind of menacing or aggressive about it. This was also in Mexico, and again this is about shapes and patterns and color and form. And I positioned myself with this very deliberate, very intensional composition, and then I was just waiting for people to go by. It was a very simple picture. You know, if I was sort of unable to stay there for a long time, but I can't urge you enough patience. We haven't talked about patience. Street photography is really important, but in all of photography patience is so critically important, especially for story-telling. Where you're trying to get in close with people, and get beyond the surface. It's so important to dwell, and breathe, and again observe, and watch, and so if, in an ideal world, I might haves stayed here an hour. Well, let's say before the light changed, because the way the light was in this situation was just right, and maybe when it got a little too high it wouldn't be anymore. But you know, I think I was only there five minutes. But maybe if I'd been there 30 minutes, or an hour, I would have gotten an even more complex arrangement of people going by. This is in Manhattan, this young woman is knitting, this was right off of time square, I was racing to an appointment at the New Yorker magazine, and I just, there was just something about space. So think of this picture as an example of where it's really minimalist, and I'm using a lot of negative space. And there was just something about the pattern, color and texture of the wall, and the fact that she had, so much of it has to do, none of which are in our control, how people are dressed. Like the fact that she had sort of white hair, and a black top with a white rim, to me, made the picture. She popped in my head as I was going by. It's like the Milan yuppie picture, I'm not there to photograph, I'm trying to get some place, but then something catches my eye, and I couldn't stop, but not pull out the camera and take it.
Did she have any idea you were shooting her?
No idea. I'm someone who constantly looks for engagement, but in certain situations, I don't want any engagements, I want to be invisible, cause I want to go and be exactly where I need to be, and make the picture, and then move on. This was in Paris, this is a pretty simplistic kind of approach, but it's that idea of seeing something that I thought was very provocative. Actually this is from a William Klien photograph, a very famous American photographer that lives in Paris, and it was at this exhibition, and I just visited it, and then I walked outside and the light was on it, and I just was waiting again for people to go by. With street photography, this is often a lot of, it is like hunting, you find your position, and then you're just waiting for your prey to come. Same thing, this was in Manhattan. And this was in Nigeria, you know very different. Very completely opposite from these urban, very urban settings where I wanted to make a picture. For me this is all landscape by the way. I wanted to make a picture of this gorgeous rock cliff in the background, but I wanted something in the foreground. And I stayed here a good hour or so. And there were kids going by and all kinds of stuff happening, and then these two women in these beautiful candy-colored shidoras started to walk up and I was more or less in the same spot for an hour. And thankfully they didn't run away or go like that, or do whatever they just, they also didn't smile at me, which I would like as a human being, it would be a bummer as a photographer. Because basically I want to be invisible. And this was in India last year, this was in Calcutta. And we were in this Ghat, red by the river, just photographing different things, and a lot of the local people will come down here in the morning for their morning abolutions and to maybe wash, and so she had just finished taking a little bath, and there was just so much grace in her movement, and with the way the scarf is draped, and then trying to frame her so that her head is within the bridge, and being conscious of all these things so I'm watching action, but I'm also sort of positioning myself simultaneously, so that I'm trying to anticipate she's doing this action, it'll clear the two people in the background, her head will stay framed well within the bridge. See what I'm saying? So there's so many things. It's like that little supercomputer in my brain is really being taxed where I'm thinking on multiple levels. Multiple levels, I'm thinking about the light, I'm thinking about the assortment of elements in my frame, I'm thinking about positioning, and distance to the subject. And then of course the movement. Anticipating and capturing the movement. This is back in Nigeria, this was actually out of the car window. I don't do a lot of that, but I sort of wanted to time it so he would pass just as we were passing the fruit stand. Okay, so, any questions? Yeah?
Just a question about a lot of the images you were showing again with the square crop from the Instagram olden days. When you were shooting those, whatever the crop is going to be, are you shooting with that crop in mind, so that you're composing within that?
Yes, generally whether I'm shooting square or 35mm, I'm very consciously framing and composing for that format.