Archive for March, 2011

Streetwise

March 1, 2011

One of the albums on my Facebook page is called Streetwise, a collection of photos shot between 1982 and the present. The selection is not truly balanced because I still have other negatives and slides to scan and also because there are some that have deteriorated beyond repair.

While these shots were taken in the street or are of the street and people they cannot all be strictly categorised as ‘street’ photography. Some might better be described as documentary, even though they are single images and do not have a storyline attached, and others are really portraits of people I’ve come across. This sits fine with me, as I’m not in any sense a journalist and my background lies in the visual arts. Ideally, a single image will contain enough narrative content to stand on its own.

It was in 1982 that I first got a decent SLR and started shooting in black and white. News photography informed my perspective but I hadn’t studied it in any depth. I wanted to record what I saw and create pictures that could stand as independent compositions.

I also shot quite a lot of colour slide film which, to be honest, is a huge regret, not least because the colour dyes do not stand up well to frequent changes of temperature and humidity.

There have been long gaps when I concentrated more on landscape, architecture or sculpture, or portraits of people I knew rather than any street work. But sometimes there’s also been public disapproval to deal with. In the south of Oman, for example, there was a guy who shouted at me not to point my camera at him – and he had to shout because he was over a hundred yards away!

I’ve had that reaction in the UK as well, though usually from people who were worried I might be working for the Department of Work and Pensions.

In 2002, I started developing my own film and scanning negatives which obviously gave me greater freedom in post-processing, and larger formats and learning to pull exposures offered greater tonality. Given all the possible combinations of film and developer, this also gave me the opportunity to experiment with a range of film speeds.

I’m now on my second DSLR, but the more expensive that investment becomes the more I tend to use film for choice, and where possible a 6×6 TLR. And sensor noise, of course, is no substitute for grain.

Performers and people who are working are obviously an easy target for the photographer on the street, but I have a particular interest in musicians, especially migrants. Having worked in Europe as an illegal immigrant, (this was through the mid seventies, before we had freedom of movement across the EU) I’m aware of the difficulties some of them face.

In many of the shots there is very little happening, people are absorbed in their own discussions or just standing around lost in their own thoughts. At times, the subject may show some slight reaction to the fact of my observing them.

What I am doing can probably be described as ‘pointing’ the camera, selecting views or scenes that I feel worthy of note and worth sharing. But while the portrait or the person may be the starting point, I try to be rigorous in controlling the composition, using what I have learned not just from other photographers but also from the past ten thousand years of picture making.


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