Whether on the street or in the garden, the goal is to capture what can not be easily percieved. Sometimes it requires a keen sense of human observation while at other times a mere exploiting of the differences between the camera and the human eye. In all cases, it requires judgement – a highly critical evaluation of what makes the subject interesting to observe. For street photography it is about discerning the perfect moment in time with gesture and composition. With images like these flower macros, it is about finding an element elevating it to the point where it cannot be taken for granted.
This evening I prepared my prints for the Ventura County Camera Club’s end of year competition. The way this works is that each month (January through November) we enter up-to 3 images for critique and evaluation. A local invited judge will award a “merit” to those images they feel meet their criteria for being an exceptional image. You can enter either prints or images for digital projection. I tend to enter mostly prints. This year I received 18 merits prints and they make up quite a little portfolio. There are color street scenes, street portraits, street still lifes, B&W documentary images from the Salton Sea, one intimate landscape and even a B&W flower macro.
Next year, we will do away with the merit system and the end-of year judging in deference to open dialog. I will not miss the merit system. It turns each meeting into a mini-competition which I feel ultimately stifles creativity. The image above is NOT in the collection and wasn’t entered this year. This image, instead will go in a collection of three street still lifes showing the place of sculpture within our city and suburban landscape. I love image sequences. Soon I will post the second of the three. The third, is yet to be discovered (but I’m looking).
Though still hot and dry in Southern California, Labor Day marks the official end of summer. To celebrate I bring you a few images I shot at the Ventura County fair in August.
As I was editing these, I heard the voice of Jay Maisel as he reviewed the 10 images I had brought from home for his workshop in New York. At about the 3rd image with a fair theme he said: “Again with the fair?” (or maybe he said “Again with the circus?”). This is how different it is to live in California. Today I will head to Santa Barbara and take images of the California scene. Shorts and tee-shirts, sand and surf. The fair, the circus, or just the leisure life of Southern California.
I’m taking a few days off work and instead of my usual eat-breakfast-at-work-while-processing-email routine, I sat down for my mid-summer breakfast of peaches and yogurt with a recently purchased copy of the book: Fred Herzog: Photographs.
Fred Herzog worked professionally as a medical photographer but his personal work concentrated on capturing the street life of Vancouver. While reading the introductory material my mind began to wander. Fred Herzog had taken over 100,000 images of Vancouver over the course of time since 1953. I was wondering how Herzog determined what to include in this collection.
This thought was triggered by a couple of my nagging to-do items: developing a presentation of my work for the Ojai Photo Club and constructing a portfolio for review by David DuChemin for a visit in October.
I tend to make my images in short bursts of activity. The results are often a collection of short series of works, bound together by place or time. Often there are two or more images which are equally strong, showing single subject from different perspectives. However, there are not enough images, created over a long enough period of time, to create a real collection and I have a difficultly choosing exactly which image to show. I believe that the strength of story spans across images and not any single image.
It was while working out these ideas that I experienced a break-through moment for thinking about how to present my work.
About a year ago, I was introduced to the photography of Sam Abell, a veteran National Geographic Photographer. In Sam Abell’s book, The Life of a Photograph, he annotates the images with short notes discussing his photographic thinking. In many instances he presents two or more images side-by-side to show different visual approaches to the scene. In the book’s introduction he writes:
“Life rarely presents fully finished photographs. An image evolves, often from a single strand of visual interest” and he goes on to say, “Sometimes there is more than one finished photograph.”
This is his notion of the life of a photograph. The process of starting with “a single strand of visual interest” and developing that into one or more finished photographs.
It was this concept that I finally understood and say distinctly in my work. Through a seemingly random chain-reaction of thoughts, over peaches and yogurt, I was able to shed-light on my proclivity for creating small series of images and my weakness in editing down to the one single standout.
“I am not interested in rules and conventions … photography is not a sport.” Bill Brandt
Since the discovery and publicity of the Vivian Maier collection in 2011, it seems that the genre of Street Photography is experiencing resurgence. Vivian Maier is the Chicago nanny that left 100,000 medium-format negatives and thousands of prints in a storage locker. John Maloof discovered her work when he purchased the collection at a furniture and antique auction while researching a history book about Chicago’s NW side.
With resurgence, however, also comes strong opinion and debate about definition and process. Some street photographers insist that ‘street’ must include people, others object and opine instead about the street photography aesthetic and approach. Some street photographers focus on gear and follow after the footsteps of the early 20th century practitioners, Henri Cartier-Bresson for example, using only range-finder style cameras equipped with 28, 35 or 50mm lenses, loaded with B&W Tri-X film. Others, such as Jay Maisel, freely use high-end digital SLRs with general-purpose 28-300mm zooms.
Additional topics of debate include the use of color or black-and-white, the inclusion of people, the role of a street portrait, the use of long-focal length lenses, and what amount post processing is acceptable.
The term street photography actually came about as a means to differentiate it from the kinds of photography that were done in a studio setting or dealt with pictorial landscapes. The pioneers set out to capture the common-day life around them and, as a result, their cameras evolved to support their new ideas and, needless to say, required portability. I suggest that it is not so important to debate the gear and definition or rules of street photography, but rather how to go about creating and evaluating your own street images.
Studying both historic and modern street photography, you begin to realize that street photography is far more than just B&W images of people in awkward positions with dumb or surprised looks on their faces. Each image should be both visually compelling as well as tell a story.
Similar to writing, a good story is one that is clearly told, has character development, and leaves something to the imagination. In visual story-telling, clarity is managed by deciding what to exclude from an image. You must ask yourself if all the elements in the image are contributing to the story. Character development is achieved by the use of perspective, color, lighting, and the juxtaposition of image elements. You must explore how to exaggerate the message in your story. And finally you must pique the viewers’ interest by leaving out something important with either spatial or temporal reference to something exterior to the frame.
Today, there is a vast array of digital cameras that can meet the needs for the agile street photographer, ranging from the modern dSLR, to the new mirror-less and micro-four-thirds systems, to the digital point-and-shoot cameras, and the camera phones. Our job is to use our eyes to find our modern stories and capture them with clarity.