In this corner of Downtown LA, just at the Broadway entrance to Grand Central Market, people buy their lottery tickets. You can stand here all day and watch the people stream out out, intent on their tickets and scratchers. They rarely look up. They rarely notice. And if they do, they rarely care. This is the perfect position for a street photographer.
Judging A Book By Its Cover by I Nancy, on Flickr
I have recently made a bunch of new street photographer acquaintances and, therefore, have been looking at a new set of images and styles and reading about their different approaches and ideas on various forums and blogs. As I look through their work, I am impressed by their vision and images. I notice those images that take me to a new place versus those that just pull me along on the street with them. I am reminded of something that I feel strongly about for my own street photography. That the best street photography, across all of its various styles and approaches, is more than just a surprised (bored, angry, funny, ugly, old, beautiful) face. In my street photography I want a full story, a deep story. I look for a story complete with body language and environment to create depth. I want my images to be more than just an odd person or visual pun.
In this image, my traveler is doing a most obvious thing – sitting in a waiting room opening a book. The obvious can be described with nouns and verbs – book, open, man, waiting room. But look harder and you see a more colorful story that need adjectives and adverbs to descrbe. You see that his belongings are in neither a backpack, suitcase nor duffelbag, but in a brown paper shopping bag. The bag is worn and used, not crisp and new. He is not yet reading his book, but preparing to read his book; evaluating the cover, his hand guiding him across the words. He is older and has come in from outside with jacket and hat; a hat that has seen some wear and makes a clear statement of utility over style, function over form. And although he is alone, he is not completely alone. A man behind him, barely seen, talks on a cell phone, visualized in this image from the point of view of my traveler – just audible, but not much.
Upstairs, Downstairs by I Nancy, on Flickr
When I saw this situation, I was reminded of one Alfred Steiglitz’s famous photograph The Steerage. Steiglitz, in his photograph, perfectly juxtaposes Jewish men in full morning prayer on the lower, steerage, deck of a ship against the more casual crowds in bowlers and straw hats above.
In this scene, I was able to use the lights and hand railings in the bottom part of the image to draw the viewer all the way through and into the scene. With the woman rushing up the ramp set back as well. The upstairs scene needed to take care of itself, as I was concentrated on the woman below and her positioning against to get her lit within the tunnel. I like the man on the left, his face full visible between the bars, and I think he brings a sense of order and meaning to the top image.
The image is divided by the dramatically stylized art-deco STATION sign that is so characteristic of Los Angeles Union Station. Travelers familiar with Union Station will recognize this sign immediately.
Barricaded by suitcases and posture – Angry in Pink by I Nancy, on Flickr
Yesterday I went out to see what treasures awaited for me and my camera at Los Angeles Union Station – a mighty art-deco icon and still in use as the primary train station in Los Angeles. In comparison to the grandiose caverns of the stations I’ve visited to in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, Union Station is small but full of both character and characters. This day I found my best subjects in the main waiting room, upstairs at the train tracks, and at a local eatery – Philippe’s.
The main waiting room is large and rectangular with a main walkway down the middle and large frosted glass windows on both sides, architecturally a mixture of Spanish Mission and Art-Deco Modern. The seats are square wood and leather, ample and comfortable, so different from modern airport waiting rooms. There are always plenty of travelers that seem to have hours to wait, which I’ve not quite figured this out as this is the western most terminus for the United States. They must be using Union Station as a hub to go east after arriving from somewhere from the north or south.
From a technical perspective, the lighting in the station is dim, but interesting. The two sides of glass provide good directional lighting from either side and for normal use there is hardly need for additional lighting (though I’ve never been there at night). For my day of photography cranked my ISO to 1600 at f/4 or larger and work from there. I was looking specifically for portraits so mostly donned my 70-200 f/4 on a full-frame Canon 5dMkII. Stealth photography, you might quip. But I’m sure I would not have been able to capture these expressions with a shorter lens, and expressions was my objective.
I looking for interesting faces with interesting clothing, to tell a story, today I present “Angry in Pink”.
Pigeons on 12th and Maple by I Nancy, on Flickr
Last weekend I took a workshop from Sam Abell. It was entitled “Sharpening your Photographic Vision”, or something like that, but it was really all about composition. This man is a master of composition. He talks of macro composition and micro composition. Background and layers. He also talks about approaches to get these kinds of images to happen.
Here we had just arrived on our morning location at 12th and Maple in downtown LA. Of course we all saw the 200 or so pigeons on the wires above us. Sam’s words – compose and wait – find the background and then wait for the subject to come to you, miracles happen.
From time-to-time, the pigeons were coming into the street, so I found the orange background got down and waited for the birds to do something interesting. The street merchant threw rice in the gutter, the pigeons came down to eat, the van entered the intersection, the pigeons exploded, and a man rode through dressed in black wearing a hat.
In this image I achieved a deeply layered composition. We have the pigeons in front with all of their movement and flurry. A background of orange with the street patterns adding more visual interest. A “V” in the front of the image and the diagonals complete the macro-composition. In the micro-composition is the 12th St street sign – free from obstruction, its blue color standing out against the rest of the background, the van which looks like it is bursting through the intersection, and the man riding through.
Lunch Rush by I Nancy, on Flickr
Philippe’s is a Los Angeles institution nestled at the cross section of LA’s Union Station, Olvera Street, and China Town. The specialty at Philippe’s is their pork, beef, ham, lamb or turkey french dipped sandwiches and homemade pies and deserts. Thursday, Jerry, Chick and I headed downtown to do a bit of street wandering and shooting. Whenever Chick is along (a non-photographer), we need to bribe him with a first stop of food to keep him patient as we start and stop clicking away to get our next award winning shot. For this trip Philippe’s was the bribe.
I’ve, impatiently, attempted many shots at Philippe’s. It is so colorful, both literally and figuratively. This trip I slowed down, thought about what I wanted to express and did my best to work the situation. I really wanted to get something that showed the energy at Philippe’s. I started out with wide angle shots looking down on the dining room. I believe these shots were successful to a point, but not poignant enough to stand on their own. My next set of shots were isolating people and their interactions with the servers behind the counters or with their food. I was looking for light, color, and gesture. A couple of nice images resulted.
Lastly, I worked on some mid-range ideas, capturing the layers of people waiting, servers, and signs. I knew I had to include the hallmark sandwich sign and the array of neon beer signs are a plus. The way this one worked out I have several layers alternating history like an archeological dig. At the bottom is the layer of 21st century America waiting in line to be served. Next is the layer of the servers – doing something interesting, but not awkward with an added plus of the one server heading back into the kitchen. Third are the signs, which must be replicas of the originals. And finally the row of neon beer signs supplying both light and color.
Arrivals by I Nancy, on Flickr
Although I’ve done my share of landscape and flower photography this past year, capturing images on the street is what makes me happiest. Through the graces of my employer, I’ve had this past week off and have spent most of this time doing, thinking about, reading about, and looking at photography – mostly street photography. It started with a video training with Jay Maisel (from Kelby Training) and have studied works of Elliot Erwitt (his iPad app – highly recommended) and William Eggleston as well as several others. I really resonate with Stephen Shore’s work.
What resonates with me the most is when these photographers do more than just capture visual puns (though Erwitt was pretty good at that) or surprised faces on the street, but rather when they capture something about our culture, something about our society in a meaningful way such as how we live, the things we are doing, and the untold stories. I’d like to create a new word – Sociophotography – or something like that.
In Arrivals, I’ve tried to capture not just the energy of the people arriving at their destination, but also the sociology of travel in this early 21st century. Look at what the travelers are are wearing – brightly colored shirts, tennis shoes, shorts. Everything is so casual and in contrast to what an image might look like it had been taken in 1939 when the station was built. Look at how they carry their items in the ever ubiquitous white plastic bag. How different this might be in another 50 years.
Sure, I too, get enticed by the portrait opportunities of the Chinese man standing looking lost in the atrium, the man color coordinated in red and gray down to every detail leaning up against a green wall, the man walking determined and shrouded by his hooded sweatshirt, and the nonchalant princess standing under halo lighting. But I’ll also strive for more.