At the end of my last blogpost I said that on my next post I’d offer some thoughts on Street Photography and on my problem of self curation.
Firstly, this last week or so there’s been some controversy in the “Street” Photography world. It’s hot news, albeit of little interest to the man on the street, so to speak, or in fact most photographers. An image, quite an ordinary image actually, was voted Picture of the Month on a very well known Street Photography Collective website called iN-PUBLiC. If you click that link you can see the controversial shot, I see little point in displaying it here because it’s irrelevant. I don’t like the image in question, it is however subjective and it appears that some members must have liked it. It was taken using an iPhone in panoramic mode and Nick Turpin the founder/owner of the website who is a renowned Street Photographer has left the collective over it. He doesn’t see it as a Street image and dislikes the manipulation. Big deal you might think, but the important point is that it does open up the discussion of “What is Street Photography?” and “How much “manipulation” to a photograph should there be?”. Now, if you would like to read the definition of “What is Street Photography?” by someone I respect then take a look at the website of Jeff Chane-Mouye, he covers it in three separate blog posts. Here’s my take on it and I’ll keep it brief;
A Street Photograph should be candid, not staged, in a public place (not necessarily urban). Street Photography shouldn’t be confused with Photojournalism, the key difference being that we’re not attempting to capture a newsworthy event, instead we are simply documenting ordinary people going about their daily lives in (hopefully) an aesthetically pleasing and more importantly a compelling way. Clearly there has to be a person or perhaps animal included in the shot. I think it’s as simple as that. Of course there are purists and those who don’t like change, there are those that will argue endlessly about it. A photo of a cow in a field isn’t Street Photography and yet a dog in a street is? Does the cow need to be in a street? Didn’t we decide that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in an urban environment? You can see how complicated it can get.
These above fulfil the criteria for me so I’m going to say yes it’s ‘Street”. I picked them because perhaps they’re borderline “Street”. They’re candid, a person features in them, it’s in a public place. As to what makes a good Street Photograph, well that’s a totally different discussion, again totally subjective.
Some traditionalists, those stuck stuck in the past believe that only Black & White should be taken seriously, colour doesn’t count. That sounds extreme , but there are those that would actually argue the point. We must embrace progress and besides not everything that catches our eye works in black and white, take our friend “Rusty” here;
Perhaps only film should be used, not digital? It’s endless, but I do believe that there should be some kind of categorisation, it will have to be fairly broad though.
I embrace progress, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the over manipulation of a photograph. For me there are some adjustments, dodging, burning, cropping etc that are necessary. Cloning I don’t hold with, frame it properly to begin with or just leave in that person or sign or post. Besides, a good photo doesn’t need over manipulating in my opinion. The only thing I clone out are dust spots! That said I believe that as soon as we press that shutter we have manipulated the scene. The American Street Photographer Gus Powell puts it so much better than I can; “the act of putting four corners around something at a specific moment in time is already a manipulation of real life”. Let’s leave it there.
Now on to the more pressing problem of my self curation. Since I joined Instagram two or three weeks ago I’ve gone a bit overboard with the amount I post. At first it seemed a huge inconvenience to post only using a smart phone. All photographers I know use a computer or laptop and those are the ideal devices for us to upload from. I’ve never had any photos on my iPhone until now. So what I do is upload to Dropbox then open their app on my phone and save to camera roll. What I thought was a hassle has turned to be simple and into a curse because I’ve uploaded all the photos I sort of “like” in one hit and now it takes a fraction of a second to post from my phone, I’m throwing them out all over the place! Before all this I had decided to be more selective and I might once again take a backseat with Social Media, well that’s gone right out of the window. Self curation is tricky. I come from a standpoint where I’m not the biggest fan of my own work. Still, I look again at my archives and suddenly decide that “oh, that’s better than I thought, it’s almost quite good” and it gets uploaded to Dropbox. It’s extremely hard to be objective with our own photos, we’ve invested a lot of ourselves in each and every frame. I might quite like a shot because I enjoyed the moment that I pressed the shutter, I knew what was going on in the scene, perhaps I relate to the subject matter, unfortunately that doesn’t translate to others and doubtful it makes for a good image. Take this shot for example, no one is going to be very moved by it, but I am. I like - The two guys dancing, givin’ it to the man fingers raised and the other actors in this. The guy stood next to the “Man’s Best Friend Poster” for example and the two left of frame outside the Liquor store (administering a shot of redeye perhaps). There’s a lot going on, not technically or aesthetically very good, it isn’t cropped either, but on my 27’’ iMac it does look good….to me at least. I doubt this would go down well on Social Media (in fact I tried it on a Facebook Group so as to prove the point to myself). Even on this blog a lot of people will only view in their email because they subscribed, photos need to be seen in full size to understand the framing, which is why I always advise readers that all images can be opened by clicking on the thumbnail.
Facebook and Instagram devour contrasty black & whites that are fairly minimal in composition. Generally there is more going on in my photos than first meets the eye and I’m fooling myself if I believe that many viewers take time to look at them in any detail. You see, I’m talking myself into not posting any at all now, one extreme to the other!
I’m going to wrap this up now. Three people in the last week have said something to me on photography that have remained in my thoughts. Kevin Haggith (Canadian Photographer) when we were discussing photography reminded me how seasoned photographers overthink. He drew on the analogy that give a blank piece of paper and some crayons to a child and it will fill it almost instantly whilst the adult is still staring into space wondering what to draw. Kevin French (my friend despite his surname from Bristol) who’s not a photographer suggested that I “just keep to one genre of photography”. Jeff Chane-Mouye (modern day French flâneur) who is a street photographer said on incorporating gestures in my recent Street images “they give life to the photos”. Food for thought from those three, thank you.
The photos taken from the clifftop and of “Rusty” were from a very brief trip I took to Portland Bill earlier this week. Here’s a few more, not that great photos;
Finally, I mentioned some good news in my last blog. Leica UK requested that they use one of my photos on all their channels. Not life changing I know, but it was very nice to have their endorsement and I felt honoured. Here’s a screenshot from Instagram.
All images can be opened by clicking on the thumbnails and are taken using a Leica M.
My sincere thanks go to anyone taking the time to read my blog.