There are inherent tensions within the art of street photography. Contradictory things. Internal conflicts. First, it is darn creepy. If you do not consider yourself to be a creepy person, the discovery that you might be good at it – both the photographic art and at being a creeper, will shake your comfortable self perception.
There was a recent period of time where I put down my camera for all serious work. I don’t want to get puffed up, take it too seriously, and be all oeuvre bearing. This is supposed to be fun. However, for about 10 years I set aside the camera and professional photography – my side gig. I still “took pictures” but there was no intensity and care in it, certainly no art.
I did the same thing with guitar years ago. I’m not certain the reasons for these decade long refrains. With guitar, growth followed abstinence. It may be the same here between me and photography. However, I have learned in the most pointed way that we are not promised decades to learn anything unless it pleases our Creator. That gets into another arena of topics like the nature of God, faith, religion, and the purpose of our lives. Dare I speak such words these days. For later.
Reviewing in my mind my favorite photographers, there were the great landscape and nature artists – Adams, Weston, Galen Rowell. I modeled myself after those guys. But the weight of numbers of photographers whose work I admired was more toward those who reacted to the situations of life around them, and who photographed the human condition.
Here’s a list of ones who made an impact on me: Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Lange, Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado, Lewis Hine, many women, such as Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Margaret Bourke-White, et al. Then there were the photographers in the Farm Services Administration, under Roy Stryker, who photographed during the Great Depression and World War II. The tradition continues.
I think it was Dorothea Lange who said something to the effect, “Photography teaches us that we usually do not see what is going on around us.” What the street photographer, or documentary photographer does is stop the world for a moment and directs our eyes to observe and consider what is before us; fortunate juxtapositions, the expressive movement of hands, the casual and random relationships that occur simply by changing our point of view. I think these are important things to study.
Lewis Hine almost single-handedly brought to the public’s eye the abusive conditions endured by children in factories. It was his photographs that were the catalyst behind child labor laws passed in the United States in the early 1900’s.
The FSA under Roy Stryker documented the Great Depression. Those photographers, which even included Ansel Adams, brought to light the gross unemployment, mass migration, the destruction of farmland, even the lack of basic soil conservation methods, and other effects brought about by the financial collapse. Their influence on America today is much more than we realize. Photographs change things.
As part of my continuing education in the art, I decided to try my hand at Street Photography, not the capturing of crosswalks and traffic, but of people going about their daily activities.
Things to Consider
It is not illegal to photograph people in pubic places. It is not illegal to photograph children, even in this time of evil people. The law is well established and proven in the highest courts. It’s not illegal to present people here in this blog, editorially. Now, if I took an image and sold it to a tobacco company and they used it in an ad, that person could possibly have a case for legal action. I certainly intend nothing more here than education and celebration of life.
What equipment should I use? Something light, very portable, simple to operate. The best photographs I ever took were with a Leica M4-2 rangefinder camera. One of my great regrets in life is selling this camera. If you can find one, buy it. It is a film camera. I cannot afford them now. There are less expensive alternatives.
Any simple point and shoot camera will do. I love my little Canons. I shot with an old G11 for years. It still works very well. The newer G7x has a ton more pixels, but no viewfinder, just the screen. I think a viewfinder is important, but a screen will work fine. Lately the mirrorless cameras have hit the market. One very popular, really impressive, and relatively inexpensive camera is the Sony A6000.
So you don’t need to spend tons of money on equipment. Buy them used, too. No more equipment discussion, just take what you have available, even a clunky SLR. However…
The advantage of small point-and-shoot cameras is that you do not look like a professional. People take photos all the time with their smart phones and P-S cameras. A big honkin’ full-frame Canon or Nikon DSLR with a 20-400,000 f2.8 zoom lens, whatever, does not lend itself easily to the goal here. They are heavy. They are intimidating at best. You will be noticed, and you will kill the mood faster than ice water. It is not the best tool in my opinion. The SLR is not the popular method. Will it work? Of course it will!
Here’s some photographs. Tired of words. I want to come back to this subject in another blog. Enjoy them. Comments welcome.