Winter’s Morn


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Street Photography: Musings


In my ongoing photography challenge, one of the categories was ‘Street Photography’

It is a challenging subject, particularly in these  times of child protection issues, big brother and terrorism. Some photographers have in recent times had their cameras taken off them by the Police, films and/or memory cards removed in the name of National Security.

It is a little ironic that in a media driven world some people now don’t want their photograph taken or we need permission from the subject. Point a movie camera at them and say you are from X factor or Big Brother or Saturday Night Takeaway though and the response might be different.

What do you think?

Is there or should there be an issue with street photography?

Shotslot has this to say,

I’ve recently had occassion to start looking into the legal position with regard to shooting candid photographs of people in public places, both in terms of taking photographs and publishing them. It’s a bit of a minefield here in the UK, where the past ten years have seen in marked increase in the already somewhat sturdy police powers. There almost appears to be an assumption in general that anyone pointing a camera must be a deviant, a criminal or worse (unless the pointer is female, under 25 and the camera is small and pink!) and a tendency by some police officers to mis-use the laws. This is an issue which has increasingly come to the fore in photography magazines and blogs of late.

Anyway, here’s some useful links that I’ve been using to try and determine my legal situation when challenged – the issue is that I have been shooting quite a few more candid pics taken in public places and have wanted to use some of them on a non-commercial basis. I haven’t always had the opportunity to get permission from the subjects. If you find yourself in a similar position you might want to check this lot out:

  • Simon Moran has a useful piece with a printable fact-sheet compiled by a legal consultant here
  • Urban75 has an excellent set of articles and links to relevant area, including legal guidance for people who have an innocent interest in derelect buildings – sosij this means YOU!
  • Daniel Cuthbert has a printable legal card, which also has good advice like ‘be polite’ and ‘don’t be aggressive’ – a good suggestion in any circumstance!

It’s also important to remember though that a lot of ‘law’ is a matter of opinion in Court, you shouldn’t take any of this material as the absolute ‘truth’ but rather be guided by it. Also, be aware that taking photos in dangerous places (like street protests) is likely to get both you and your camera damaged. I’d also be very careful about pointing your camera at other people’s kids, there’s a lot of fear in the world and some folks don’t just like it.

If I wanted to sell the images I’d taken and the subjects, whoever they were, were identifiable in them then I would need to get permission from the subjects in order for stock companies to take the images on. Have you ever noticed how few good non-copyright images of people, especially couples, are available on-line? Presumably that’s because these types of images are aspirational and therefore pretty marketable. Anyway, I’m really enjoying the chance to take street photos with a bit more confidence in where I stand.

Here are a few of my favourite street shots (Click through images to see more of the same)

by Donato Buccella
by Alexander Magedler
by Dimitris Makrygiannakis
by Nick Turpin

The last shot is from Nick Turpin’s website. This fella has lots of street photography under his belt and also was responsible for setting up In Public ( See Below)

Here are a few of his thoughts of photography on the street.

 

Street Photography is an Attitude

More than anything Street Photography is an attitude, it is an openness to being amazed by what comes your way, it is unlearning the habit of categorising and dismissing the everyday as being ‘just the everyday’ and beginning to recognise that extraordinary, beautiful and subtle stories are occurring in front of you everyday of your life if you can see them. I actually think you can be a Street Photographer without a camera and without making photographs, it is really just the more insecure Street Photographers like myself that actually have to record and show off their ability to ‘see’.

How many other forms of photography essentially have ‘wonder’ at their heart? That’s what makes Street Photography almost a spiritual process for many because it is so personal and so akin to a kind of photographic enlightenment. Street Photography helps me understand the nature of my society and my place in it, I do it more for myself than I do for an external audience and like Buddhist enlightenment I do achieve a happiness through gaining that understanding. I have certainly experienced ‘Matrix’ like moments of revelation when in a public place when I see things, moments just reveal themselves because I have put myself in the right situation for it to happen.

 

Replacing your own Head

If you must actually take a camera onto the streets then a high degree of dexterity will be required to ‘see’ things and at the same time coordinate the device to make a visual record. Simplicity is the key, keep your equipment small, quiet and uncomplicated. You need one body and one lens, you won’t have time for zooming so prime lenses are best and you are more invisible closer with a short lens than you are further away with a long lens. I advise sleeping with your camera, carry it everywhere, know it’s weight and it’s feel in your hand, know how to hold it easily and steadily with one hand, learn how far back your lens places you from a subject on the pavement, learn how much depth of field you get at each f stop, decide how much noise is acceptable to you and shoot close to its iso threshold, get a feel for its slight shutter delay, know how far the lens barrel turns from the near to the far side of the pavement. Make this camera so much part of you that even thinking of buying a new one would be akin to replacing your own head.

In the early days, don’t set out to make a certain kind of picture, just make lots of pictures for weeks or months and pull out the ones that strike you as special even if you can’t initially identify why. As time passes and you are patient, passionate and dedicated you will be able to lay these striking images out together and if you are lucky you will see your own natural vision emerge and you can call yourself a Street Photographer and perhaps an artist. The last thing you should do is to try to make pictures like Bruce Gilden (just don’t) or try to make pictures like Alex Webb or Cartier Bresson or Matt Stuart. As soon as you adopt others strategies in the street you start to blinker your own natural vision ever so slightly and that would be a shame.

Street Photography is primarily a spiritual and intellectual activity, it takes great awareness, mental presence, self confidence and faith, it’s like courting a beautiful girl or a large bull….the exposing of a photograph at the end is just the last blunt physical act that completes the process, it is a mistake to apply too much weight to that last part.

As a Street Photographer you are different, you are not like the others, you are an oddity both in society and in photography. In society you are odd because you are just standing their looking whilst everyone rushes past to their next shopping experience or intake of salty, sugary, fatty food. In photography you are odd because your motivation is not financial and you don’t go to photo trade shows unless it’s to people watch. You are really not part of either world, it can be lonely not talking about equipment and bags and not oiling the wheels of retail….if it weren’t for online street photography forums you could feel isolated like some lonely eccentric.

 

 

Stop dismissing the everyday and realise that it is your very subject.

OK, Street Photographers are not the Jedi Knights of photography but as you spend more and more time on the streets watching and shooting you do develop an instinct for what is about to happen or where you should probably be standing which can definitely lead to a higher hit rate. If the pictures aren’t coming, try just photographing non pictures, any corner that’s busy or just snapping every passer by to get you looking and tuned in a little. Look around for anything at all that doesn’t happen on that spot all day everyday, this could be a shop refurbishment, a road sweeper working his way along with a brush, scaffolding going up, a UPS delivery, anything small that could provide a background element or develop into something unexpected. Work one place for a long period so that you can see what happens there, the same bus with a travel advert that passes at 20 past the hour every hour, lights that stop the traffic with a nice reflection in the window from Advertising hoardings….you must stop dismissing the everyday and realise that it is your very subject.

 

Interesting words I think and his work is well worth a look to. As mentioned up top he also set up In Public a worthwhile site to visit and browse.

Personally, I still find shooting in the street a bit odd and I get very self conscious but I can see that it is an area of photography that is a metaphorical Gold mine.One for the future perhaps.

Withins Clough


Pentax K20D Square Crop

Up at the top of Cragg Vale, which has recently been chosen as a part of the Yorkshire leg of the Tour De France, is Withins Clough reservoir.
One particular winters day I found a section of the water frozen solid. I took a view through the lens and couldn’t find a shot I was happy with from where I was stood so I improvised. I imagined this square crop, taking out the, for me, unnecessary items in my minds eye. I wanted a shot that was simple and Zen like in it’s quality.

This is the result and below is a text I find appropriate to sit with the image.

iced

“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there”

Robert M. Pirsig

Gibson Mill


Pentax K20D, Texture

Gibson Mill is situated in the heart of Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire, just outside Hebden Bridge the town where I currently live. All year round the mill is within walking distance for me and so can be shot in all seasons and conditions. Finding a day when the millpond is still is a challenge. This is one of my favourite shots. I am ever hopeful of catching more.

Gibson Mill

Hebden Bridge


Pentax K20D

Up on a walk I like to take away from the town, is a view of Hebden that I really like. I shot in colour on the DSLR I was carrying, but always had the intention for this to be a black and white picture. ( I’ll shoot the film version one day soon) I like the angle and the ‘movement’ in the shot. Square stone houses with a curve.

Hebden bw

Horsehold,Calderdale.


Pentax K20D, Texture added.

Up above the town of Hebden Bridge is a little Hamlet called Horsehold. Above that it’s leafy lanes leading to open moorland.On a walk I stopped to rest and noticed a beautiful light coming through the trees. I shot it and then later added a texture in CS3 to give a suggestion of a painting. In the background you can see Stoodley Pike
If you look really carefully you can see the Earth Sprites and Devas dancing in the light 😉

Horsehold