Street Photography for the Purist
Street Photography – For the Purist words & photos by Chris Weeks
forwards with photos by: Severin Koller – Austria Michael Kaiser – Germany
Matthew Craig – United States of America Rainer Pawellek – France
Deborah Delasio – Italy Errol Lyons-Rainey – United Kingdom
Darren Abate – United States of America Massimiliano Mortillaro – Czech Republic
Bernhard Wolf – Austria Patrick Kahn – Los Angeles/Paris Forward by Severin Koller – Austria (edited by Chris Weeks)
When I started photography about two years ago I had a compact digital camera with no mentionable resolution. I soon started to focus on structures
and abstract photography because anything else wasn't possible due to the low quality.
It soon led me to architectural photography, which turned out to be the subject and style I master the best. It also makes my living at the moment.
With that small digital camera, street photography were just ridiculous attempts that never turned out as they should have. As I investigated new
photographic gear about a year ago, I still had the opinion that digital is the way … the future. Last summer I got the Canon Eos 1Ds Mark II, which
I use for my commissions and some conceptual and architectural work. I used it for personal work sometimes as well. The moments you want to
make should be personal, intimate, close and unobtrusive photos … you can throw these 7000 bucks in the rubbish bin !!
My point is … I fell in love with street photography the moment I started analogue photography. I never took portraits. I never did journalism. I
never dared to do street photography the classic way. Why? Because it's not possible with a digital... the feeling is missing. You can see the photo
right after taking it, which destroys the whole flair. You don't have real black and white film and you will never be able to see the beauty of a fiber
print. You don't have to wait until it's developed, which is another pity. You lose all the joy of the darkroom. Digital cameras are too big, too loud,
… they’re simply too flashy. Small digital ones don't offer any useable quality when it comes to print; digital street photography simply doesn't look
like a street shot. Street is about life and digital is lifeless.
Today I'm using digital for my work and I never carry that big tank around with me, if I don't really have to.
I'm thankful I discovered the joy and passion of street photography, which includes spontaneous portraits, capturing moments, capturing joy,
capturing anger … it's life and it's a good feeling to shoot and look at your results … later.
I need that sort of photography as some balance. It's so different than my commercial. It's great to do both but without street photography I wouldn't
have half the joy of photography. It helped me to fall in love with that art form again.
It's relaxing in a way. You don't have to capture something. You simply can if you want. Nobody assigned your time. Nobody tells you what
photos they want. You just sit there or walk somewhere and take a photo and no matter if it's great or normal in the end … making it is just a good
feeling … something I want to keep my whole life.
Street photography can also be challenging and exciting. Be it a spy shot or a photo right in front of the (human) subject... both give me an
adrenaline rush. My finger is itching and my heart is beating … then I decide to take the photo, no matter what will happen. As long as you stay
unnoticed, it works wonderfully.
The best you can do is taking a photo without having any influence on the scene at all, then you have a real street shot and therefore you need the
right gear as well. The rangefinder was built for it and is still the number one choice. Something else I enjoy about street shots are when the person (be it in main focus or someone else in the frame) is looking at you or at the camera. I
like these photos when you don't see that the person realizes the camera but just looks in your direction. That happens when you're so quick that you
take the facial expression and look of the eyes before the person realizes that you take a photo. It's a question of seconds or even milliseconds!
In short … street photography made me love photography even more and that's why I'm so thankful that I went analogue. Because of street
photography I can enjoy my work more, since it is more balanced. I have a counterpart to my commercial work.
You can capture with your mind or with your heart. Sometimes with both.. but mainly street photography and analogue is with my heart and displays
my feelings. Work is a technical challenge and conceptual or private architectural photography is a challenge for my mind... but the heart, the
heart is street photography and when I write this, I realize it more and more.
Blog: http://severinkoller.blogspot.com/ Forward by Michael Kaiser - Germany
Why is it so hard to define what Street Photography is about? Why do all attempts do describe this genre remain so oddly diffuse? Why is there no
25-pages-manual, something you can read and (hopefully) understand and off you go? You may be able to operate your gear well, you may have
done amazing macros, table-tops, architecture-shots and even portraits, you can and should read all of the following – and yet you may not have a
frigging clue afterwards, what Street Photography is about. Because it is something very personal. Because you have to leave your shell. Because
you have to – in some cases – expose yourself. Because you have to love people. Street Photography is about sympathy, not hate. It is about
community, even if it pictures solitude. It can be ironic, but never offending. When you are taking street shots you are commenting, much like a
journalist. And this gives you a good deal of responsibility.
Street Photography is easy. And it is difficult.
It is easy because you find your subjects virtually everywhere. You don’t need to go for the extraordinary. Far from it. The ordinary, everyday-thing
is our matter of interest. It is difficult because the line to taking snapshots is very thin. Snap-shooters produce pictures, but don’t take photos. Snap-
shooters just direct their camera to whatever comes in sight and press the button. The gear is not important for this matter. A snap-shooter with a
Leica is still a snap-shooter.
Street Photographers work differently. Their photo has been created in their mind - long (seconds or milliseconds) before they release the shutter.
Street Photography is – we have all read this on dA, when submitting photos to this category – “about seeing and reacting”. Quite close to the core of
the matter. “Seeing” is the important part. Light, lines, fore- and background, movement, things and people that happen to interact for a second. If
you don’t see these moments, feel them, live in them, all the time, with or without camera, then Street Photography is probably not for you. The
“reacting” part is craft mainly.
Although photography is magic, you can train your photographic view. But don’t try to be someone else. Not even like Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB)
or Eugène Atget or Martin Parr or Lee Friedlander or Rainer Pawellek or Chris Weeks. Idols are fine. Learn from them. But don’t imitate. Be
yourself. When you go out hunting on the street, it is you, with all that you know and feel. You react to people, people react to you. This is what
makes the really special photos special.
If you don’t feel well in public places, if you happen be the autistic type of guy, Street Photography is probably not for you. If you think that using a
300mm makes you a Street Photographer, you are dreaming. Get close, be part of the scenery, visible or unnoticed, but don’t behave like an intruder
If you still carry the manual of your camera with you in your bag, come back when you are able to operate it blindfolded and/or from your hip. But
if you feel that your camera is an organic part of your body and the lens your third eye, go out and play.
HCB once said: “Photographers are like butterflies. They flutter from photo to photo.” Be a butterfly.
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