I am a student of history for the most part. As far as photography is concerned I have studied the photos and lives of pioneers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson. With that being said I think I can be better than them all. You should feel the same way. Humility has no place in street photography.
On the streets you have to be a wolf. You should not be a smiling weirdo. By smiling and cheesing all the goddamn time you’ll attract attention and end up taking too many posed photographs. Posed photographs are fine, but they represent “street portraits” more than street photography. When I’m in the streets I am hunting. I was never a stick-up kid like many guys from my neighborhood infamously were, but I suppose I was raised to have a similar mentality. I am out there doing my thing, like it, love it or hate it, and I don’t care to humble myself to all-time greats who probably wouldn’t have had a drink with my black ass anyway, even if I were allowed into the same taverns and galleries they frequented almost a hundred years ago.
I get it. Not everyone is aggressive. That’s fine. Street photography isn’t for everyone. Street portraiture is a close cousin to street photography, if not a sub-genre, and some all-time great street portraits have been taken by shooters who happily engage almost every subject. To them street portraiture is a social experience. To me, street photography is an exercise in anarchy.
Bruce Gilden actually combines the two philosophies I am discussing. He engages his subjects forcefully, some being deadly mobsters. He also used to run up on perfect strangers with a flash on his camera and take point blank shots right in their faces. That’s super big balls. Even I haven’t reached that level yet.
Enough about him. Back to me. I’m the shit in my eyes and I refuse to rank anyone ahead of me as far as my ultimate potential is concerned. I am competitive by nature and will continue to compete until my life is done. Then, after I have returned to the essence, the remainders will ultimately sort out who was the best. Until then you know what the fuck I’m going to do right? I’m going to stay low and keep shooting!
Street Photography is both a private and a public experience.
There you are, walking through misty autumn rain with your 50mm lens and your trusty DSLR or rangefinder. It is man vs. nature. It is recording what light allows you to record. It is wickedly delightful people watching. It is deciding what to capture and what not to capture. It is your trial and error. Get the shot, miss the shot. Nobody can help you compose and shoot. It’s just you. Street Photography is your personal failure or triumph.
Street Photography is also social networking. It is interacting with people. Unless you are using a telephoto lens, or shooting with a wide lens and cropping, in order to get classic street photos of living subjects you have to get close. In fact, many shooters use a 35mm lens or wider so that they are forced to interact with people. I am on the fence about this method myself. I use a Canon 50mm 1.2, which is not too wide but also not considered telephoto. It forces me to get close to my subjects, but not close enough that I disturb the candid nature of the scene every time. Sometimes subjects spot me and react as I snap the photo. Sometimes they walk by and have no idea what I’m doing. I suppose I use a 50mm because it is balanced, and balance is one of the key aspects of street photography.
Many gurus will charge top dollar to host a “seminar” just to tell you that balance is essential in life. I’m telling you here, for free, that the need for balance permeates all things, and street photography is no different. Street Photography is the daily micro-struggle, and it integrates itself into your life alongside your morning coffee at Starbucks or walking your girlfriend’s yappy pure-breed dog 3 times a day. It is your exercise routine and your healthy diet. Used correctly, street photography can help bring about the balance that we all need in our busy lives. Just keep at it. Dress comfortably. Keep your eyes and ears open. Stay low and keep Shooting…..