I’m not going to stress about people in street photography

I’ve written two other times about street photography. That is the kind of photography where photographers take candid pics of people on the street, usually in B&W but more often in color too. Sometimes the street people know they’ve been captured and other times they don’t. Sometimes the street photographers get very up close and personal, and other times, they don’t. There are as many ways to “do” street photography as there are photographers to do it.

The idea is to chronicle life. Street photos from photographers who were active in the in the 50s and 60s took some amazing photos that in all likelihood looked mundane then but are absolutely fascinating now. The famous names are Garry Winogrand, Bill Cunningham, Jon Naar, and many more.

Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand
Jon Naar, Faith of Graffiti
Bill Cunningham

Street photography is both profound and absurd. The first photo, with the old women walking…by the trash…with a small, lone weird animal at the bottom. Profound and absurd. The highly graffitied wall…with derelict abandoned car…with joyful kids. Profound and absurd. And Editta Sherman in the subway…dressed out of time…with graffiti – profound and absurd.

I find street photography to be more profound as the photos fade from “nowadays” into “historical.” I like street pics from the 50s and 60s and early 70s more than today’s. It’s the history that grabs the viewer, makes us go ‘awww’, or long for times gone by in looking at places we used to know.

I just don’t like dealing with people when I take pics. I’ve read up on and viewed videos that offer tips on how to take good street shots with people in them. I’ve read tips on how to defuse a situation where a concerned or angry subject approaches you. I’ve read up on how to ‘hide’ what you’re doing so as not to anger the subject. All good. I just don’t want aggravation when I take pics. It’s supposed to be relaxing. So I tend not to deal with people. I like architectural details better anyway. Skylines. Colors. Patterns. Grit.

There’s always a story behind everything. I like this photograph a lot!

Atlas Obscura has the story to this charming bit of London history:

The wrought iron hook hanging next to No. 4 goes back to the early days of automobile traffic. The building sits just off the corner of a chaotic six-street convergence, and even with the guidance of traffic lights drivers didn’t always trust the signals. So the police were assigned to step in now and then, to keep things moving, and if it happened to be a hot summer day they needed a place to hang their heavy woolen coats. Since No. 4 was under construction there was a handy nail to do the trick, but once construction was completed, the nail disappeared.

The makeshift hook may have been gone, but the traffic wasn’t, so the police asked for the nail to be put back. They got this instead: a sturdy bespoke model, clearly labeled so everyone knew who it was for.

Everybody go ‘awwww’!

There’s always the hope that as you scout, scavenge, and hunt up photo opps in the back alleys and trash heaps, you might make a cool architectural discovery like this one. Again, Atlas Obscura

In 2011, while the REI store in the Puck Building in Manhattan’s SoHo district was undergoing renovation, workers made an unexpected discovery. Hidden behind one of the walls of the cellar were more than 100 lithography stones from the building’s days as a printer. They are now on display on the store’s lower floor.

In 1917 in Halifax Nova Scotia, a munitions ship anchored in the harbor blew up. It was a huge and devastating event. As the Atlas Obscura story excerpt below notes, the explosion was the largest man-made explosion ever before the atom bomb. As you walk along the now quiet streets, you might look up and see a strange architectural detail. What is the face etched in the window? (And why didn’t the window shatter?)

The 1917 explosion caused when a munitions ship crashed was a defining moment for Halifax. It was a tragic and disastrous event, that also stemmed generations of folklore, like babies who survived flight through the air by landing in trees. Many of these are too fanciful to be true, but St. Paul’s Church, the oldest building in town, bears the scars to prove its incredible tales.

We used to visit older friends in Halifax in the late 1990s. Our friend who was in his 60s had a mom who was in her late 90s. She was 17 years old when the explosion happened. It was hard to get her to speak about it (no doubt the trauma of losing friends and homes made her reticent to relive it all again). We asked her what it was like to live through the most devastating man-made explosion in the world ever at that time. In typical northern taciturn manner, she said after a long pause, “Well…it was loud.”

When I do street pics, I gravitate to the buildings, not the people. I like to know the story of why this hook is there, or what that face is about, or what these curious stones with backward writing on them are. I like to see the color amid the concrete, the beauty among the grit. If someone walks by as I’m taking the shot, great, there’ll be a person in it. If not, then I’ll still be content with my street pics, sans life. I know that people in a pic make it more interesting, not to mention alive. But oh well. I like what I like and I’ll do what I want! Street photography minus the people… just the street, thanks. Besides, I looked through my photos and I’ve been taking street pics all along. Not great ones, not profound or absurd. Just…life.


Street photography and all its joys and pains

Grammarly has changed my life.

OK, that’s hyperbole, but Grammarly has given me relief in spades. It’s an extension you add to your browser, which checks for typos and grammar mistakes as you type. No matter where you’re typing, Facebook, Twitter, comment responses on Disqus, wherever you’re typing, it puts a red line underneath a typo or grammar mistake.

I’ve been surprised at how well it offers corrections, too. It is eerily correct in its offerings even when I’m writing cultural idioms or abbreviations. For example, I typed ASAIK and it knew I meant AFAIK (As Far As I Know). The corrections far outstrip even MS Word.

You can ignore any corrections you don’t want or don’t agree with. A little red circle at the bottom keeps track of how many words need fixing, and if you want, you can click it to see how many have already been corrected. I dare not look.

Grammarly is free, though that doesn’t stop its creators from frequently reminding you that you’re “missing out” on features and offers deals on upgrades. But these reminders are not intrusive. They’re contained in a correction, once in a while.

Hey, I don’t need an upgrade, I just need my typos corrected. They are getting so bad. I wrote a three-word response on Facebook this morning and mistyped two of the words. You see what I mean about how valuable this extension is.

I’ve been interested in street photography of late. I love photography. I noticed a book called The Birth of Graffiti by Jon Naar at the Second Time Around store a while back and bought it. He took his pics of graffiti in NYC in the 1970’s, a low point for the city and its denizens.

Naar is an accomplished portrait photographer, photographer of art and architecture and more. In his 90’s now, he is still active. Wikipedia says Naar has had a multifaceted career as an intelligence officer in World War II; a globe-trotting executive during the postwar years; and an environmentalist, with nine published books to date. Major publications like The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Fortune, Elle, and Schöner Wohnen have featured Naar. The NY Times Magazine’s very first use of color for an interior was commissioned by them of Naar.

I love-hate graffiti, it is a blight but it’s also art. Art blight. Blighted art. I dunno. Overall I’m just fascinated by it. I also like gritty city pictures, tattered handbills, signs, doorways, subways…Naar’s photos were all stupendous and so evocative. Yes, he takes shots of just graffiti, but he took many of his shots with people in them. Kids playing basketball against a backdrop of a heavily graffitied wall…a mom and toddler walking by a profane graffiti mural…and so on.

I didn’t know it at the time but his style of photo is called “Street Photography.” It is defined:

Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

I’ve always loved candid photography, especially of kids. I am grateful I’ve often had the chance to legitimately take photos of kids, either through being a journalist and covering school things and sports or as a school employee asked to chronicle events on campus for the yearbook or the official Facebook page. Kids are fun to take pics of because they’re unpredictable, emotive, and a challenge to get in the frame. They’re also cute!

Kids enjoy having their picture taken, unlike adults. Adults are suspicious, guarded, and can deck you if they get mad that you’re in their face. Hence the relief in being around kids with my camera.

But I also enjoy gritty cityscapes. Or even in my rural town, gritty, industrial things. Like these pics:

Many of my photos were of the same theme with the same interest in same topics as Naar’s. Like these of his:

If I’d like to concentrate on street photography, as good as it is to be on the same track as someone like Naar in terms of interest in these kinds of scenes, it’s the execution that matters. I need to improve my composition, framing, and bravery in getting close to the moment. In Naar’s scene of the police car, what makes it good is that the cop is in the car. When you look closely, you see his arm in the window. This brings life to the scene. The handbills, not only colorful and framed well, but his decision to take it with the bold clenched fist above them gives the picture a foreign feel, and vaguely threatening. The new & used tires, the inclusion of the graffiti and the loneliness of both displays of the tires makes one ask, which are new and which are used? They all look tattered.

Where I fail is getting people in the picture. Getting people in the picture is key. People energize the photo. Their activity mystifies, perplexes, shocks, or comforts. It’s the people who bring emotion to it, mystery, and story.

So, then there are the stupendous pics of Naar’s like this one, my favorite. Click to enlarge. It’s absolutely tremendous-

It’s subway and graffiti. OK, so the grit is there. The lighting is great, the warm glow of the interior of the car contrasted with the steel of the exterior. The light, joy, and movement of the people through the window to the left and the right. The yellow strip which mirrors the rush and zoom of the car itself when it arrives and departs.

And then…there is one sole, still woman. One part of the entire photo where nothing is moving. There is no joy. Her face is stoic, devoid of the same lightheartedness the rest of the people display. The grittiness of her surroundings is contrasted with her obvious wealth. Her perfectly coiffed matronly hairdo. Her poised, ladylike feet in expensive shoes. Her fur around the collar.

Since every photo should tell a story – or begin one, we ask, why, if she is so obviously of means, does she take the subway?

Most incongruously of all, is her butler and the hatbox. Pink, no less.

It’s an amazing photo.

There are many street photographers out there. This web page explains 10 principles of street photography and then lists many good street photographers.

Candid photography is interesting and challenging, just the way I like it. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile the link above has a wonderfully long list of good photographers and pictures to be inspired by!

Corner View: Street photography

Jane over at Spain Daily has a weekly theme on which we all write or offer pictures of our corner of the world. Be sure to visit her site and click on hers and the other participants’ entries for this week’s theme: Street photography.

A couple of years ago, I used to love to head into the city (Portland ME at that time) and take photos of things going on in the street. People, activity, stores, sales, events, fairs. All good. However, a lot has changed in the economy since then, and my little town of Comer GA is suffering. The main street is practically deserted, store fronts are sporting ‘for sale’ and for lease’ signs. Not a person is seen strolling here on a mid-day Saturday. Pretty sad. Maybe things will pick up when the local Farmer’s Market opens.