NICK TURPIN

Street Photography Pie

Street Photography, Street Photography Theory

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I take a lot of flack online for attempting to maintain a fairly rigid definition of Street Photography, I know a lot of people, including some very notable ones don’t even like the phrase ‘Street Photography’ but I think that horse has really bolted decades ago. Street Photographers were once men that would take your picture for payment on the sidewalk, that definition changed very quickly when the first role of 35mm film was put in a Leica camera by Oskar Barnack around 1913. It was really the photographers that took up those small portable cameras over the next 60 years that inadvertently redefined the phrase Street Photography to what we recognise today…a documentary form that celebrated the candid public moment. And now wether you like the phrase or not there is unarguably a large and growing international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed, whose intention is to record public life as it is found.

The adoption of photography by artists has spawned the notion in recent years that all that matters is the image and how it plays emotionally on the viewer. For the artists using ‘lens based media’ photography is like painting or sculpture, it’s just another medium. But for photographers and especially Street Photographers, the camera ‘draws with light’, records, documents, captures a scene or happening resulting in an image that has a strong if imperfect relationship with a real event. If you doubt the importance and relevance of the photographers approach over that of the artists, you only need to look at the fascination that photographs hold for us historically, images of conflict and change, first flights, moon landings etc. Even a photograph of your own street from 70 years ago is fascinating, the houses look new, the trees are freshly planted and children play in the road where there are no cars parked. In this photograph of my father John Turpin taken before World War 2 you can see the elaborate metal railings and gates that were later removed and smelted down to provide metal for the war effort….the photograph as document is the cameras most amazing power, it’s what it does best.

 

My father playing in the street in Cricklewood, North London between the wars.

My father playing in the street in Cricklewood, North London between the wars.

 

The problem is that the work of artists working with models and photoshop can often look very similar to the work of real photographers, in many cases that is the artists intention. From Jeff Wall in the 80′s onwards the power of the camera to document has been abandoned by artists in the rush for sensation and novelty in photographic images.

 

Jeff Wall's Mimic 1982 that recreates with actors a scene of of racial abuse Wall witnessed on a Vancouver Street.

Jeff Wall’s Mimic 1982 that recreates with actors a scene of of racial abuse Wall witnessed on a Vancouver Street.

 

Jeff Walls piece Mimic 1982 recreates with actors a scene of racial abuse he apparently witnessed on the streets of Vancouver, imagine if Wall had photographed that original scene and we had both images to hand side by side, which would be the most significant? which would have the most meaning? the document or the creation? The photograph or the artwork?

In my mind both would have value but also they would be incomparable because although initially similar they are completely different beasts from completely different worlds and heritages. One would tell us something about Vancouver in the 80′s, the other would just really tell us about one man and his idea.

The reason I get up again and again to defend candid Street Photography is because I believe IT REALLY MATTERS HOW PHOTOGRAPHS ARE MADE, it matters because it changes their meaning and historical value. There are many good examples to illustrate this but the most famous is probably the controversy over the veracity of Robert Capas photograph ‘Death of a Spanish Loyalist’ from 1936 that purports to show the moment of death of a fighter on a hill near Cordoba in Spain. There is considerable speculation however about wether the photograph was staged. When it was published in Vu Magazine it was certainly presented as genuine. When you look at the image below ask yourself if it matters, if there is a difference between this being a picture of the moment of death of a freedom fighter or a picture of a few soldiers larking about for Capas camera. Does it matter if the dead man got up again…..I think we all know it does.

 

Robert Capa's Death of a Spanish Militiaman 1936

Robert Capa’s Death of a Spanish Militiaman 1936

 

There are few deaths to photograph on the streets of most cities but I would argue that the same ideas of veracity of the image apply which is why I have made my Street Photography Pie Chart. It could not be simpler really, I don’t know why we make such a fuss over defining Street Photography. It’s Photography yes, it’s Documentary Photography yes and it’s Candid Photography…yes. This means that if you interact verbally or physically with the subjects of your photograph then you cross a line, you are not making a candid document and you don’t get to make the last quarter.

 

Street Photography Pie

Street Photography at a glance

 

I love photography but I only really get excited about making and seeing photographs that are evidence of the societies that we live in because they have a relevance that informs me about my own life and my own place in those societies. Every candid Street Photograph I see is a jigsaw piece from a huge puzzle about human nature and social, political and commercial systems, globalisation and consumerism, national identity……life. It’s only a reliable jigsaw piece if it was made in the right way and that is why we need that last quarter of the pie to be defined, it’s why we need the Street Photographers candid approach to be understood and respected.

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from 'Like Piccadilly Circus'

Street Scene, Piccadilly, London from ‘Like Piccadilly Circus’

 

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London Cycle Hire Scheme shoot

Commercial Work, Commissions, Street Fashion

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I am currently working with Transport for London and Swedish stylist Kajsa Soderlund to produce new images to promote the London Cycle Hire Scheme. This first series focuses on tourists and visitors using the cycle hire scheme to access the cities many beautiful spots. Everyone on the shoot cycled from location to location with clothes, props and lighting. Shot on Canons with remote Nikon Speedlights on booms.

Models from BMA

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Models on Hyde Park Corner London.

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Shooting bike to bike down Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London.

London Cycle Hire Scheme

Early morning long lens shot beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

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Lurvely Street Fashion

Commercial Work, Commissions, Street Fashion

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Here is a sneak peek of my Street Fashion shoot for Lurve magazine with Neelam from Models 1 styled by Moreno Galata.

If we have ever met you will know that clothes are not a priority in life for me but I do however love making a street corner my studio, I enjoy manipulating a public place and the people I find there. I did this with small strobes for my projects The Bridge and Youth but with this shoot I kept it really simple shooting with my small street shooting cameras, the Leica M9 with a 35mm lens and the 5D with a 40mm.

We shot in the streets, on the tube, in the British Museum and the Natural History Museum without permission, the model slotting herself into situations that I would capture discreetly with a silent Leica click.

Street Fashion shoot for Lurve Magazine.

Neelam lit by Advertising in Piccadilly Circus at night.

Neelam mimicking the public in Covent Garden, London.

Neelam Mimicking the public in Covent Garden, London.

Neelam in the Natural History Museum, London.

Neelam in the Natural History Museum, London.

Neelam joins the queue for a tattoo in Soho.

Neelam joins the queue for a tattoo in Soho.

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Year of the Bus

Commercial Work, Commissions

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This year Transport for London and the London Transport Museum celebrates the ‘Year of the Bus’ – a series of engaging events, exhibitions, recreations and activities that will reconnect Londoners with their bus network and remind the world of the incredible role it plays in this great city.

Transport for London gave me one of their new Buses for London to take out and photograph, it’s a beautiful design by The Heatherwick Studio that also designed the London Olympic Cauldron.

Standing with The New Bus for London on Hampstead Heath, North London.

Standing with The New Bus for London on Hampstead Heath, North London. pic: Thomas Riggs

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

Abstract of The New Bus for London

A second days shoot saw me tasked with capturing the New Bus with the original Routemaster, the same model that my grandfather drove. I used the camera on a tripod with a spirit level in the hotshoe to level it up so I could pan with the moving buses and get a sense of motion in the shots.

The Old Routemaster Bus following the New Bus for London through Trafalgar Square, London.

The Old Routemaster Bus following the New Bus for London through Trafalgar Square, London.

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V&A posters get Silver at Graphis Posters 2014

Commercial Work, Commissions, Projects

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The posters I shot for London’s V&A Museum through Rose Design gained a Silver in Graphis Posters 2014 and were shortlisted in the Design Week Awards at the end of last year.

V&A Museum Posters at South Kensington Station.

V&A Museum Posters at South Kensington Station.

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A Monumental Commission

Commercial Work, Commissions, Uncategorized

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Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London. It was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City. Monument takes the form of a Doric column in the antique tradition containing a cantilevered stone staircase with 311 steps leading to a viewing platform above which is a copper urn from which flames emerge, symbolizing the Great Fire. Monument is 61 metres high which is the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began…..it is also about 35 meters from the new Monument Place development by Mace for which I was commissioned to photograph on the streets capturing the attractions of the neighbourhood. In addition to my street photography I was asked if I could provide an image of Monument itself for the foyer of the new building. I made two visits to the roof of Monument Place, one to estimate the focal length I would need to fill my camera frame with the wonderful flaming bowl and a second laden with Canon 600mm image stabilised lens and 2x convertor. With the lift not yet working and laden with safety harness, hard hat and solid tripod it was hard working getting everything in place on the roof.

Shooting from the roof of Monument Place with Canon 600mm lens with 2 x converter.

Shooting from the roof of Monument Place with Canon 600mm lens with 2 x converter.

Blessed with a chilly but sunny Autumn morning, the resulting shot had a glorious blue sky setting off the gold of the flames and revealed all the little details of it’s construction. It was just abstract enough to be recognisable but unusual.

The flame image in the foyer of Monument Place, London.

The flame image in the foyer of Monument Place, London.

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From Kensington to Camden with Vivaldi

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There is something beautiful about moving quickly through a busy metropolis, covering miles in minutes gives you a sense of the whole city, you become aware of it’s roads and footpaths, it’s vehicles and people all being part of an integrated organised system. Driving on two wheels through the city is like surfing for me, I’m whooshed along on waves of traffic with moments of red light calm as I wait for the next burst of energy.

This is an 18 minute long film of a journey from Kensington to Camden, feel free to move the playhead along and dip in and out as I pass through the city.

No comments on my driving please.

 

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STREET 2012 by James Nares.

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NYC based artist James Nares film ‘STREET’ is an unscripted 61-minute high definition video filmed over one week in September 2011 from Battery Park to the furthest reaches of Upper Broadway, and West Side to East Side. The film shows ordinary street life dramatically slowed down by the high speed camera which reveals the subtle gestures and nuances of human movement, behaviour and interaction on the streets of a busy metropolis.

I see the film as fitting in half way between the fast pace of reality and the frozen moment of the street photograph, half way between the overwhelming un edited stream of real life and the highly edited most poignant image that we street photographers strive for. Watch the film and then think for a moment how much easier it would be to steal moments in a world that run at half speed.

The film is currently showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC until 27th May 2013.

 

 

Here you can see James talking about the film and his inspiration for it.

 

There is a further short clips from the film here.

With thanks to Richard Bram for drawing my attention to this.

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New Representation

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I am very happy to announce that I am now represented in the UK, Europe and the Americas by the charming and dynamic Terrie Tanaka.

Terrie impressed me with her energy, commercial knowledge of the industry and appreciation of the photographers role.

I look forward to working with her and her team.

Check out the Terrie Tanaka roster here.

 

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Street Photography: Feel the Force

Street Photography, Street Photography Theory, Uncategorized

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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.

 

Street Photograph Piccadilly
A tour bus that passes every 15 minutes becomes a repeating opportunity in London.

 

Street Photograph New York
….or in New York City.

 

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