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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The in-public Street Photographers group, of which I was a founding member in January 2000, will be exhibiting a group show at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre in Bangkok from 5th Feb to 24th March. My talented colleagues David Gibson and Richard Bram will be in attendance to conduct a 3-day street photography workshop from 1st – 3rd Feb. The poster below features my image Street Scene, Grenoble 2010 from The French project.
This week I came across another Street Photograph that I had to share here, it’s a very contemporary Street grab shot made my Mario Cuic on the subway system in Munich, Germany. The shot is wonderfully simple with very few elements but the moment chosen reveals a beautifully ambiguous and psychologically intense picture. Viewing the picture, one finds oneself unable to settle on a reliable interpretation of events, my mind swings quickly backwards and forwards between a tender interpretation and a more sinister one, there are clues and evidence in the image for both conclusions and they are in a beautiful equilibrium. I felt I had to contact Mario to ask about the circumstances, his reply revealed that we are lucky to have this image at all.
“I made this picture on my regular wanderings in the subway of Munich, I love the subway because it’s small and restricted and therefore sometimes very intimate. It’s different to the Street, the subway sound, the people voices, the smell, all together it is really fascinating me.”
“I was moving with the escalator upwards, to a another platform, after arriving on the top, i saw the situation with the mother and her daughter and moved my camera as fast as possible to my eye and was lucky enough to make one exposure because after the mirror flipped back the situation was over”
“With this picture I had all the luck that we photographers need when we are in public, luck to be at the right time, right place, and some other luck, because the camera I had with me was not my camera, I had borrowed a Nikon DSLR from a friend for a quick test. I was playing with high iso settings, 6400 ISO, f5.6 and manual focus at 2 meters, I know for sure I would never have caught this scene with autofocus. I would also never have caught this scene with my regular Leica M8 because of the lack of high iso and the resulting slow shutter speed.”
“With all this luck, destiny donated me a photograph that tells so much about us humans, about our relationships, about culture (we are all the same), but at the same time it leaves us wondering what’s going on with the mother and daugher, it’s left to our imagination.”
This picture reminds us that a lot of elements need to come together simultaneously for a great Street Photograph to be made and that these pictures are created not with a great conceptual lead in but with extraordinary instinct or intuition. Many commentators devalue Street Photographs because they are made so instantly but I find them rich with important revelations, here, about urban life, globalisation, immigration, relationships even fashion and aspiration.
I’ve often wondered why Google Image searches for Street Photography always return pages of black and white street photography results with virtually no colour street images at all. It crossed my mind that historically Street Photography has been made in black and white for many more years than it has in colour and the results reflect this but in actual fact the results rarely feature historical old Street Photographs.
I look at a great deal of Street Photography online and the vast majority that I find is made in colour so why does Googles search ignore those colour images when returning results? I understand that the Google computer can’t ‘see’ photographs, it relies on meta data, adjacent text descriptions and alt texts to ‘know’ what they contain, I therefore can only assume that some dumb human at google has actively made this determination at some time in the past and we are doomed by it ever since.
Interestingly a normal web search for ‘Street Photography’ returns sites with a majority of colour Street Photographs so I believe a Google prejudice for black and white is unmasked here…it makes me wonder if Bruce Gilden is moonlighting at Google during the night.
If you have any other explanations of this I would love to hear them so please do leave them in the comments below.
The thing I have always loved about photography is the power of photographs to convey emotion on a completely different level to that of words, in some ways that is why I always still find it hard to explain to a stranger what I try to do with a camera and what Street Photography is. This difficulty was partly behind my establishing in-public in 2000 as a place to explain Street Photography through collections of images rather than essays. Sometimes while looking at Street images on the web I will be stopped by a picture that just transmits in a single image why Street Photographs are so tough to make and so incomparably rewarding to go home with at the end of the day.
This image by Kay von Aspern taken in Vienna is just such an image for me. It’s dramatic, visually and compositionally, It’s colours and light are beautiful and yet it is sinister, foreboding and psychological. I love the references to religion, time and death, the humour of the word ‘HER’ and the way the characters are divided into different domains by the black cross. The contrast of the black hood below and the ethereal bright halo above. Hermes was the Olympian God of transitions and boundaries!….and I love the ‘glance across the street’ aesthetic of the whole image….and yet none of my attempted description can match the direct power of the image itself to generate feeling in us and that is why I work with a camera rather than a pen.
If you want to understand what Street Photography is about then look hard at great Street Photographs like this one….because all of that above happened in an ordinary Vienna shopping street and was made with inexpensive equipment and no intervention in the scene either physically or digitally.
Kay von Aspern
Thanks to Kay for letting me highlight his recent image, see more of Kay’s work here.