|A Muslim in Paris|
A few weeks ago I got an email from a reader wondering why I never did any street photography so I thought I'd write a post explaining my thoughts on the matter. You might not realise it from reading this blog but I was once pretty keen on street photography. You'll see virtually no sign of it on The Online Darkroom because I fell away from it completely around the conjunction of giving up digital, giving up work and giving up holidays. The first two were intentional, the last the unfortunate result of the second.
I've always felt there were two sub-divisions of street photography: the mug-them-with-a-camera-and-flashgun approach and the Cartier-Bresson-et-al version. You might get some insight into my opinion about their relative values from the preceding sentence…
I don't get, don't like and don't see much value in the mugging-style of street photography. Flickr and other such sites are awash with this genre. It basically involves shoving your camera in front of strangers and firing off a few frames. Sometimes you'll catch an odd look of surprise or anger but mostly it's just pics of random strangers doing not a lot in an uninspiring location.
I like to think I fell into the Cartier-Bresson camp - wouldn't we all! - but you're free to disagree with me based on some of the photographs I've posted along with this article, all of which are digital shots (excuse their technical quality: they're small jpegs hauled off various websites).
From what I've seen of current street photographers, the more subtle approach seems to have fallen out of favour, leaving millions of pictures of stunned strangers to represent street photography. That's one of the reasons I find it less interesting now than before but not a reason for me giving it up.
|Early morning in the Latin Quarter|
In roughly equal measure, I packed it in because of the cost of film, the cost of holidays and legal/societal issues. Despite its long film-based history, I think street photography is possibly better done digitally, at least from a financial viewpoint. Anyone who has tried it knows that the "hit rate" can be disappointingly low. You might shoot off three or four films and have virtually nothing to show for it.
This is something I can no longer afford. Spending a lot of time, effort and £20 on an afternoon's film-based street photography with little return would leave me even more impoverished and still with nothing to write about on the blog!
Digital cameras, on the other hand, can be quieter than even a Leica and allow you to experiment virtually as much as you like. You could take hundreds and hundreds of pics that same afternoon for free. I'm not suggesting that this is the right approach for street photography but I'd say you're more likely to get some keepers this way than with film.
Holidays were important to me when doing street photography as I always found it easier to snap away in public places as a tourist in a foreign land rather than a day-tripper in Edinburgh or Glasgow. I got most of my best street pics in Paris where no one bats an eyelid at an overweight, bald Scotsman shooting away at anything he fancies.
Now that holidays are off the agenda for financial reasons - at least for a while - I no longer have the same opportunity to practise street photography in a more comfortable environment.
Finally, there's the present society in which I and other photographers unfortunately have to operate where suspicion is everywhere whether it's justified or not and some harassment from the "boys in blue" or their private security equivalents is never far away. Ten years ago I would have been able to nod sweetly at the police, mutter some apologetic words and leave. Nowadays, I'd be telling them to go and bother some real criminals and probably get locked up.
I'm becoming hypersensitive to this sort of authoritarian intrusion into the lives of private citizens going about their business in a perfectly legal fashion. I even had a run-in a while back with a nosey farmer's wife in the country and it didn't even have anything to do with street photography. I'd stopped to take a few landscape pics, standing on a roadside verge, when she appeared behind me and asked if she could "help me". I said "no thanks, I'm fine" at which juncture she just got to the point and asked me in a hostile fashion what I was doing. I raised my camera-totting hand and said "here's a clue".
Well, things sadly went from bad to worse and I ended up telling her to mind her own bloody business. It wasn't one of my finer moments but this tendency today to question things that we've been doing for decades perfectly legitimately really gets me down. If I'm standing in a public place pointing my camera at whatever catches my eye and you want to know what I'm doing then you can just bugger right off.
Anyway, a big brawny farmer's wife is one thing (she'd probably have killed me in a fight) but saying that to a police officer is something else entirely and I don't trust myself now to keep my own counsel even where the state-sanctioned storm troopers are concerned. And this is from someone who had always been a big supporter of the police - the old-style cops. Sorry, but there it is.
|I've got your six|
So for those reasons, that's why you'll wait a long time before you see anything approaching street photography on this blog, apart from the pics accompanying this post. I wish it were otherwise.