Saturday, November 29, 2014

BUS STATION MISSIONARY: A man with a message

Bus Station Missionary (Adelaide Australia November 2014)

This is Roger. I made this photograph yesterday at the bus station just near where we are staying. Just after this moment, Roger looked up and waved. So I went up and introduced myself, and asked him what this was all about.
He told me that he spends most of his free time travelling to various parts of the city on a kind of circuit.
"I still work so I don't have a lot of free time," he told me. "But I do what I can." I asked him what kind of reactions he gets from people. Most, it seems just go about their business, while a few choose to connect.
"Everyone's got their own path to follow," was how he answered my questions about why most people just walk on by.
"I have a personal relationship with Jesus and that's my path," he added.
He is on a mission but doesn't preach or shout or even approach people. He is just there with his messages for passersby to read or ignore as they choose.
I told him that there are worse ways to spend one's free time. He is a nice man. I enjoyed talking with him. A gentle man with a message. Not one I would endorse or comment on, but there you are. It's a good thing that we all have paths to follow, and it is a good thing there are people out there to challenge us with their simple presence.
Thanks Roger!
Peace to all

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"No photos please," says the dog in the window.

As you may or may not know, my partner and I are in the Australian city of Adelaide for a few weeks. We've been doing a bit of exploring, but it's not been a great street photography destination for me. Whether it's my mood, or the place, I can't say. Nevertheless, I've been out a few times with mixed results

Yesterday we went for a train ride to the nearby town of Gawler. A pretty town: full of Victorian buildings, heaps of flowers and a really lovely stream lined with parkland and big old trees flowing through the middle of town. So, we went for a walk around and my partner did her thing photographing buildings for her own work. I just tagged along camera in hand, just in case.

Anyway, we came upon this cafe, with the people inside and a dog fast asleep at one person's feet. A perfect opportunity for me. Or so you would think. I made this image:

The Doggie in the Window
Gawler Australia November 2014

Then I thought I would get down for a lower point of view, just to focus more on the dog, who as I said, was fast asleep. Well, as soon as I knelt down and pointed the camera, the dog put its head up, looked at me, stood up, shook itself and walked away with his head turned away from me and my camera.

Again, was it me and my mood? Was it the place? Or was it simply that I startled the dog and he just had to get away? Of course I can't say. I mean I wanted some photos from that place, but perhaps the place and/or the dog didn't want to give me photos of themselves.

You see, for me, street photography is very much a process of sharing, of permission granted by those I photograph, and of respect given by me should that permission be denied. And that goes for not only people, but it seems to apply to places and to animals also. It's a hard thing to explain in words.

Normally, if I make a photo, then I realise the person (or in this case animal) objects in any way, I will delete it either then or later. I've only posted this one as an illustration to this commentary. I am sure the doggie doesn't really mind!

Peace to all.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

THIS LITTLE DUDE IS LEAVING THE FRAME: Another Oldie but Goodie

This Little Dude is Leaving the Frame

Another Oldie but Goodie from March 2013. Made in Melbourne Australia

ALL OF US HAVE CROSSES TO BEAR: An Oldie but a Goodie

All Of Us Have Crosses to Bear

Another of my Oldie but Goodie selections. This one from Melbourne Australia August 2011

Monday, November 17, 2014

TWO LIKELY LADS: An oldie but a goodie

Two Likely Lads

A photo made in July 2011 in Amsterdam. Part of my Oldie but Goodie ongoing project

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ode to the Isle of Thanet: Street Photography from the streets of a forgotten island

For most of the winter of 2012/13 I lived on the Isle of Thanet, in Margate to be exact. Due to the cold, I wasn't out on the street that much, but I worked when I was able and when I was in the right mental space. 

Thanet is a beautiful area, but down on its luck as "they" say. Decaying infrastructure, increasingly scarce social and other services and a general lack of energy, will or attention on the part of government, all have led to the area being very depressed. 
So, a lovely part of the world, full of people who deserve better is being allowed to decay. 

This slideshow (produced and first published some time ago) of images made while I was there is dedicated to all the people of Thanet, including my son who lives there too. 
Peace












Sunday, September 28, 2014

LONELY STREET: Street Photography slideshow of the lonely and alone on the street

The 'street' is often referred to as a 'lonely place' and it can and is that for many people. And not only the people who 'live' on the street, or work on the street or have to spend a lot of time there for one reason or another. It can also be a lonely place for the so-called ordinary person going about their shopping or other regular business. This slideshow is a collection of photographs that seemed to me to speak of loneliness, or aloneness. Of course in many instances it's not always possible to know for sure what emotions the people photographed are experiencing, but in all these photographs there is a sense of alone, or lonely; as with all good street photography, these images will I think elicit an emotional response in the viewer

I first published this video two years ago in August 2012. Thank you for watching it this time round.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Will Love You Till I Die: A Street Photography Slideshow

Back in November 2012 I put together a slide show of photos from an ongoing project called Two's Company. This project is about photographing on the street two people or perhaps a person and a pet, but who are actually together. Might be two lovers, two friends, a parent and child, a child and his or her dog. You name it; as long as there are two people together, then it goes in this project's folder.

A kind of subset of this project is when the photo depicts a moment with two people who are actually a couple or who appear to be. And it is these moments, these photos that make up the slideshow. As a backing track I chose The Carnival is Over sung by one of the greatest folk groups of all time in my opinion: The Seekers. It's heart wrenching and soul enriching music, this song. 

Anyway, here is the slideshow again for your enjoyment. May it give you a moment's pleasure and if it brings a tear to your eye or a warmth to your heart, then I will consider this a good day!
Peace

Monday, September 8, 2014

COME SHINE OR RAIN: Friends Share a Joke on the Street

Come Shine or Rain (Georgetown Malaysia July 2014)

Walking around downtown Georgetown in Malaysia, I came upon these three friends standing and chatting. It was a very very hot day, and with the intense sun, many people were using umbrellas to shade themselves.

Of course what stood out for me and my camera was the woman on the left who is wearing an umbrella on her dress as well as holding one up for shade. So, naturally, I made a few photographs. Then her friend on the right in the picture, saw me and my camera. She pointed at me as she told her friends. The woman in the umbrella dress turned to me with a questioning look.

Me:
I saw your dress and it looked great against the real umbrella.
She smiled but said nothing.

Her freind:
What did you say?

Me:
I liked her dress

Her friend:
Why?

Me:
It has an umbrella on it and she's holding an umbrella. It's funny

Her friend heard me but was confused. By this time I had reached the spot where they stood and I pointed at the dress and the umbrella. Both the friends looked at the dress and started pointing and laughing. What they said I don't know, as it was in Malay. But they were really having a good laugh, pointing at the dress then the umbrella and generally enjoying teasing their friend.

At this stage I discreetly withdrew with a thank you and a smile leaving the friends to share the joke





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ART IGNORED Those who don't want to see or take action, don't look

Art Ignored (Melbourne Australia August 2014)


Him: 
(the artist approaching me from behind as I walked around the artwork on the pavement) Can I ask what made you stop to look at the work?

Me: 
Well I really liked it. It's a comment on homelessness right?

Him: 
Yes it is. But we're worried that not many people are stopping to look. You're one of the very few who've stopped today.

Me: 
Well, you know people are conditioned not to look. Anyway, (I point to the passing hordes of shoppers) look, people are too busy shopping, looking at stuff in the windows.

Him: 
Yes, I guess they don't like to see do they?

Me: 
Well a lot of people don't want to know or see, you're right. They're afraid that if they see they will have to do something

Him: 
Well a lot of people glance out of the corner of their eye then they quickly look away.

Me:  
People are afraid like I say. They think there might be someone here to grab them to sell them something or a homeless person asking for money or whatever

Him:
We've tried everything. Putting down a sign explaining what it is. But that was gone after half an hour. We put the same piece down in...(a popular part of the city)... and the whole installation was gone in twenty minutes.

Me: 
Well, people don't want to know. You're an artist so you know that already.

Him: 
Yes, you're right. Thanks (looking a bit dejected he started to walk away)

Me: 
 Keep on with the work. It's important and remember it's not about the number of people who see and respond, it's about the quality of the response.


              I'm not sure he heard these last words from me.




Saturday, August 30, 2014

DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER

Don't Shoot the Messenger (Melbourne Australia August 2014)

Me: I love your t shirt man. Not sure about the guy wearing it"
  (this guy's mate had seen me and told him. So I reassured him
    with my "humor"
Him: That's right. Don't shoot the messenger mate.
Me: I'd never do that
Him: They got rid of him (pointing to his t shirt) for being a messenger
Me: Yeah I know. They did didn't they?

                            Imagine ...




Thursday, August 21, 2014

I SMASHED MY NEW CAMERA TODAY!

On Sunday I bought a fuji xt1 and the 35mm 1.4 lens. It’s a beautiful camera and the lens is so wonderful.

Today, on only my second outing with it, I was about to check the times on the bus stop for a FIVE minute ride to the train station (I was too tired to walk!). I heard someone to the side of me yelling at me, I turned and at the same time must have twisted my feet around because I caught my right foot on the curb and fell on the road. 

I had the camera on a wrist strap and it smashed against the ground and as if in slow motion I saw the lens bounce off. I even saw one of the really TINY screws roll away. They say these types of things can make you think it’s all happening in slow motion and you can see even minute details.

Anyway, the lens was torn from its mount (which stayed on the camera and saved the sensor I think) and the connecting electronic tape thingy broke. The body seems okay though the power switch smashed and there are some marks, But who knows what’s happened inside?

For me this is a huge problem. I really risked a lot to get the camera (I don't have work and no income at all at the moment except for the odd photo sale). No idea how much repairs will be but it will be a lot I am sure.

I am devastated by this and can’t help it. The person who yelled is mentally ill, so I don't blame him. As I looked at my watch before checking the bus times he yelled “What are you looking at your watch for?”. I know it sounds weird, but that’s what happened. What he'd said only registered after I was on the ground and crying. I couldn't believe it. He carried on yelling and threatening me as I lay there and even after we all got on the bus.

I know there are worse things, and I’m not complaining, I’m really not, but I am so upset and can't help it. 

But I will follow Fuji’s advice and send it for a quote. Meanwhile I will be without a camera. Again, I am not complaining. I have a LOT of editing to do and a few things to write. It’s just that I was so excited to finally have a camera that was giving me exactly what I wanted from my street photos.

Enough of this. It’s a big deal for me, but in the big scheme of things it’s nothing. And I am sorry for going on about it.

Peace and love to all

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Street Photography Point of View: Change the relationship with the people you photograph

I was, as you may know, in Malaysia recently for a month or so. I wasn't overly active on the street while there. Not sure why, but probably to do with the burnout, or hitting of walls that you have already read about. Anyway, some other changes took place, a few other insights about how I use the camera, how I go about my work, came to light while there when I did work.

I made the photograph below one day on the streets in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.



To be honest, as soon as I made this photo I looked at the review image (yes, I know, I was chimping) and I was shocked. Shocked by the point of view that I had decided to make the photo from. Now, I know it's the "normal" view we make most photos from: with the camera at eye level.  Nothing wrong with that per se of course.

But, in this instance I was shocked because the woman appears to be upset, ill, or perhaps simply resting. And that gave me pause, as they say. I thought this isn't right. I am looking down on this person who appears to be in some kind of distress or at least having a private moment. Power imbalance was the phrase that occurred to me. Mind you, all this ticked over in my mind in just a few seconds. So, without further conscious thought I bent down and using the flip out LCD screen on the camera (a feature I thought I would never use when I first bought the camera), made another image from that lover point of view. Here is that image:

Kerbside Dreaming (Kuching Malaysia July 2014

While I am thinking about it, there is an excellent post that I read while thinking about this subject just a few days ago. A great discussion on the changing of perspective or point of view (or POV as it's often called). The author talks about how we struggle sometimes to come up with a new or interesting image because we so often make photographs from the same perspective, from eye level. He demonstrates how we can instantly create interest simply by changing our point of view. Getting down on one knee, finding a lower position on some steps for example and some other really worthwhile suggestions. Here's the link and I really do recommend you read the post. Very good stuff indeed. Actually the blog is full of great posts. Go there!!

I thought it was interesting that I came across that post while I was putting together my thoughts about this exact issue. Well, not quite exact really. What I am getting at here is more about the balance of power, or perhaps we can call it the terms on which the photographer and the photographee "meet".

In an instance like this one with the woman sitting on the kerb and appearing as I say to be distressed in some way, it just didn't feel right to be looking down. I had to meet her on the level she was at. Otherwise it seems to me that I am not in a truly empathetic relationship with her. Well, as empathetic as observation for a short moment allows anyway. I think you know what I mean! That looking down somehow gives a message that she is merely a subject, she is not a real person going through real human emotions. Sure, I might have recorded a photo of a woman in distress of some kind sitting on a kerb, but the final result would not have been a true partnership, a true record. At least that's the way I've been thinking

And after all my role as a street and documentary photographer is to record the truth as well and as accurately as I can. I don't intend here to think about the black and white vs color, the post processing vs out of the camera, or any other debate. After all, we all have our own ways of processing and completing photographs that we  make and that suit what we are trying to say. Anyway, for me, the second image, which is the one I chose to complete and share with the world (or the tiny portion of it that sees my work), is the more truthful and honest.

I did ask this lady if she was okay. She smiled and thanked me for asking. That's all. And I smiled and went on my way.

Peace to you all

Friday, July 18, 2014

PAUL'S PICTURES STREET PHOTOGRAPHY IS BACK!

Gardener at Rest (Kuching Malaysia July 2014)

Okay, I know it's not been that long since I declared burnout. But, somehow things have changed and I feel a renewed sense of commitment to my work and to actually getting out there and sharing moments and making photographs.

We moved from Georgetown on Penang a couple of days ago and we are now settled into a hotel with a wonderful view of the Sarawak River in the city of Kuching, which is in the state of Sarawak. And Sarawak, friends, is on the third largest island in the world, Borneo. Imagine? I am on Borneo. Jungle, exotic river life, and orangutans (though we won't be seeing them due to the dodgy nature of the centers "caring" for them here. Seem to be just overhyped and tacky tourist ventures to us with no "rehabilitation" happening.

So, what have I been up to while I was on my little break from street photography? Well, to be completely honest, I have made a few street images here and there, in passing you might say. Mostly I've just been exploring and soaking up the vibe of where we are. I have made some photos of the temples we've visited. I rather like them (the temples and the photos), so maybe you will too. So, here are a few of them for your viewing enjoyment.

Oh, before I go. What makes me think I'm back? Well, just taking my camera out today as we went looking for lunch and then to the museum, I found myself "seeing" photographs all over the place. In the end, I only made one, and there it is above. Anyway, it's good to be back. Perhaps I will put together a post just devoted to the whole "having a break" idea. We'll see. So, here are a few of my temple images. Enjoy!

 Demon or Guardian?(Kek Loc Si Temple Penang Malaysia July 2014)

 Dharma Wheel and the Bodhisatva Deers (Kek Loc Si Temple Penang Malaysia July 2014)


Secular or Sacred (Georgetown Penang Malaysia July 2014)


 Guardian Tiger and Her Cub (on a temple door Georgetown Penang Malaysia July 2014

And for the last image, here is one of the street photos that leapt out and grabbed me even though I wasn't really thinking about street photography that day

 It's Rude to Point in Penang (Georgetown Penang Malaysia July 2014)





Wednesday, July 9, 2014

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BURNOUT? Paul's Pictures Hits a Wall


Eyes of the Elder (Georgetown Malaysia July 2014)

The faithful friends and others who read this blog will know that I am now in Malaysia. A few days ago I wrote a "Paul's Pictures is in Malaysia" post. In that post I wrote:
Stay tuned then for further updates on our Malaysian adventure. I intend to be busy while we are here; while I want to explore, and "be a traveller", I really want this to be a street photography trip. So, let's see how it goes!

And I have been busy so far. But, you know something? I have stopped wanting it to be a street photography trip. No, sorry, that's not quite right. I desperately want to spend all my days on the street photographing. But, despite being out and about a couple of times, I find I just can't. No matter, I thought; I will just catch up on some editing and completing photographs ready for sharing and putting up for sale. But, again, I just haven't been able to get going on this at all. I've done a bit, but not really much at all. Why?

To tell you the truth I think I am suffering from burnout. We have been travelling for eighteen months now, and I have been full on both working on the street wherever we happen to be, editing and posting, blog writing and posting, making slideshows. In other words I have been working harder than ever before, and I think I have, as they say, hit a wall.

So, here's what I've decided to do. I am a great believer in the Buddhist idea that the cause of suffering is desire, or clinging. And, as I said, I have been desperately wanting to be out there on the street making photographs.It is this desire coupled with my burnout or wall hittng that is causing me to feel bad. Therefore, I have decided now to not want to work (at least to aspire to not wanting to work). I have decided to devote myself more to being a traveler, to exploring this place with my partner. I have decided that even artists need a vacation, and a break from their work sometimes.

And it's not as if I am not thinking about my work, or not being open to new experiences, impressions, ideas and the rest. In fact, it just could be that a rest at this stage will lead directly to a new invigorated me with new and more ideas, better ways of working. Who can say?

How long will this vacation last? Well, I made these decisions yesterday and already today I told my partner that I was feeling better and ready to get back to work. She said, give yourself a chance, don't hurry. So, I won't. And I won't commit to any time frame either. 

Just like with my work itself, I will try to simply be in the moment, allow whatever is going to happen to unfold and I will try to just go with the flow. It might be days, or weeks. Or it could be that tomorrow I just won't be able to resist the urge to pick up the camera and get back to work. Like the actual work itself, the timing of when and where to photograph or not to photograph, is a thing to be decided by one's intuition and one's feelings for the time and the space, for the environment as well as one's mood and state of mind.

So, once again, stay tuned. 

peace

Friday, July 4, 2014

Paul's Pictures Street Photographer is in Malaysia

Outside the Flower Shop (Kuala Lumpur Malaysia July 2014)

Yes friends, Paul's Pictures is in Malaysia, Georgetown on the island of Penang to be exact. We arrived here last night after spending three nights in the capital Kuala Lumpur, or as the locals call it KL.  KL is an extraordinary place. What I call a mega city. It is an eclectic mix of Victorian era shops, houses and assorted buildings and 21st Century skyscrapers that seem to me to actually be scraping the sky; they are massive! And all kinds of architectural styles too. I loved it.

But even more great is the multi-cultural make up of the city's population. There are people from everywhere here and each cultural group has really made its mark on the city; there are mosques that will blow your mind, lavishly decorated Hindu Temples that soar stories high and Taoist temples crammed with deities and ancestors (who are often the one and the same of course) and the smell of incense.

 Then of course there are the foods that each cultural group has brought to this huge metropolis. We're vegetarian and with the plethora of Indian and Chinese restaurants we didn't have a lot of trouble finding tasty and nourishing meals. Then there is the Chai. We love chai and it was one of the joys of this place that we were able pop over the road from our hotel to the Jai Hind restaurant and grab a real chai for only 50c.

But what of the streets? What of the photography? Well, to be honest, I didn't really have any street photography only outings; a couple of times I took my camera along as we explored. Having said that, I did make a few photographs; I did share a few moments with some very friendly and welcoming people. That's one thing I forgot to mention: in KL we had a lot of friendly encounters, met some nice people over meals in local cafes, shared some laughs and heard "Welcome to Malaysia" many many times.

Those three days were really a period of orientation and acclimatizing (from Melbourne's winter to KL's pre-monsoon heat and humidity is a teeny bit of an adjustment as you can imagine). But now  we are on Penang where we plan to spend the next three and a bit weeks. We may change those plans: already we have a list of other places in Malaysia that are beckoning to us).

So, at this stage it looks like Penang, or rather the city of Georgetown (the main city on the island) will be my main work place.  To tell you the truth I am very excited about being here: it is a vibrant, culturally diverse and all round great place to be.

Stay tuned then for further updates on our Malaysian adventure. I intend to be busy while we are here; while I want to explore and "be a traveller", I really want this to be a street photography trip. So, let's see how it goes!

Peace 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Talking About Subjects & Objects in Street Photography

Run Don't Walk (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

I read yet another definition of Street Photography yesterday. And boy oh boy aren't there a lot of them around these days? But never mind that. What I want to talk about here is just a few words that really stood out for me. The writer was giving his definition and said something about "objects" in the street. At first I read on, then, suddenly, I realised he wasn't talking about the buildings, cars, buses or other inanimate things one sees on the street; he was actually referring to the people in the street as objects—as things.

People as things? I don't think so. But, as I read on, there it was again, and then again. This so-called "expert" on street photography was describing people as objects. Sorry, I know I'm repeating myself here, but I was and I still am just so flabbergasted at such an idea. And, just think how many people are going to read that article. Makes me shudder.

Anyway, it put me in mind of something a fellow Twitterer said to me a while ago. I forget what we were talking about, but I had used the word subject in a post, referring to the people I photograph in the street. Here's his reply:

I wouldn't even call them subjects. Sounds too clinical. I'd opt for collaborators. It's a partnership.
And he was right. Is right I should say.  Regular readers will know that I have been trying for a while now to start a conversation that will lead to a less aggressive, less acquisitive and gentler way of speaking about street photography (here's my blog post about language in street photography).

I have for some time talked about "people I photograph" rather than using the word subject. A change that has to do with my desire to change the language, but in truth prompted by my fellow Twitterer's comment quoted above.

As a street photographer, calling a person I photograph a subject really implies that that person is subject to, or in some way not on the same level, or holding the same power as me, simply because I am the one with the camera making a photograph of them. If anything I feel that the person being photographed is the one directing the process. By this I mean that they are the ones who invite or do not invite the photographer (that's me) to photograph them.
Of course for many this is all very esoteric and perhaps is even seen as complicating what some would argue is a very simple process. And of course, street photography when practised well is a very simple process.

How is it simple? Well, I don't mean simple as in easy: it's not always easy. No, I mean simple as in straightforward. We talk about being "in the zone" when on the street photographing. And when we are in the zone we are in touch with the feeling—the vibe if you like—on the street and in a deep way we are connected with the other people around us. In this way we just know if we are given "permission" to photograph them or not. Of course it's not at all spoken, this permission; it's more about the intuition of the photographer connecting with the flow of energies and feelings of others around her or him.

So, it is about language. But it is about more than the words we use to describe our activities as street photographers. It is about an attitude toward other people and the environment we are working in. It is about a willingness to be open to the sub-conscious wishes of others and just knowing at a deep intuitive level what is and what is not okay.

I talk a lot about sharing moments with the people I photograph. By this I mean a two-way sharing that takes place as I feel the rightness of making a photograph of a person or group of people. In this respect those other people are very much my partners (as in having an equal participation and 'investment'), collaborators with me in the process of creating a photograph that is then a true representation of that moment.


Street Photography really is a team effort isn't it?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Day You Will Remember Me: Street Photography & the Truth on the Street

One Day You Will Remember Me (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Allow me to introduce you to Elias. I met him on the street in Melbourne a few days ago. I'd spotted him out the corner of my eye, and as is my habit when encountering people who appear to be homeless, I smiled, waved and walked on by. But, before I got more than a meter or two past him, Elias called me back.

"Take my photo," he said as I approached him.


I replied that I don't usually photograph people who are homeless.

"I'm not homeless." was his answer.

I asked him why was he laying on the street in such weather (it was rainy and very cold).

"I have a place but I come out every day, trying to make people happy,"  he told me. "One day you will remember me and one day you will remember God through me." Then he told me again to photograph him, arranging his Star of David pendant just so, as he spoke.  So I made this photograph, showed it to him and he approved.

"That's a good one," he said and smiled his thanks.

Afterwards I asked him his name and he told me it is Elias. He also told me that he is a Jewish prince. When I said that I didn't know there were Jewish princes, he simply replied, with a smile on this face:

"Well, I am one."

He refused to take any money from me and just repeated that one day I would remember him and remember God through him. 


Is Elias really a Jewish prince? He told me he is, so he is. Will I remember him "one day"? Well he told me I will, so I will.  As a street and social documentary photographer, it is not my place to judge the things people tell me, or for that matter, the 'reality' they show me through the viewfinder of my camera. Life on the street, life itself, is what it is.  Sometimes the truth is plain to see, sometimes it's hidden beneath the surface or behind masks of various kinds.

 But, at the end of the day, on the street there is truth and really the best way to see and experience that truth is to remember that, while we may weigh up the facts of a situation, a story or whatever, there will always be truth hidden there whether the facts add up or not.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Can be the Loneliest Number (sometimes but not always)

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It's the loneliest number since the number one

So opens that wonderful song One written by Harry Nielson and made really famous by Three Dog Night who recorded their version in 1969. Practically everyone else has recorded a cover of the song since then: from the Muppets, to the New Seekers all the way through to the Australian singer Johnny Farnham. You might have even heard the song on an X Files soundtrack. Why, even Lisa Simpson has had a go with this one (in The Simpsons Episode 553 for all you fans out there).

But, today we're here to talk about line number two: Two can be as bad as one. It isn't always, though, as I suggest in the title of this post. During my time on the street I get to witness scenes, lovely and not so lovely, inhabited by two people. Sometimes they are sweet and tender moments like this,

A Kiss Goodbye (Lisbon Portugal June 2013)

And then there are those sweet and romantic moments, moments when I know that there is love in the air, like this one (if I'd been any closer I would have been sitting at the table with them, yet they didn't notice me at all),

Romance and a Special Date (Katoomba Australia May 2014)

You could say that, as these two photographs show, two is not a bad number at all. In fact you might say it's a great number, one of the best! But, often I see scenes, and witness moments that don't seem quite so love filled. Of course sometimes the scenes are what we might term neutral, such as this scene inhabited by two people who are clearly strangers to each other

A Seat to Oneself (Perth Australia January 2014)

This, as we see, is a simple scene on a railway station platform, one person waiting, another just walking on by. Other times, the two people may be strangers, but there seems somehow to be a connection of some sort; a story we can imagine. Or perhaps the scene could be seen as symbolic in some way for some viewers. As in these pictures,

Every Face Tells a Story (Melbourne Australia December 2012)

Strangers in a Park (Perth Australia December 2013)

But, more often than you might imagine, I witness and get to share in moments involving people who might be known to each other or might not. Like in this one,

Not on Speaking Terms (Melbourne Australia June 2012)

As you can probably guess from the title, I have imagined these two as known to each other, but not on speaking terms. Someone has suggested they are father and son who've had a falling out. Who can say? One of the mysteries of the street.  Sometimes (again more often than you might imagine), I am privileged to witness and share moments of high (or perhaps the correct adjective is low) emotion between two people who it is clear are known to each other. Like these for example,

 It's Just Not Working Out (Echuca Australia July 2011)


 Sisters Thinking (Ramsgate England February 2013)


So Much for Our Happy Holiday (Echuca Australia April 2012)

Then there are those scenes and moments that exude emotion, but whether that emotion is a positive or a negative one, can't be worked out. Such as in this one,

La conversation intime entre deux amis (Melbourne Australia August 2011)

Is this simply an intimate conversation between friends as the title suggests? Or is it something deeper, more serious? We can only imagine. Whatever the emotions detected or being experienced by the people in these scenes, I do not treat images such as this lightly. The people photographed are sharing with me something of their personal and private lives. I can't, of course, know exactly what they are experiencing or thinking or feeling; my role is to share and record the moment. Emotions witnessed or recorded are of, of course, sometimes more positive, happier even. Such as this where the two people seem to be sharing a joke or a private happy moment,

I'm Saying Nothing (Katoomba Australia April 2014)

Again, I have no idea what these two are talking about, or thinking or feeling. It's just that the scene feels to me more positive, lighter. Still, it is a private moment and I am grateful to have been there to share it.

A good street photograph will evoke an emotional response in the viewer. And if the image itself has people expressing an emotion, then all the better. It makes it easier for us as viewers and fellow human beings to empathize and perhaps even understand what's going on, how the people photographed are feeling. A little glimpse can be gained into the emotional lives of others.

One last thought about the number two. There are scenes one sees on the street where the number two is both good and bad, depending on who's who. In such cases it is often the eyes that will tell you that three is most definitely a crowd


Holding Tight (Melbourne Australia June 2014)





Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Adding Titles In Street Photography: They can really help a photograph tell its stories

Once again I find myself at odds with a number of people in the visual arts world, and more specifically in the world of street photography. You see, I happen to think that it is of huge importance to give my street and documentary photographs meaningful titles, titles that can add to the power or enjoyment of my photographs. Yes, I've heard that a picture is worth a thousand words (just by way of introducing a tiny bit of trivia, a study has proven that a picture is actually only worth 84.1 words. Don't believe me? Check out the report here), and I have heard that we should allow a picture to speak for itself.

And I have heard, and also hold to, the notion that a viewer should be allowed to bring their own interpretations to a photograph: the photo tells the story, but it's up to the viewer to decide what that story is. However, I think words are important too, and they can be used to add to the story telling ability of some photographs. And, cutting to the point of today's post, words can clarify the message or story a photo is trying to tell. A few words can clear up confusion is one way to put it.

Have a good look at this photograph, and think about what story it is telling you (I won't include the title underneath like I usually do; I don't want to give it all away just yet!)


Well, here we have a photo of a man sitting on a train station platform swigging from a bottle. Those are the facts, which of course are not the story. What story you are being told here is for you alone to hear. I can only speak for myself.
When I composed this scene in the camera viewfinder, this guy wasn't drinking: he was just sitting there waiting, I presumed, for the train. Then, just as I was about to press the shutter button, he took a swig from the bottle. Bum, I thought, I don't do pictures of people drinking (as in alcohol) on the street (or even at train stations). Still, trying to stick to my resolution to not chimp (ie check the photo on the screen of the camera), I didn't worry about checking or deleting it and just shrugged thinking, oh well another missed one.

Then at home when I uploaded the files to my laptop and zoomed in, I saw that in fact it is a lemonade bottle he is drinking from. Not a train station, platform sitting alcoholic after all. But, what to do? I liked the image. I wanted to complete it and share it. A title! As I've said, I title all my photos anyway, but in this case the title needed to say a little more; it needed to clarify what this photo is not.

So, the title of this image is The Not So Secret Lemonade Drinker. Clever don't you think? Well, maybe not. But for me it clears up a key point of potential confusion (not every viewer will take the time to zoom in and check the bottle). Sure, I know I might have ruined part of the story for some. On the other hand there's still plenty there for a viewer's imagination to play with in order to come up with the story (or stories) this photograph is wanting to tell.

Of course a photo should speak for itself. Of course a picture is or can be worth many words. But, you know, if a picture really is worth a thousand (or even 84.1) words, then what harm can there be in adding a few more carefully chosen, thoughtful words that might actually add something more to the picture?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Street Photography on My Way to the Shops Today

I'm usually terrible when it comes to carrying my camera everywhere and all the time. I mean to say, I don't have it with me often enough. So, today we ran out of bread and bananas, and a clear and urgent call to replace and replenish supplies of these staples meant I had to head off to the shops, a ten minute bus ride away.

At first I thought, no I won't bother with my camera; after all oftentimes for me "chores" and street photography don't really mix that well. But, then, I had a real strong feeling that I should take it. So, I grabbed it and a spare battery and headed off ten minutes too early for the bus.

So, I strolled round the corner to the busstop. On the way, I was really attracted to the house on the corner opposite to the one we're looking after. I'd walked past it a heap of times, but today for some reason I thought I would make a couple of photographs of it. I know, I know. It's not what you might call classic street photography, but it is very much documentary I think. I mean, this is how people live today in this suburb. And in a lot of others too of course. Anyway, here's the house, or rather my photo of the house.

Storm Brewing Over Suburbia (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

A few years ago I gave myself a project I called Hometown Houses (you can see the collection on my website here) while we were living in Echuca on the Murray River in northern Victoria. Other commitments took over and I fell way short of my aspiration to walk every street of the town and to photograph all the houses that appealed to me or spoke to me. And then we left the town to embark on our current journey, so the project is kind of asleep or on hold, or paused. Stopped anyway.

But, today photographing this house, I had the brainwave. Why not start up the project again? Just this time it will be hometown in the sense of whatever town or suburb we happen to be living in. Well, okay, not such a brainwave, but I think it's a good idea nonetheless. I mean, suburban houses have a special appeal all their own.

They are where a large percentage of the population live (in this country and of course in many others). They so very often are a reflection of the society, the time they were built in, the occupants' individuality and preferences for how they want to live or what they think is important, and really are an important element of our society that cries out to be recorded. After all suburbia, like all things, is in a state of constant flux. New houses replace the old; new styles take over every so often. Yet at the same time, there are pockets where you will find houses of all eras side by side. Then again, in some suburbs you will find acres upon acres, miles upon miles, of identical houses or apartment blocks all built at the same time.

In any case, that's one of my new, or renewed projects, I'm going to work on. Today was a good day to take my camera out. I've reconnected with this project, but I also came home with a few photographs that fit more neatly within my humanist street photography practice. Like this one for example. This lady was waiting at the busstop to catch a bus going the other way. She just caught my attention. And we shared a moment!

At a Suburban Busstop (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Oh, all those storm clouds. They looked like they were going to turn into rain, but they didn't. And that was a very good thing as at the other end I had to walk a few hundred meters to the shop. You will be happy to hear that we now have a pile of bread and a pile of bananas. So, we should be okay for a while even if the storm does come

Peace

Saturday, June 14, 2014

One Street Photography Lesson I've Learned from the singer Kenny Rogers

I'm republishing this from a few months back because I think it's a lesson worth getting out there. Enjoy!

Okay, let's begin at the beginning. Kenny Rogers is (or was) a very big name in Country music. Not an obvious introduction to a post on street photography you might think. Well, you see, among his many chart topping hits, there was one called The Gambler. He made that tune famous!
  Anyway, it's about a couple of guys stuck on a "train to nowhere". One, a gambler, starts talking to the other guy because they're both too tired to sleep. He says (and forgive my paraphrasing) "You know son, I make a living out of reading people's faces. And I reckon that yours suggests you've seen better days. So, if you give me a swig of your whiskey I'll give you some advice, an 'ace' you can keep". Or words to that effect.
   He then drinks the whiskey and starts to give the guy some really good advice about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to run; when to hold your cards and when to throw them away. Still, I hear you saying, what's this got to do with street photography? Okay, here's the bit of the song I'm talking about:
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done.

Still not being real clear am I? Alright, here it is in street photographer lingo:
You never chimp* while you're on the street and still making photographs. There'll be plenty of time later once you've uploaded your memory card to your computer for checking how many good ones you got, and how many you didn't; what you've done right, and what you've done wrong.
Now, all of us who use digital cameras have been guilty of such behavior. And it's a very bad habit! I mean, while you're busy peering at the monitor on the back of your camera, you aren't there and then; you're no longer on the street. You are no longer of the street—and you are no longer in the moment either. You're off in your head somewhere, analyzing. You've left the Zone'! Not only does it take some time to get back into the Zone when you lift your head once again to the street, just think of what you have missed as the life of the street has just flowed right on by while you've been distracted by your monitor analyzing.
  Many street photographers actually turn their monitors off, so they aren't tempted to 'chimp'. And of course this is where our film using sisters and brothers are ahead of the game. They have no choice but to wait till later to see what they've got.
  The gambler gives his advice about not counting your money while still at the table because he knows that once you take your eyes, mind and heart off the game, you set yourself up for a losing streak. Think about when you last caught yourself chimping. Do you think you missed some good opportunities? Did you miss some good moments? Did it take you some time to get back into the game, sorry, I mean the Zone?
  So, here's what I suggest you do: Resist the temptation (and after several years of photographing on the street, I admit I still succumb occasionally—and pay the consequences too). Just don't look at your monitor. Turn it off if you like. It really is that simple; Tough love of this sort is the only solution. Actually, that's the tough part. You can add some love by setting up a reward system for when you find yourself not chimping for a whole session on the street. Here's what I do: I remind myself that I am going to sit down "in a little while" to have a coffee or cup of tea. Just to rest my legs you understand. If I've been good and not chimped, I will then—and only then—allow myself a quick run through of the images I've made so far.
   But, even then, though, I don't like to spend a lot of time analyzing what I've done. If I do, I run the risk of getting too much into the thinking mode, and right away from the Zone where I am really in and of the street, and in the moment. And, really, that's where the best street photographs are made.


*The Urban Dictionary defines 'chimping' as:
What one does after taking a picture with a digital camera and looking at the result.(My Note: The street photography take on this would be: checking whether or not we have "captured the moment").  Derived from the words they (photographers) speak when chimping: "Ooo-oo-oo!" (as in the sounds chimpanzees make)

 Disclaimer:
         I do not endorse gambling. In fact, I believe gambling (as in poker, horse racing, sports betting            and the rest) is a curse and more often than not simply another way for the rich to get richer on          the backs and with the money of the poor.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Some scenes just make you sad


Self Portrait for Two (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

On the face of it you might not think there is much in this image to make me or you or anyone sad. Especially, you might tell me, given the number of images we are seeing everyday of people who are homeless, people who are experiencing trauma or who are in some other way vulnerable or disadvantaged. And of course, on the face of it, you would be totally correct: images of those kinds of things are distressing and make me, and you, and most likely a lot of people, very sad. Hopefully they also serve as a call to action for some of us. Hopefully photography in that context can contribute to change.

Sadly, however, far too many of the photographs I see of homeless and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people have an aura of exploitation about them. Oftentimes for so-called street photographers, these groups provide little more than "easy targets" for a "gritty and real street shot". In reality they provide nothing more than a kind of trophy for the photographer. But that is another story for another day.

Back to this photograph, made on one of the busiest corners in the CBD of Melbourne. These two people are (obviously) making a self portrait of themselves. They are standing diagonally across the road from the beautiful and historic Flinders Street railway station. A must see for tourists to the city. 

So, what is so sad here? Surely this is simply two tourists making a souvenir photo of themselves? And they are smiling aren't they? All good questions. Again, on the face of it, nothing is untoward here. And really even not on the face of it, I can't say there is anything untoward here. 

It's just that I watched them for a while as they were setting up the camera and tripod, and then the guy arranged his partner n just the right place, set the timer and joined her on the other side of the camera, and the photo was made. As they went about this process it was as if they were in a little world of their own. The crowds flowed around them, nobody (except me) even glancing in their direction. And, more poignantly, they didn't look at anyone else either in the whole time I was watching them and then making this photograph. I was about two meters away from them for five minutes and they didn't once look my way. I am quite sure they didn't even see me.  It was if they truly were alone on this busy intersection.

There just seemed to be something sad about the whole scenario. To me anyway. A sense of loneliness took hold of me as I watched them. And, really, that's all I can say. I don't have an explanation for why I felt the way I did. I mean, I often pick up emotions, become affected by what I see and feel on the street. And it's not always possible to pinpoint what causes a feeling or a sense.

Anyway, a good street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the viewer. And it could be added that an even better street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the photographer. One thing I can say is this: if sometimes I do have an emotional reaction to a scene I witness, then it suggests that at least some viewers will also have an emotional response of some kind. And, to me, that is a very good outcome indeed.

Peace






Monday, June 9, 2014

BEING SEEN: Sometimes it Makes the Moment

Smiling for the Camera (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

One feature of my street and documentary work is that I don't go along with a lot of the current "wisdom" about how it's done, how to behave on the street and the rest. Of course, we are all unique beings and each need to learn our own way, all need to find our own way of living and our own vision.

Take this photo for an example. Made on my first outing into the CBD of Melbourne this week. I saw this couple who, when I looked, were in their own little world. I made one image. And, rather than walk quickly away (as per received wisdom) I walked just a couple of steps and I waited with the camera to my eye. Then they both turned and looked at me with these "poses" (sorry another bad word in some circles), and I just instinctively pressed the shutter. And, here you see the result: a lovely portrait of a couple happy with themselves and each other. And, importantly, with being photographed (oops, another myth: people hate being photographed).

The first image I made works too, I think. An unguarded moment that just asked to be preserved. Here it is:

A Loving Couple (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Now, these photos are very different: in the second one, the couple is completely unaware (at least on a conscious level) of my presence; in the first they have actually seen me. And, yes, it is true to say that my presence and my camera has caused a changed in their behavior. They are in a sense posing for the camera.

So, they are different photos. But, is one better than the other? I don't mean in technical terms; that's an area for someone else to debate. You see, I don't believe for a minute that the first image here is more or less of a valuable human moment than the second, despite the second being the more "candid" one in the accepted sense.

I think candid is a misunderstood, or rather an incompletely understood, concept in today's world of street photography. The common perception is that it means that the subjects of a photograph are completely unaware of the camera's presence. Of course that definition is valid in itself, but, to look at the dictionary definitions of the word, then the meaning is not so black and white (no pun intended. But it is funny though LOL).

The Free Dictionary (which I like to use for obvious reasons) includes this:
Candid as an adjective means:
      1. frank; outspoken; open and sincere
      2. free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward
   

The definition also includes the idea of a candid photo being "unposed". And, it is true that these two struck a kind of pose when they saw me and my camera. So, for many the second image is a candid, while the first is not. Okay, they are posing. But, really, don't you think it's a frank and open one? Do they seem sincere to you? Do they look to you to be acting in an unreserved manner and do they appear to be free of disguise?  Have they taken what you wold think of as a straightforward pose?

The answer to all these questions for me is a big yes.

Also, and as importantly, my approach to this scene (as it usually is) was a candid one. It is I think a matter of one's intention. I mean by this that I don't intend to have people see me or pose or change their behavior.  My attitude and approach is frank and open; I do not hide; I do not engage in "stealthy" behavior or "subterfuge" of any kind. I always try to be straightforward in both my way of being in the street and in my dealings with the people who do see me, and most of the time they are the same with me! The bottom line is that I always endeavor to be frank, outspoken (as in honest and speaking my truth), open and sincere in the way I approach my work and the people I am fortunate enough to photograph.

Of course, this is all just my opinion. But, it is my way of working and it does, well, work pretty much all the time. I think today's two photographs both have something to offer.  Yes, they are different, but they are both candid in their own way. Anyway, isn't it our role as street and social documentary photographers to record the so-called ordinary people going about their so-called ordinary lives?

Well, I think it is.

Peace