Monday, January 25, 2016

Why I shoot street?

Im gonna get'cha

Street photography is a touchy subject for many photographers. It also tends to raise eyebrows from onlookers as well. My friends and family are supportive but rarely seem to understand my desire to photograph complete strangers and my girlfriend has even expressed concern that I will be assaulted for photographing the wrong person. My adoption of Bruce Gildens style of shooting at extremely close range with a flash has not helped the situation. So with so many people concerned about the legalities and safety of street photography why do I do it? Well lets talk about it after the break.

I got started in street photography pretty soon after I bought my first stills camera (a Panasonic g6). I was living in the small town Texarkana, Texas and I was really excited about having a new camera. I had bought it for video but decided I might as well learn to shoot stills too. I went out and practiced shooting ducks at the park, my sister's kids, our dogs and more but never really found anything that stuck with me. It wasn't until a few months later that I went to Dallas Fort Worth for an acting job that I found something I really liked to photograph. The buildings in a large city like Dallas, and the people there both made for great subjects and I found myself enjoying shooting both. I bought my first fast manual focus lens (a 50mm f1.4 Canon FL) and used it on my g6 with an adapter. I started doing street portraits and started to shoot people candidly. 

I found myself really enjoying my images of people and gravitating towards it more and more. I started to explore the possibility of shooting portraiture but I found my ability to direct people sorely lacking due to my lack of understanding of modeling, and posing. Still I decided to pursue lighting and for a time spent a lot of effort studying the tutorials posted by David Hobby, a famous strobist photographer. While I have learned a lot about lighting, and because of my background in martial arts and gymnastics have a good understanding of the human body, I have still not put any real effort into learning posing. Because it is boring. If I ever continue to pursue posed portraiture I will begin initially with dramatic portraits of predominately male models. Masculine, gritty, raw...but I digress.

I began to shoot on the streets more and more and by the time I moved to China in 2015 had a decent idea of what I was doing. Once I was in China I was blown away by the hustle and bustle of a chinese city. Even though Dalian is one of China's smaller cities very few places in the U.S.A. can even compare with the sheer number of people. I had street performers, square dancers, bikers, and more as subjects. I was surrounded by people every day and every day have been able to practice my craft. After awhile though I began to feel my shots where missing something. I looked at many of my shots from when I first entered China and I loved them! But, looking at my more recent work I was a bit disappointed in myself.  I thought about the enjoyment I had taken from strobist photography and decided that I should try to integrate the two styles. This led to my discovery of Bruce Gilden. 

Bruce Gilden is probably the most famous street photographer alive today. If there are two street photographers everyone knows they are Henry Cartier Bresson and Bruce Gilden.  While Bruce did not invent his signature style of shooting at close range with a flash (something done in reportage for decades) he was probably the first person to be willing to get his own face right into the midst of the action at a close distance with COMPLETE strangers. Bruce's subject have varied from the down and out of society, to the famous, to the infamous. He has a particular fondness for photographing gangsters and his shots of the japanese yakuza are very good examples of this. 

Needless to say I loved Bruce's work. Most of it anyways. So I started to experiment with his style myself. I started far away but I kept getting closer, and closer, and closer. If you pictures aren't good enough you aren't close enough, right? In an effort to feel more connection with my subjects I decided to go to a ridiculous distance and began using a 10.5mm lens (21mm in ff equivalent) on my em5 mark II and shoot at an average distance of less than 1 meter. The results have been fantastic for me.  I love the shooting process, I love the results, and I love the action.  That's why I shoot street.

This may have been a long post and maybe I was roundabout with my answer, but I shoot street because I like it. I feel like I am capturing images that otherwise would be totally missed because of the social niceties people tend to cling to. I'm capturing a tiny bit of history in the making. Maybe most of it isn't that relevant. But it could be. Thousands of my shots may just be nice photos. But maybe I'll catch that one that carries a significance that will last for decades. Maybe I'll catch the moment. A lot of street photographers talk about the decisive moment. The right moment when everything falls together for a photo. My style doesn't idealize that moment and wait for it. My style is to chase that moment down and if need be make it myself.  The decisive moment doesn't happen for every good image. It isn't something you can refine down to an art form or capture repeatedly without talent and luck and a bit of God's blessing. But looking for just that right shot in a mess of human chaos is fun.

And that's what it's all about right?

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