Note to self: your street photography sucks
A quick note to readers
I’m not talking to you.
I wrote this (de)motivational diatribe to myself a year or so ago whilst in a bit of a photographic funk. It may seem a little exaggerated in its tone but this is something I do from time to time to try and help me look at my own perspectives objectively and in the cold light of an unfriendly eye.
Whilst I can’t tell you if it worked or not, I can say that it made me realise my journey as a photographer is just that, my own.
It belongs to no-one else and if I happen to produce absolute rubbish – but am happy with it – then that’s the way it should be.
The reasons I’m publishing this admittedly toned down version today are threefold:
One. There’s a lot of love in the photographic community but we get stuck on gear and medium. I want to remind myself and my half dozen readers to not get stuck on one device, format or approach; and to listen to that little voice inside that’s telling us to go a little further.
Two. I’ve seen and had engagements with a few, shall we say…interesting fellow fauxtogs in my time. When you meet a troll, it’s best to just walk on by, no matter how difficult it is not to retort. They’ll compare you and your work to others and never to their own.
Three. It was brought to mind recently that one should never stand still and always aim to evolve one’s perspectives, abilities and worldview. We stand better chance of being caught by the traps we set ourselves than those set by others. Perhaps this piece will help a few of you remember that we all go through periods where we lack confidence in our own abilities; and that these attacks can strike those just starting out, as well as those very much long in the tooth.
Keep shooting, folks and don’t take my little bile fuelled diatribe to heart.
After all, it’s not you I’m talking to.
Your street photography sucks
Don’t deny it
Your work is tired, boring and free of any statement, let alone one that is evocative. It’s derivative, repetitive and let’s be completely honest, at least 90% of it is just plain shit. The term “keeper roll” gives you only the most distant recall of a blurred memory.
You excuse yourself with comforting statements like, “I should have gone out when there was better light”, “I should have used a different film”, “If I had used XYZ gear then it would have turned out better”, or some other such nonsense. Stop it.
Oh yeah and you shoot film…wow
You don’t stick with it because it’s cool, mind you; you believe it gives your “work” an aesthetic value that is distinct from digital…that it separates you from the crowd. You firmly believe that the medium pulls emotion from the scene you captured and somehow – intangible – passes that on to those who view your image.
Stop kidding yourself
You walk around when you have nothing better to do, grasping your cameras, choosing funny angles and occasionally jamming the lens in people’s faces because you believe it gives you some form of edge.
You are a sheep
You crave for better lenses, better bodies, better light and better subjects but you don’t try to improve yourself outside of reading the thoughts and ideas of those perhaps no more qualified than you. Worse still, you look to the past for inspiration from “the greats”.
You are spineless
You hang your head and mutter to yourself, “I can’t take good portraits, I just don’t know how to engage with people”. This is an excuse.
If you really wanted to shoot willing subjects (other than your family and friends), you’d grow a pair and just ask. There, I said it.
You hobble yourself
You say to yourself, “Just one shot…if I can just take that one perfect shot”. It’s not going to happen.
That “one shot” is as much about luck as it is ability and exposing the perfect image isn’t going to turn you into an amazing photographer overnight.
Practice, practice, practice!
I’m going to take photos…on the streets!
Have a look again at the “greats”. Were they really that special in the context of today? Some were, granted, but truth be told, they were mostly long dead before they were discovered, unappreciated in their time, or were rich kids who could lean on both their trust funds and the fact that what they were doing hadn’t hit the public consciousness in quite the same way before.
Although there are plenty of incredibly talented people out there that you really should pay attention to, you shouldn’t lose yourself in the emulation of their work.
Taking opportunity, location and luck into account, there are hundreds of thousands of people at this very moment who, given the same equipment, could achieve that same look without having seen even a sliver of silver halide in their life.
So what can you do, smartass?
Look for the special, the tender, the contrast, the juxtaposition. Don’t look for similarity, do what speaks to you but don’t do it for too long.
Change up, change location, change style, change lens, change film, shoot a flea market beater, get rid of the Summi-Nokto-Jupi-Lux thingy and try something you’ve never done before.
Grab the biggest, heaviest, most difficult to use camera you own, a single roll, or a few sheets of the slowest film you have and then set-up a tripod in the middle of the busiest place you can imagine. Spend the day, bring sandwiches, get drunk and shoot.
Don’t solely listen to others and do change. Don’t repeat yourself but don’t just do something once and then move on. Learn from the images you take; what you like, love and hate about them.
You are your own best teacher, so be a good pupil and learn from yourself. Look at your journey so far, see how much you’ve grown and realise that you need to continue to do so, or get stuck in a rut.
Remember that you’ll always be a student and that you should stand tall. Don’t fall foul to the allure of bending over and sticking your head up your own arse.
Most importantly, don’t stop and keep pushing.
Watch, appreciate, admire but don’t get lost in it. At least, not for too long.
Someone once said, “Stay foolish”.
He didn’t mean “Stay dumb”.
I wrote this to myself about my street photography, which for me means taking photos of people and not just things, on the street. It wasn’t the most pleasant of exercises selecting images to accompany the text here, I hope they didn’t all turn you off.
As with many others, I have a certain style of shooting different subjects. Unfortunate or not, people do not usually form part of these styles!
For me, taking portraits and making the most out of the people in-frame are two areas which I need much more work on before I begin to feel happy with my results.
Simply put, I know it’s a long journey ahead but I’m looking forward to burning more film along the way.
Stay sane, folks.
Ps. A very big thanks to Dev Samaddar, who helped me realise the sensitivities of publishing something like this. Thanks again, Dev.