In my 5 years of photography, I’ve never purposefully done a project or series. Until that is, I realised I had…
Street photography for me has always been an adventure (a revelation that came to me only recently). No matter what, when or where there was always something to discover in both new and familiar places. Even when I was an “office monkey” and had a routine commute, I would always take my camera and shoot on the go or during my lunch break.
After I changed jobs and got to go around the city, I began discovering areas I had never been to. And then, there were our family city walks that were adventures of a different kind, of course, but nevertheless, I sometimes managed to grab a shot or two.
I know I’m not saying anything new here; many photographers do this, and there is plenty of other things to try as advised by street photography gurus, masters and that experienced guy from a blog. But I didn’t know all these wise bits at the time and just followed my gut feeling and had fun.
I was eager to find out where my photo endeavours would lead me, and this uncertainty magnified by the fact that I was using film would make me excited like few things could in my life.
Why didn’t I do my research in order to learn about tips and tricks? Honestly, I don’t know. I preferred to learn in the field and looking back now I’m glad it was the way.
Too often we overload ourselves with advice and tutorials trying to get ready for something or to do things right from the start.
While this is definitely a good reason, there’s a risk of undercutting your own creativity and freedom of mind. I’m guilty of this too. I listen to what people whose work I admire say about street photography and then fall into the deep of pseudo-philosophical ramblings, and it all ends up in frustration and no photos.
But let’s not go down this road and get back on track. As I said, following my gut feeling and learning on the go I didn’t feel like I had any specific project or theme going on. And then one day I saw it.
Looking through my archive trying to pick the best work to showcase on my website, I noticed how many pictures of lonely people I had. And I mean lonely in a very broad rendering of the word. On one side of the spectrum, there were photos of people who definitely felt lonely while being surrounded by other people. On the other side, there were pictures of someone who just happened to be alone at a place that might be usually busy.
Whatever was different about those photos, and there was a lot, they all had one thing in common – one subject in focus.
It might sound trivial that in a big city you can walk among hundreds of people and be alone, but while a lot of people seem to know this, not everyone knows how to see it. And for me, the way to do this was to slow down.
To be honest, it’s almost a superhero feeling when you start walking slower and see that most people don’t notice you. You get into a stealth mode and receive this ability to see things others don’t.
Slowing down probably wasn’t the first thing I thought about when starting in street photography, but it definitely was one of the key elements that lead to the series. Some of the photos wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t done it.
Another important prerequisite was my unconscious search for a story to tell through photographs. I’ve been always awed by pictures that manage to tell a good story, and there can be so much of it in a picture of a single person. Take this photo of a chess player, for example.
A man sitting on a bench near a cafe on a busy street, apparently inviting people to play, this may be a story on its own. But then there’re more questions: why is he dressed like this, why is he doing this at all, who is he. Is it just for practice and fun or is he so lonely he doesn’t have anybody to play chess with except for strangers?
Sometimes the background helps define the context a little, like in the next photo, which I call “Nostalgia”.
The tractor and demolition work create a simple narrative of some reconstruction works and the old person adds a nostalgic touch to the picture. On the other hand, the backdrop may add up to the mystery.
I have no idea what is going on in this photo, I just saw this man standing in the corner with his back to the street. However clear the background is it only helps to create the first layer in the story, and there can be more.
They say doing a project is a great way to learn and grow as a photographer, a statement I couldn’t agree more with.
In my case, it turned out to be a good opportunity to reflect on my own work. This retrospective way of putting a series together got me thinking about my photography differently and lead me to surprising conclusions. I think it can count as learning and growing as well.
What I’ve understood from the story of my photo series is that while streets of a big city can certainly be full of great moments and discoveries, street photography is not only about outer adventure. It is also about your inner adventure, discoveries about yourself.
Who knows, maybe you too have a series of photos you haven’t thought about. And even if you don’t, it’s always a great idea to go out there and walk the streets searching for your story.
~ Ivan Pilov
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