The You-ness of You. / by Hugh Rawson

It's not surprising that photographers' work reflects their personalities, their interests and world views. After all, photography is about how we see the world and each of us, inevitably, sees it from our own perspective. This is more than the specific view point we have from the particular GPS coordinates that we happening to be occupying on the planet when we click the shutter. It's also more than whether you are lying on the ground or standing on a twenty feet tall stepladder at those GPS points. Those things matter. But they don't explain why several photographers working in the same place will take quite different images.

 Le Journal - Etrechy, France. August 2017

Le Journal - Etrechy, France. August 2017


No - I'm talking about what each individual brings to a shot. In other words, all of those things that make you individual. This means everything that makes you unique - especially your interests and your own character. The you-ness of you. After all, it is our interests and experiences which fine tune our eyes and brains into noticing things that may appeal or, indeed, shutting out those things that don't. 


Personally, I’ve been considering why I shoot street. Probably because I recognise that I don't have the patience to take beautiful landscape shots. I'd love to, and I do appreciate the artistry and skill that goes into them. However, I get restless and would be itching to move on after a few minutes rather than wait for the possibility of a change in the weather or a break in the cloud. And the idea of having to return the next day in the hope of a better outcome...forget it.


The street delivers rapidly changing situations and plenty of challenge. It’s this unpredictability that I am drawn to. Instead of being able to meticulous plan my shoot I never know quite what to expect. Of course, I can, and do, check whether to expect rain, sun or snow - after all, I need to know whether it's a tee shirt or anorak day. But the weather doesn't determine whether it's worth going out or not. Harsh sunlight brings out stark shadows, rain brings out umbrellas, reflections and people in a hurry. All weathers have their unique advantages. But simply checking the weather is nothing compared to the level of planning that goes into a landscape or studio shot, for example.


I do think and plan my day - much in the same way that anyone visiting a town or city might do. It will revolve around specific places where I can expect to see a variety of people and interesting backdrops - which may or may not be the same as tourist hotspots; often not!


I plan my kit - more of this in a future blog - but that's now pretty routine. I know the camera I will take and the settings are virtually scorched in through use.


Most importantly, it is my character that I take with me and, as a street photographer, this is something I am very aware of. Most of the time my street photography persona remains folded away with my invisibility cloak and bow-tie camera, only coming out when time allows on holidays and weekends. By day I am a junior school headteacher. This is a career around reading people; understanding how they behave and why, as well as anticipating what they are going to do next - skills which I find invaluable on the street. 


I believe my photographs reflect this understanding and the anticipation which I use in order to get the shots. I will pick up on what is going on in a scene fairly quickly and single out one or two people to keep an eye on. I watch and I wait, anticipating what is going to happen and often realising where I need to be to get the shot of that precise moment.


It may mean becoming part of the action. For example, if I spot a scene developing and moving towards me as I walk along, I will sometimes place myself in the way, shepherding my characters to where I need them to be for the shot. Other times I scotch along to wherever I feel is going to give me the best view point. Most of the time people don't even notice me. I'm just someone on the street passing in the opposite direction. The busier the area, the easier it is to look like just another incompetent tourist fiddling with his camera.


Some street photographers will find a spot and work it. Perhaps there's an amusing poster or sign as a backdrop that is just waiting for the right person to come along. I've spoken to photographers who will happily bide their time for an hour or two by one of these, just waiting for the perfect moment. Not me. Five minutes and I'm done - if the right person hasn't come along by then I'm off, wondering about all the shots I may have missed by standing there for five minutes already.


Cartier-Bresson was once asked how he managed to get so many amazing photos. Without speaking, he suddenly launched into an elaborate dance, working the room, twisting, ducking, reaching up high.... before stopping and smiling. That was his answer. I would never describe my practice as a dance but I do flit in and out of crowds and pass along busy streets - often with complete sensory overload of all the amazing moments that are happening before me. And then something will grab me and in an instant I have shot off a frame or two. And then I’m already looking for whatever may be coming next. You never know what is around the next corner.


The point is that it is all about instinct. Our interests and experiences shape these. Our personalities determine whether we are happy to sit and wait for the perfect sunset at the risk of clouds obscuring what had promised to be a million dollar sky. Or whether we park ourselves on a bench opposite an amusing poster waiting for the right person in contrasting colours who may or may not appear. Or whether we are happy to dart about, watching and anticipating shapes and patterns in the crowd which is ever changing ahead of us - not overly concerned with perfect camera settings but focused on capturing the moment.


Of course, we need sufficient knowledge of our camera and any extra kit we use (this applies to all forms of photography) but it's our instinct that sets us apart from everyone else - never more so than in street photography. Someone described instinct as being like the stomach - it knows when it needs satisfying. As street photographers we should listen to our stomachs, going with what we feel even if technically it may not seem the right thing to do. It's only by following our instincts and listening to that growling stomach that we will take the photographs which express us as creative individuals. Something which is unique. A photograph that only we could have taken - expressing the you-ness of you.