Sixteen from London’s streets from March. Let me know your thoughts below.
Click on the image to go LARGE.
black and white
Sixteen from London’s streets from March. Let me know your thoughts below.
Click on the image to go LARGE.
The history of street photography is full of images of lively children - shoeless and happy playing in derelict city streets, smiling in an outsized pair of mothers shoes, carrying home the shopping or, as in Henri-Cartier Bresson’s famous shot, a bottle of red under each arm and a cheeky grin.
Look through the average street photography account on Instagram, or any other social media stream, you will be hard pushed to find the younger generation at all. Sadly, this is not surprising.
We all know why. Nobody wants to incur the wrath or worse, the stream of abuse, of an irate parent fearful that their child’s image has been stolen for all the wrong reasons. And, therefore, many of us don’t try. Those images of children not only never appear - they are never taken. A hidden generation is being created at a time when we take more photos than ever.
Yet, if you walk into any town centre, children from decades ago, now adults or well-beyond, stare out from the ranks of birthday cards in stationers and supermarkets. Pick up a book of street photography from the last century, there they are; captured for posterity like ancient insects in amber. It’s almost as though children and their beaming smiles belong to another age and the streets today are devoid of children. Anyone remember the child catcher in Chiity Chitty Bang Bang and the empty square around the castle?
Are we to become the generation that didn’t have children? Or, at least, that airbrushed or Photoshopped them out of history? We would be much poorer for it - but that’s the risk.
Of course it is about intent. Why is the photographer taking the photograph in the first place? What is it they want to show? It is this intent which raises photography beyond a simple and precise record of a scene or object - almost for classification purposes. It isn't simply a scientific practice concerned with obtaining a correct exposure through combinations of shutter speed, size of aperture and sensitivity of sensors or film. It is an art form in which the photographer expresses an emotion, idea or even just a viewpoint. Surely any photographer who takes a photograph of a child for the wrong reason or with ill intent, will produce work which sets alarm bells ringing or, at the very least, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the viewer.
Children’s lives hugely enrich our own. They remind us of a distant past that we often hanker after. They point to a future full of potential. They provide moments of great humour - often through their attempts to be more like us, the grown ups. They possess a wide eyed sense of wonder that reminds us just how amazing our world is at times when we have grown weary of it ourselves. And photographs of children can do all of these things too. They often point to a truth that, as adults, we need reminding of.
Of course, the problem of the disgruntled and anxious parent doesn’t go away. However, we will only perpetuate the situation if we accept it. We can challenge it by taking good photos of children. If we are open and upfront about what we do then maybe the disgruntled mum or dad would recognise the same things in the image that we saw. We should be less inclined to be furtive, secretive and hidden but be prepared to share positive ‘good’ images of children on our feed. That way we can demonstrate our good intent next time we meet an anxious mum or dad. And, as with any street photograph, smile, share your Instagram or website details and offer to email them a copy. All parents think their children are the best thing since bread arrived sliced - hey; they might even ask you to take some more.
I’m writing this for myself, as much as for anyone else. I need to remind myself that sometimes I just have to get on with it. Stop putting it off and just do it, to coin Nike’s phrase.
No more waiting until everything is in place. Because it never is.
Let’s face it, we will never ever feel that something is completely ready, never feel that it’s good enough, never feel that we have said it, photographed it, processed it... in the best possible way.
So get on with it. Print your work. Make a book. Host an exhibition. Launch your website. Photograph strangers. Whatever it is…do it. Unless we actually begin, we will never finish. And, do you know what? Sometimes, when we begin, we realise that the finishing part isn’t quite so hard.
Last time I said "We are all seeking the ultimate photograph. That one shot that says it all!” That wasn’t meant as a reason to give up because we will never be satisfied. It was meant as a recognition that it is that very act of striving that makes the likelihood of achieving it more likely. As Elliot Erwhitt said "Nothing happens when you sit at home."
So what is the ultimate photograph? We assume that every great photo we see is perfection itself, don’t we? Just because it’s in a book, or on a gallery wall or on Instagram. But every artist, great or small, from Sebastian Salgado to the girl next door with her selfie stick, must surely feel as we all do. That they could have done it better if…and you can finish that sentence yourself with one of over a million different reasons.
Think of your best photo. The one that you are most proud of. If you have a website, it’s that one there, right on the Home page. If you could show me - I guarantee you would also point out where it could be improved. If the light had been better; if you’d got there later, stayed there longer; if you hadn’t over saturated the processing… We all do it.
It is human nature to compare ourselves and our achievements with others. And to put ourselves down. It stems from a primeval need to survive, from a time when we humans were always on the look out for threats. But there are no sabre toothed tigers on Instagram.
We are all constantly striving for artistic perfection and never feel that we achieve it. And, do you know what? That’s fine. It’s the striving and envisioning that is important. That is how we hone our craft. By taking the shot, putting out there and gauging the response. Not by sitting back and waiting for the perfect moment.
Since watching the Champions League Final I have been thinking a lot about making mistakes. For the uninterested football avoiders or those who have been dormant for whatever reason, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius made two catastrophic errors which effectively cost his side the game and the trophy. Uninterested football avoiders please bear with me.
Goalkeeper has to be the most vulnerable position in football. Most mistakes are immediately punished. And punishment is swift and harsh, particularly from your own fans. Football fans have long memories. An outfield player, on the other (ungloved) hand, is given more leeway. The tragedy of this situation is that for Karius this will almost certainly have been the biggest match in his career and he will probably be forever remembered for it. It will take some spectacular keeping in matches and seasons to come to change people’s memories.
Karius won’t agree with me right now, I’m sure, but I think mistakes can be brilliant. Aren’t they how you learn? Take riding a bike; your body’s muscle memory soon learns what to avoid if it wants to make skimmed knees and bleeding elbows things of the past. Take making a curry; too spicy and it’s unpalatable - you go easy next time. Travel overnight to that once in a lifetime sunrise without a battery for your camera - you check next time (and every time thereafter). It’s these mistakes that help you focus your skills into becoming a better cyclist, curry chef, photographer....
The important thing is that when things go wrong you look at why they went wrong and you go again. You get back on that bike. By doing that, you are making sure that you learn from that mistake.
The mistake becomes your best teacher.
Street photography is high paced with scenes opening and closing before you in the blink of a 1/500 shutter. You often don’t have time to think about what you have just shot, let alone check it in the viewfinder, before the next three scenes establish themselves in front of you. There is little time to learn as you go. The exception is the mistake that actually prevents you getting the shot. How often have you you switched the camera off then continued to shoot nothing? Forgotten to remove the lens cap for that best shot of the day? These things all happen to all of us and we shrug and move on, vowing never to make the same mistake again.
The time to learn from mistakes is very often later on - pausing for a coffee and checking back on the screen or when the images appear in the darkroom or computer monitor. That’s when you get a chance to critically review your work. Some mistakes you can correct with increasingly sophisticated software - under/over exposure probably being the key fixable error. Other mistakes you just have to make the best of or give up on but put right next time. If you are shooting a familiar place then you can probably make sure you position yourself better next time. If it was a one off situation, you just have to accept that your mistake will be burned into your memory and you will avoid making the same one next time.
It’s worth saying, at this point, that street photography is a very hard task master and is pretty unforgiving in its hit rate. Most of what I shoot is not for public consumption because it falls short of what I had envisaged and of what I would want anyone else to see. It is always disheartening to download a day’s worth of images and then sift the ones that are keepers. There are so few. Some are mediocre at best. The vast majority are immediately deleted.
Thankfully, we forget the ones we delete. It’s the select few that we go to work on - processing to a greater or lesser degree - and its these images that embed themselves in our memories and on our hard drives.
And just occasionally, a mistake turns out to be a hit. Regular readers/viewers of my work will know that I am drawn to windows for framing, for giving glimpses into interior worlds and sometimes for the reflections. The problem with shooting into windows is very often that what you see with your naked eye is different to what the camera sees. This can lead to disaster or a fortuitous happenstance, as in today’s picture. I was wanting a shot of the lady (btm right) and her friend (edited out to the left) but the reflections had other plans. I think it works.
It’s good to keep learning - not just in photography but in all we do - and mistakes are an integral part of that. When we are afraid to try, for fear of failing, we will learn nothing. After all, penicillin was a happy accident - a brilliant mistake.
I find that when I go out specifically to take photos that I can’t allow myself other distractions or it just doesn’t work. I’m not the kind of photographer who can listen to headphones while I shoot (much as I wish I could) or text, eat, drink or any of the other things which seem to count as essential to modern life. Maybe it’s a bloke thing - after all, I’m not half as good at multi-tasking as my wife or female colleagues. I have to be in the zone and focused on just that one task.
I am rarely bored. Whenever I find I have time on my hands, my camera seems to magically create a host of photographic opportunities. If I’m alone, even in the most familiar of places, give me time and a camera and suddenly the scene has great potential. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never been there before or I know the place like the back of my hand. There is aways something to see.
Obviously, having time means I will look around and notice things that otherwise may never have caught my eye. Throw a little patience into the equation and, of course, opportunities will appear the longer I wait.
This morning, sitting alone in a cafe I know well, I became aware, for the first time, of the light coming through the doors. These are doors I’ve walked through many times. This time I was alone, with time to kill. That light was just waiting for the right character to silhouette themselves there. And suddenly my morning was transformed.
Whatever the weather, we can find some classic street moments... rain can bring out the best of them.Read More
When I do things I do them with a passion. Pretty much an obsession. And this is where photography is with me right now. A camera has never been far from my hand over the past three years and it has taught me to see things very differently; definitely to appreciate things more. I even notice what's around me these days.
In April, I took a photograph of a man, wrapped warmly against the cold spring morning, standing on the south bank of the River Thames, looking across the water towards St Paul's Cathedral. I went on to take many other photos that morning, wandering the streets of the city as they began to fill, before heading home for lunch. A great way to spend a Sunday. I was already pleased with this one, along with half a dozen others that day.