Sixteen from London’s streets from March. Let me know your thoughts below.
Click on the image to go LARGE.
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.
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.
The more photographs I take, the more I am convinced that photographers learn from those greats who have gone before...Read More
I think the question that I am asked most often is whether I ask permission to photograph people on the street. And if not, how do I get away with it - by which I assume there is surprise that I haven’t been thumped or beaten around the head by my rolled up street map. Or worse.
I don't ask. Fundamentally, I guess the difference is that while the people I shoot would like the world to see them as they would want the world to see them ... I don't. I want the world to see them as they really are. Or as they sometimes are - when they are off guard. This isn't out of some inherent cruelty. It's more a question of truth. After all, isn't that what Art concerns itself with?
The other element in this is that I am not a typical portrait photographer. I wouldn’t know where to begin with posing someone or giving direction. So I have to take what I see.
Finally, I would much prefer to shoot someone caught in what Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment." Not some clever, long held pose.
So, I rarely ask permission. There have been rare exceptions. A few months ago, I happened across a Harley-Davidson biker run for charity with all riders dressed as Santa Claus and collections made for local primary schools - something of an interesting shift away from cultural expectations and therefore rich with opportunity. I prowled among the riders with my camera at my hip, finger on the back-button, ready to shoot. And I shot a few. Then I made eye contact; a fatal error. Eye contact with a tall, tattooed, bearded and leather clad ring-leader in his worn waistcoat adorned with his name. Basher.
The omens weren’t good.
So I asked. And he smiled. Posed. And I clicked. It should have been mean, moody and confrontational. Had I had the sense to direct him, I could maybe have got something halfway to what I wanted. And what I wanted was definitely Basher going about his business as, well, a basher. Instead I got the smiling, bearded, Santa imitator - no amount of gritty post-processing would deliver the shot I wanted; the shot I could have got if I’d kept my mouth shut and my eyes down.
Most recently, on a street photography jaunt around London, I noticed two young office workers enjoying early refreshment along the south bank of the River Thames. Nothing unusual about that except that it was extremely cold (being January), they were already gulping down Laurent Perrier champagne, and had clearly been out all night since finishing work the day before. “Make us Facebook famous,” they laughed; I had already shot them from the hip, capturing the wide open champagned arms and flailing cigarette. Would they have chosen beer stained shirts, sleepless eyes and hangover hair for their portrait shoot? I doubt it. Yet somehow, the shot was closer to the truth - for that day at least.
Surely that is the essence of street photography.
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.