monochrome

Shoot first. Ask Questions Later. or Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.

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. 

Starting out - why now?

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.

In time, I posted a black and white version of the picture on a couple of social media sites and it seemed to get a good reaction, claiming photo of the day awards with a few  Instagram  sites. Then I submitted it to  One Million Photographers  - no real expectation of anything but hey... And it got Editor's Choice (thanks editor). That was a big boost. But nobody would know how to find more of my stuff - I needed a website. And if I needed a website, people told me, I needed a blog. So here it is.  I've always enjoyed words - heck, I almost had a children's book published once (almost) - but is anyone actually going to want to read the ramblings of an obsessive camera pointer who is sharpening his skills?     We shall see. 

In time, I posted a black and white version of the picture on a couple of social media sites and it seemed to get a good reaction, claiming photo of the day awards with a few Instagram sites. Then I submitted it to One Million Photographers - no real expectation of anything but hey... And it got Editor's Choice (thanks editor). That was a big boost. But nobody would know how to find more of my stuff - I needed a website. And if I needed a website, people told me, I needed a blog. So here it is.

I've always enjoyed words - heck, I almost had a children's book published once (almost) - but is anyone actually going to want to read the ramblings of an obsessive camera pointer who is sharpening his skills?

 

We shall see.