As far as I know, Jesus was not known for his photography … but he obviously experienced some of the problems that many of us experience when he said "no prophet is accepted in his home town.” I say many of us because I have done the research. Okay - it wasn’t particularly scientific and didn’t involve mice but I did ask the question of my instagram followers. And you can see what they told me in the poll on the left.
Street photography in my local area is something I struggle with but I felt that it was personal or unique to me, and mostly due to the fact that, having been a primary school teacher in the area for many years, I seem to be one step removed from every child, parent, grandparent and shop assistant within a fifteen mile radius. While it’s always nice to see the kids, I don’t always want to explain why I’m wondering around with a camera taking photos of their Uncle Richard or cousin Angie as they slip on an unseen dog deposit. So, for me, it’s fear of recognition and feeling like a pillock. Actually, it’s worse than being a pillock because if I happen to turn my lens towards a small child I could open myself up to all kinds of hurtful abuse - see my last post.
For others it’s a similar fear of sticking out like a sore thumb in the small village they live in. When you know everyone within walking distance they are more than likely to wonder why you are out with a camera until ultimately you develop a slightly eccentric reputation and people are then surprised when you don’t have it bolted to the end of your arm. Both mindsets are totally understandable and have to be overcome if you are going to shoot at home without requiring therapy afterwards. However, one had a much more basic complaint. “I can’t shoot at my home town. I find everything boring.”
Several of you were more than happy to shoot local. One photographer lives in a small town but still shoots 95% of their work there. Their instagram feed has 12k followers yet family members and friends have no idea that they are posting photos, all of which are taken on the iPhone. Remarkable stuff.
Another confirmed local shooter said that they wanted to give their home town some love. They told me that they see it as an opportunity to show local residents an interesting side to their town that they don’t normally take the time to notice. Interestingly, one photographer revealed that having returned to their home town after living abroad, they were found it more photographable than before.
For me, though not a great globe-trotting traveller, it is the lure of somewhere else where I can be anonymous and just get on with taking photographs that appeals. As one photographer said “It’s so nice to have that fresh space without any baggage. No history. Nobody to run into.” That is definitely a freedom that comes with anonymity. It doesn’t have to be abroad, just another town or city where you could be “blending in with other camera wielding tourists.” In fact, looking like a tourist provides a great cover. Pretending to stare at something way down the street is a ploy I have often used when getting that familiar look from someone whose soul I just have stolen with my 23mm lens (other lenses are available). (By one of those strange twists of fate that only the internet seems to throw up, as I write this my Spotify playlist has thrown up At Home He’s A Tourist by Gang of Four.) Looking like a tourist at home is maybe the perfect solution....
London is perfect for me in that sense - just up the road but big enough to disappear in and full of wide eyed camera wielding tourists. I lived there for ten years so know it well and the advantage of local knowledge shouldn’t be underestimated. Shooting at home would allow even easier access and the possibility to work a scene over time - think of all the great projects shot by photographers embedded in their home environment for years (most recently I’ve been enjoying Shirley Baker’s Without A Trace about Manchester and Salford in the 1960s). But it could also invite repetition which can be dangerous to the creative mind - always seeking to re-create that favourite shot from five years ago doesn’t challenge us to move forward.
Getting out or getting away does bring a fresh perspective. “I need the adventure, not knowing what I’m going to find, being alert, makes me feel like a kid.” One problem with shooting locally is that the backdrop becomes wallpaper and it’s much harder to spot the beauty in it. Being somewhere new really does heighten the senses and sharpen those camera eyes.
Clearly, although more of us seem to prefer to shoot “away,” we all need to find the place where we can create the images that please us most. As one photographer said, in a twist of a well known street photography adage, “The best street is the one you are on.”
With thanks to the following instagrammers for their wise words:
@zahyrc @tatsu_is_tatsu @nico_street_ @packetsofradge @davidebgm @ashsmithone @theurbantake @hebertofernandez @eingnckt @menasambiasi @bvstreet @so.asa @lhanna_photography