street photography

Instagram - probably the best bar in the world

@hueyraw

@hueyraw

Imagine a bar, a pub or a cafe that everybody wanted to go to. Somewhere for everyone. A tropical beachside venue with a roasting log fire and views of the alps and distant desert islands. The most comprehensive jukebox in the world playing the tracks that you want to hear, just when you want to hear them. Over in the corner, a group of older people huddle convivially - playing darts, cribbage, or just bemoaning the younger generation. While over on the other side beneath the flashing lights, those only just old enough (if that) to be allowed entry compare tattoos, biceps, and lengths of mini-skirts. Then there’s you. And your mates - lots of them - swapping stories and riffing off each other’s energy and world view. Every night, it’s much the same. You can choose to spend your time with your mates, or sometimes show off your tattoos with the nippers and play cribbage with the oldies. No one minds. Hey, sometimes you don’t even show up.


It’s the best bar in the world. And the more people come, the bigger it seems to get. There’s room for everyone.


This is Instagram. It’s easy to knock it - not everyone wants the beach bar or the ski-shoes at the door alps experience from a pub - but for photo sharing, its the best place we have to display our media to a wide audience. It caters for just about everyone and the keyword is “social.”


To continue the bar analogy - if you choose to spend each evening simply enjoying yourself with your friends and were happy with that then that is fine. Good luck to you. If you want to grow your friends’ network and push the boundaries of your social circle by introducing yourself to some of the cribbage players or call above the noise to the youngsters by the door, you can. Perhaps you'll wander over, pay a compliment, offer to buy a drink, heck - you may even hold eye-contact (you old romantic, you). Some evenings someone may even come across to you - compliment you on your fine new threads, pet ferret, or ask about that friend you came in with. They might ask advice or even suggest something that would help you. This is the social carousel.


It’s not that different on Instagram. If you choose to keep yourself to yourself that’s fine. You may prefer a small following of just family and friends - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Or you may be happy to share your images more broadly, make your profile public and use hashtags so that others can find you. "Hey! I’m over here at the bar. Come and look at this!” That’s fine too. There’s room for us all.


Just remember, that when you venture across that crowded/empty barroom, dodging the table of pigeon-fanciers, the Star Wars crew, the vintage tea-bag collectors… that everyone in the bar is a person just like you. Be nice. Think before you speak. Pointing out that those brand new tan shoes would look better on your uncle than on them with that skirt - and he’s got better legs - is not the best way of developing that new friendship. If we are all going to get along in this shiny new retro antique bar, we need to support one another. Be nice.


Just like a bar, Instagram is a business. It wants more people to come in each night - and throughout the day. It’s obvious but it's not something that we seem to remember. I get as frustrated as anyone by changes to the algorithm or whatever it is that seems to keep the things we seek to control beyond arm’s reach. But if I could control or understand the algorithm, just imagine how much more control someone with even more ability and time could exercise. I wouldn’t want an Instagram that was ruled by a handful of huge accounts that had learned to play the system. I want my jukebox to play the tracks I want to hear with the occasional unexpected and interesting gem thrown in for good measure - not the ones that the big biker in the dark corner picked out or paid for.


Right now, Instagram is the best we have. Not perfect - but better than a lonely pint on your own at home. Unless that’s what you want!


So next time you feel like complaining about Instagram (or any other social photo-sharing platform) and the frustrations it brings (and I don’t deny frustrations exist), just imagine a time when the only people who got to see your images were your mum and great aunt, leafing through a dog-eared scrapbook that you had excitedly thrust under their noses while they tried to watch the wrestling.

Art On A Postcard

I am hugely honoured to behave been invited to contribute three photographs to the latest art On A Postcard exhibition which is showing upstairs in Old Spitalfields Market in London this week.

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Art on a Postcard raises money for The Hepatitis C Trust as it aims to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025. Urban artist Ben Eine and street photographer Dougie Wallace have curated this latest exhibition. Every one of the urban artists and street photographers has donated their work for free. 

Each image is made into a postcard which is then auctioned via the website. Bids start at £50. Each artist remains anonymous until the auction closes on 12th July. If you know an artist and their work you will probably be able to identify their images within the selection of postcards. Or you may get a nice surprise. I like the idea that you bid for an image you like - not just for the artist you perhaps follow on social media.


It’s featured on London Live :

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The exhibition closes on 7th July but the auction continues until 12th July and is online at https://www.artonapostcard.com/spitalfields-2019



Best of April 2019

Sixteen from the streets of London and Venice. Feel free to comment.

Click to go LARGE.

Book Review - "Street Photography Is Cool" by John Lewell

John Lewell is a name that may be familiar to some of you as the founder of the Streetphotoindex and of his own top ten UK listed blog at www.johnlewellphotography.com

 

John recently published his own eBook entitled Street Photography is Cool – and it is available on Amazon.

 

John is an extremely erudite writer, as you would expect from a Cambridge graduate, who is both well read and well travelled. He demonstrates great knowledge of many aspects of art and culture, and this informs both his own photography and his views on shooting on the street.

 

This is not a “how to” book but is more a walk through many of John’s thoughts on different aspects and challenges of shooting on the street, using his own images as examples. Each chapter begins with a reason - “street photography is cool because…” much in the style of the “Love is…” Schultz cartoons that so many of us will have grown up with.

 

From the outset John is keen that street photographers should develop their own style, putting down the manual and getting out and shooting as much as possible. He acknowledges that he is largely self-taught, eschewing the influence of the “greats” in order to develop his own style.

 

“Once other photographers have shown us how they see the world we start to see it in the same way. That's why I didn't start to look comprehensively at other people's work until I'd developed a style of my own.”

 

John acknowledges that street photography is not easy. “Without intense desire and motivation no one can succeed as an artist.” He picks his way through a lot of the challenges that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to shoot candid images on the street and illustrates these with analysis of images from his own back catalogue. These insights are reassuringly familiar and will resonate loudly. John has clearly considered these issues at length and over time. However, they are very personal views.

 

At some points in the book I felt urged to debate some of the points that John made. His writings are fairly black and white (pardon the pun) on certain issues – particularly concerning black and white photography, for example. In “It's a Colourful World” he writes:

“I'm still puzzled why so many people still cling to black & white, given today's versatile and sophisticated colour tools. I can only put it down to their reluctance to embrace change: a deep obstinacy rooted in habit and tradition.”

To me, this misses the point entirely. Black and white is a tool at the photographer’s disposal which, given that the two dimensional image (the photograph) is already an abstraction from the reality of 3d, allows a further level of abstraction and expression.

 

On developing a personal style John writes:

 

It's far better to allow your style to grow out of your interaction with reality. It will come naturally from your selection of subjects, from how sympathetic you are to them , from your distance or closeness to them , and from whether you can find a little bit of originality in the way you portray them . I think originality in art is vastly overrated and has led to all kinds of unnecessary and ultimately sterile disruptions. The " little bit of originality " of which I speak is to be glimpsed in your personal style. It's what comes from the photographer in response to reality, rather than from anywhere else.

 

This is very much a matter of opinion, as is any subjective evaluation of any work of art. However, I was surprised that John, with all of his cultural acumen, seeks to encourage photographers to seemingly seek to operate in a vacuum of their own work. To me, it is about learning from those who have gone before, from their successes and their mistakes, and seeking to take the elements that we, as individuals, most like from each of these giants upon whose shoulders we plant our tripods. Similarly, we should seek to be influenced by as wide a range of cultural and artistic experiences, not purely photographic, as possible in order to broaden our creative vision. John has such a cultural wealth at his fingertips that I was most surprised to read his thoughts on this.

 

I was particularly struck by John’s thoughts on the future of street photography at a time when private and public identities have never been so mixed. He warns:

 

“Eventually, a database of street photos may itself be tied in with tags on social media , enabling us to identify the majority of people we photograph on the street . Tomorrow, everyone will be in the public eye . When all is revealed by face recognition technology I wouldn't be surprised if street photography were not outlawed altogether in many countries. Either that, or people will take to wearing masks and camouflage.”

 

He recognises the responsibilities that we have as photographers on the street and shares views on shooting courteously and within the law. He gives tips on the importance of limbering up for a day on the street, ensuring that you are in:

 

“…the right frame of mind to take street photos . That's because you need to be able to see beyond the obvious, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary , and to anticipate the next few moments almost as though you can see into the future...”

 

This is so true.

 

In the main, John represents the world of the street photographer well.

 

“Every true street photograph represents a unique occurrence, captured in a moment of time that can never be repeated . You were its witness; and your photo , however ill composed or badly taken , will have intrinsic value of its own .

 

Self- publication is very much  easier today than ever before. John explains

 

“I've used only my own photos to illustrate the various topics. Although restricting the book in this way probably gives it stylistic coherence, it doesn't acknowledge the rich variety of approaches taken by contemporary photographers.”

 

It would be interesting to sit down (with a bottle of wine or a couple of pints of ale) with a dozen images taken by the street photography greats or, indeed, those of contemporary photographers, and discuss our various opinions.

 

Like all good books, Street Photography Is Cool raises plenty of arguments and generates even more discussion. John has done well to publish a work that so clearly puts forward his views as he walks us through his images.

Best of March 2019

Sixteen from London’s streets from March. Let me know your thoughts below.

Click on the image to go LARGE.

Best of February 2019

Sixteen from February out and about on the streets of London and Cambridge.

I would love to hear your comments below.

Click on the image to go LARGE.

British Photography Awards

Thrilled to be shortlisted in the Street category of the British Photography Awards with my image All The Fun Of The Fair.

All The Fun Of The Fair   Chiddingfold, Surrey. 2018.

All The Fun Of The Fair

Chiddingfold, Surrey. 2018.

Part of the competition is a public vote and you can vote for my image by clicking on the image which will take you to the link.

Please do look at the other images and categories - there is some amazing talent on show.

Twitter: @GBPhotoAwards

Instagram: @britishphotographyawards

Facebook: @britishphotographyawards

Photo Rich. Time Poor.

I am lucky enough to have had a week’s holiday; not travelling but just unwinding, catching up and reeling back some of the hours lost to the day-job over the past two months. I suppose that it’s part of my own sense of worth and some deep puritan work ethic that I am seemingly unable to completely stop. I begin my time off by making lists of tasks to achieve within the week ahead - one of which is to write this blog. (So here I am with less than 24 hours holiday remaining and a slight sense of guilt for not having done it earlier - anyone else been here?)


One of my main aims this week was to spend some time looking at photo-books. I have said several times in this blog space that one of the best ways to learn is to look at the work of the greats. It’s so important. It feed us, educates us , inspires us; yet it’s so easy to put off. Why wouldn’t I want to invest a small amount of time in something which I know will help me improve in an area I feel passionate about? Yet time is precious. Finite.


How long should one sit enjoying a pile of photo-books for? Two hours? One hour? 30 minutes? Ten? Even that can feel like an indulgence when there are other people in the house going about their business. Surely, one can find ten minutes in a week.


It turns out I couldn’t.


I do know where a considerable chunk of my time has gone. Social media. Specifically, Instagram and Twitter. In recent blogs I have written a good deal about social media and largely in positive tones. I am not about to change my view. While I find that I have spent a long time on both platforms - or longer than I would’ve wished - this is purely my problem and not one that I can blame the platform for. However, while I enjoy the capacity of social media to allow me to see many, many more images in a short space of time than ever before in history (and very easily too), I find that there is such a wealth of images to enjoy and respond to that I am not spending long on any of them. It’s become a swipe, flick and like mechanism. I consume hundreds of images in a day and I dread to think how much time I spend on each one. Or rather, how little time i spend on each one. I’ve learned to quickly take in the basic elements - composition, light, framing - but it’s almost a skim reading. Sometimes I probably spend longer writing a comment than looking. So many pictures. So little time.


Don’t get me wrong, I am inspired  by what I see on social media, I learn from my peers, and it definitely feeds me - especially in encouraging me to pick up my camera, get out and start shooting. I need to learn to slow down and truly consider the images before me. In short, I need to chew my food, savour it and reflect on it, rather than always subsisting on the spaceman’s diet of a dry handful of tablets that contain just enough to sustain me.


This morning, the clocks went back. Today I have an extra hour. While I have been promising myself time spent with a pile of inspirational photo-books, the week has almost passed and I haven’t achieved it. So I hereby declare that I am going to commit to spending that hour with a fresh pot of coffee and a pile of books; a collection of paper images that I will turn slowly, savour, and force myself to look at more deeply. I come to them with the expectation that I will learn from them - both consciously and subconsciously. When I next pick up my camera I will do so with the improved knowledge and better vision that this hour and these books have brought me.

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4 From 7: no. 2

A village fair and some shots taken into cafes for this week's offering:

Like Buses

No posts for a while and then two in one day…

 

Just a short one to mention how honoured I am to have been listed in the list of Top 10 UK Street Photography Blogs. For me, it’s a real honour to be mentioned alongside the likes of Linda Wisdom (Linda Wisdom Photography) and Max Gor  (maxgor.com).

 

Do check them out and the other great UK photographers in the list. And pass them on…

 

Thanks,

Hugh.