There are many different ways of photographing your fellow humanity in the street or local environment. One is the “in your face” (almost literally) method where the photographer walks up to an unsuspecting passer-by and photographs them, sometimes using the flash, before walking on, leaving the bemused and sometimes outraged subject behind. It is almost performance art and the person’s response to the intrusion is a part of the photograph.
In the second method the photographer engages with their intended subject before photographing them, asking permission and finding out more about them. In some cases the photographer may actually follow-up with their subject taking more photographs at a later stage, perhaps in the person’s home or work environment. This sort of photography represents a two way process with the subject perhaps gaining as much as the photographer.
The third method sees the photographer as the outsider, an observer standing apart from the people as they move around her. In this case the photographs are taken discretely very often without the subject knowing at all. In this method the photographer is often interested in the patterns and shapes that are created and almost instantly destroyed as people pass them by.
Each method has its own adherents and they can all produce great photographs. More than other genre of photography, though, the personality of the photographer will play a big part in the chosen method. An extrovert is likely to chose the first method, someone who is gregarious and chatty is likely to chose version two, whilst a more introverted person will feel comfortable with the last method. I definitely fall into the latter category!
Here are a few examples of the street photography I have taken over the last few years along with a few of my thoughts on each of the pictures.
This picture was taken in Barcelona and shows a solitary busker outside the gothic cathedral. In the background groups of tourists flow together and fall apart as they look up at the grandeur. My interest was in the busker all on his own but I was also struck by the forms that the groups of tourists made. Over on the left there is a larger group, balanced by a smaller group on the other side of the image and looking up the cathedral. Right at the back there is a group flowing up and down the steps and into the cathedral. An aspect of street photography that fascinates me are the patterns that people make as they move around individually or in groups.
This photograph has been cropped. There are some schools of street photographers who might think that’s a bad thing to do. The photograph should capture the entire scene you saw. Sometimes, though you might not be able to get in close enough (especially if you fall into the more “discrete” method of street photography) or you might compose the picture one way but when you look at it later you might see another picture emerge.
This photograph of passers-by on a rainy street in Cork was originally a landscape orientation. Behind the people walking with the umbrella there was another person behind them glancing down an alleyway. In that version there was much more going on. In this cropped version I have focussed in on the face on the mural looking over the top of the brolley which makes a simpler photograph.
Street photography can be instinctive and instantaneous; something ahead of you catches your eye, you raise the camera and press the shutter release. Only later on when you are looking back through the photographs at your leisure, perhaps you see other things that were immediately obvious in the original moment. Or, at least, that is my experience.
That was the case with this photograph. I saw the people walking past the alleyway and took the photograph. Looking again it might have been better to have focussed on the face on the mural rather than the general scene. I may have been able to get a better juxtaposition between the passers-by and the background.
This photograph was also cropped but mostly to remove extraneous detail such as the leg of a man standing on the left and an object lying on the ground at the top right. Whilst cropping the photograph I wanted to ensure I retained certain information such as the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) logo on the lapel of the jacket. It helps to tell the story of this photograph; the annual rally of trades unionists that takes place in the small Dorset village of Tolpuddle each year to commemorate the farm workers who in 1834 set up one of the first unions.
This photograph is also a self-portrait. See if you can find me!
The picture of the trombone illustrates another way of viewing people – indirectly – as in a reflection. Here is another example, a reflection of a group picknicking on a summers day at the park that has been created out of industrial land near Kings Cross Station in London. The mirrors in foreground stand on the site of a former gas holder; its cage still exists and you can see the shadow of it at the bottom of the photograph.
Photographing people in reflection adds context to the photograph. I can include more than I might have been able to with a more direct shot. I also think it makes a more arresting image.
Faces in a crowd
Human beings are instinctively drawn to other people’s faces. It is one of the first things a baby recognises, and we find endless fascination looking at them. This photograph shows part of the crowd at the New Years Parade in London. In the foreground is one of the participants pushing up his baggy costume. He is the centre of attention as he is so incongruous but my focus is also drawn to the woman leaning over the barrier and looking directly at him. Then I begin to see the other people such as the woman scratching her face; or the woman with the selfie stick looking back up the road in anticipation; or the man in the beanie hat towards the back craning to look over the people in front of him.
This photograph was taken very quickly on a dull day so there is a little bit of blur but I think it works. It is another of those photographs where my attention was initially drawn to one thing – the man taking part in the parade as he tries to sort his costume out – and then begin to see so much more later on.
This last photograph I would like to share with you takes in a detail, immediately, focusing in on someone’s hand as they touch the image of John of Nepomuk for luck. John of Nepomuk was a fourteenth century martyr flung from Charles Bridge in Prague for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions to her husband, the king. As you can see in this photograph many people have touched his image. There were other photographs to be taken including the crowds that gather around the plaque beneath a statue of the martyr but I chose to focus in on the hand.
This photograph was the only one taken with a smartphone – the new tool of the street photographer?