Tell Me a Story: Street Photography
By the time you must know that I live in Paris, which is the city of Street photography by excellence. And unless you’re starting/studying photography you might be asking why am I talking about this if everything was already said about Street Photography and I’m not even an expert about it.
I must say that you’re absolutely right; I guess that everything is said already about Street Photography and even I, when I see a new article about it I feel like… “Again? There’s nothing else to talk about?”
And no, I do have more to talk about; I didn’t run out of new issues to talk, and prepare yourself for some really great news very soon. But today, searching for an article I stumbled upon a new boring article about Street Photography written by one more boring expert in it. It seems that everybody is expert and owner of the universal truth on Street Photography, especially if you live in a “big city with rain“.
Street Photography is not my kind of shooting, but once I live in Paris I had to try, and sometimes I do find it funny to scare my own crows and go for it with friends. As I told, just for the sake of fun, but in the end we all learn something new from each other’s or from the stolen moments we lived.
I never did a staged photo in street photography like the great classics though. Henri-Cartier Bresson was great in it, as you know, a master at glances and how they cross and do the main subject lines in his photographs. Robert Doisneau was another master.
But one of the things you must have, and more important than the gear you use is the eye-mind attention to details. You have to eat and digest the whole street every single moment to be able to attack and click, and even though maybe after 4 or 5 hours you go back home and you got 1 story told, 1 photograph worth the label Street Photography.
In one of my latest rounds doing Street Photography, passing by a great Rolls Royce, I couldn’t resist to do a good shot of the “Spirit of Ecstasy”. Only after, I realised that I missed the whole story to be told, when the image kept on my mind instead of being shot. The untold story was through the window of the car, with a man’s straw venetian hat, a man’s white linen coat and a lady’s red belt at the back seat. But to complete the whole image you could see the reflection on the window: the man and the woman sat down at the terrace in front taking a drink… the woman without the red belt and the man without his venetian hat and linen coat.
I missed that story-shot, so focused I was with the “Spirit of Ecstasy“.
And this was very amateur… (where’s my whip??)
But I learned there that sometimes photography is all about telling stories. It’s not the best lens nor cam, it’s not even the best composition nor object framed. It’s a story you can still in time. And Street photography needs that, a story to be told or shared with who was not there with us.
If you read all the other articles written about Street Photography, most of them tells you the best lenses that you should use. Some prefer the traditional 50mm, some others, shyer, prefers a zoom. I take them with whatever lens I have at the moment. Sometimes with a 17/40mm. In fact I couldn’t care less. I’m more worried to not let go the moment and the composition to not miss any important detail for the story to be told. Most of the times I don’t even look at the viewfinder to be honest; I shoot with the camera down. Like “The BW Priests” crossing the street. Or the “Man Walking his Dogs“: the man dressed in black and purple walking his 2 dogs in a winter afternoon, both dressed as him, in black and purple. Two years later I met this guy on another place, wearing the same black and purple with the 2 dogs in black and purple, so I told him I had a photo of them and I could send it to him. But apart of this one, I never met anyone else in my Street Photographs. I know that being here in Paris is quite normal to shoot and be shot, and I know that I’ve been shot also few times while walking in the street.
“The Day I Met Dorian Grey” was probably one of the first times I tried to do Street Photography and failed completely. I was too shy. I saw this guy on the street with an amazing posture and attitude, but the moment I tried to shoot he looked at me so I turned away the camera and shot a building. I walked around the street and came back and tried again and he looked again so I passed around… and came back. I really wanted to get him. At the 3rd time I shot him without even looking to the viewfinder… at the moment a dark cloud covered the sun and the photo became with him looking at me again. In the dark. He must have cursed me.
In “Un Pas de Deux” it was quite easy, and seemed almost that they were both asking to be shot. I was quite close talking with a friend and couldn’t avoid seeing this man looking to the mannequin head. He was there looking to her since “ages”, like if he was trying to hypnotise her. So it gave me time to take the camera out from the bag, put it over the shoulder of my friend and shoot it. The man didn’t move. Neither did she.
But sometimes we have to make the moment to happen, like in the photograph of the Jewish man, that I called “Pening Soon“. The man was walking with his head up, and as soon as he passed by this wall his head went down till the end of the add: “I’m not gonna look. I’m not gonna look. I’m not gonna look. I’m not gonna look. I’m not gonna look. I’m not gonna look.”, he must have thought.
I saw him minutes before so I “stalked” him a bit, and when I saw that he was passing this wall I couldn’t resist. It’s almost the same as that wonderful movie “Babette’s Feast” where they are not supposed to feel pleasure.
At the same time is wonderful to see that this add is quite disrespectful to this man and his education, believes, etc, however he respects in return, facing down, not looking: his way to respect the girls there and himself.
Once in a while I find funny to go for a Street Photography evening, especially with a friend with good conversation so we can share ideas and laugh at some curious moments.
But there are great Street Photographers / Story Tellers out there:
Also every time I go out, I come back home feeling that I learned something new. A camera can be a voyeur’s tool, so when you’re carrying yours you’re paying much more attention to other people, to more details, to life itself.
As we always learn by being observers.
And you?, did you ever…?
text by ©Gonzalo Bénard 2012