Book Reviews

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Moscholios Anti-Manual On Street Photography cover

Embracing unconventionality in photography, as well as in writing about photography, is a polarizing venture. As with any art, going against the grain can be reviled or exalted. Middle ground typically is not found until the scales are tipped to the advantage of the embracers by campaigning from the early adopters themselves. Whether this is done consciously or subconsciously, it’s only from the pimping of “challenging” work that the endeavor becomes popular, or at least, “accepted”. However, the endgame of truly challenging work does not have to be about winning the hearts and likes. About becoming wildly popular. About becoming a mass-market darling. The endgame can be the challenge itself. The challenge to make the observer think and, at the highest level, inspire.

The few street photography manuals I’ve read have not been exactly challenging, and for that matter, inspiring. Manuals, by definition, are not meant to be inspiring. That’s not to say they haven’t been helpful, fulfilling on their promise of instruction, providing tips and tricks. They offer similar bits of direction and tend to be geared towards the fledgling street photographer. That being said, a bit of dread crept over me when I found a link to Michail Moscholios’ free e-book, Anti-Manual on Street Photography in my inbox.

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Shooting at festivals, fairs, carnivals and the like can be a mixed bag for a street photographer. The obvious benefit of shooting at these events is the bang-for-your-buck factor. What I mean by this is there’s a large amount of people in a relatively small space. It’s a target-rich environment that offers big value for the street shooter. Providing great opportunities to sharpen skills, these events are a godsend to the photographer who doesn’t live in an active urban setting or is pressed for free time to shoot. The only drawback I’ve seen with collections of festival shots is the feeling of sameness, that I’m left with. Often, I’ve seen what amounts to be hodgepodge clusters of “character” shots. Now some are excellent quality, depicting some truly unique and colorful characters. However, quite a few groups of these photos fail to capture the atmosphere, flavor or spirit of these events. There’s a lack of “moments”.

Chris J MacDonald’s ‘Field Of Dreams’

That being said, receiving Chris J MacDonald’s ‘Field Of Dreams’ zine in the post was a delightful surprise and a visual treat. Self-published this past fall, ‘Field Of Dreams’ is a brief, but gloriously colorful and vivid essay on British summer music festival culture. In just 23 images, MacDonald taps into the essence of these festivals with an entertaining mix of characters and moments.

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Thomas Ludwig 'Keep The Focus' review cover

We are not at a loss for educational access these days. For the knowledge seekers who are fortunate to have access, this is an amazing time to be alive. The internet, despite all its garbage and noise, is an invaluable and seemingly inexhaustible resource. Information on nearly anything is just a click away. If you’re in your fourth decade like me, you remember back to the time when this was not the case. Back to those pre-internet days when books, glorious books, nestled in their loving libraries, held the answers to the questions we sought. When we wanted to learn how to do something, that know-how had to be gleaned from books or taught by an instructor.

But, this is the internet age and we are fortunate enough to have the web at our beck and call. If we want to learn how to do something, anything, we can surely find a way with a Google search. It’s that easy. Articles, videos, podcasts… they’re all out there. From cooking to car repair to writing a novel and even raising a baby, there’s instruction out there.

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Leon Levinstein book review cover

It’s very hard to imagine a street photographer today working in relative anonymity. Social media sites have become our galleries, providing easy accessibility and near-constant availability. There is natural compulsion to share, and not just for the sake of recognition. Sharing is used to network and to garner critique and feedback. Few street photographers make a living solely practicing their craft, but there are rewards to reap through sharing. One can make a name for themselves, which can be satisfying enough. Street photographers can also win money and gear through online entry into contests held by websites, physical galleries and other organizations. But at the end of the day, we want our work to be seen. We may say how much likes and little hearts and stars don’t matter, but we still want others to view our images. Getting eyes on our work is just a post and a few hashtags away.

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Deadbeat Club Stray Shots Rock Salt Review cover

“Buy books, not gear.”

I can’t remember where I first read this mantra for photographers, but I’m sure it was in something that the venerable Eric Kim wrote. No matter, these words stick. The mantra can be applied to any genre of photography, but if you mull it over, it especially makes sense for street photographers.

I’ve seen great street photographs made with anything from disposable cameras to smartphones to top of the line Leicas and beyond. So the truth is, a great photograph can be made with any camera. But our gear lust is a natural, unavoidable condition. Most folks are just wired that way. Anyone, from artisan to tradesman, would want to try the more expensive tool. To drive a Ferrari on the track. If anything… just to see what it would be like.

So, it is suggested that we buy books and not gear, because buying the best gear will not make us better photographers. Just like a better hammer will not make you a truly better carpenter. So why funnel your cash into photo books? Because the photographer’s soul is constantly hungry for inspiration and it’s constantly wanting to give appreciation. A good photobook will bring endless returns. A physical keepsake that we can come back to anytime. A reminder that we can always be a better photographer. And sometimes that reminder is subversive, hidden in the guise of our appreciation of an image. While we gush internally over a particularly great photograph, somewhere deep, deep down we end up longing to make a photograph as great as the one we’re viewing. There’s real value in that lust, if we channel it properly.

And let’s be honest, looking at a printed image blows away looking at an image on a monitor or a phone.

But let’s also be honest about this… quality photo books aren’t cheap. It’s no stretch to say $30 USD and beyond is the norm. A photo book habit (which can be developed very quickly, trust me) can drain your account real quick.

So enter the zine.

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Helen Levitt Book Cover

One thing that is often lost in discussion about street photography is the importance of the genre. When talking with and about contemporary photographers, I find that it is hardly discussed at all. The importance is more than a groundbreaking style. It is also more than say, the introduction of color to the genre. There is historical importance. Street photography, particularly candid street scenes, give us a sample of real life from that period in time. It is a historical document as much as straight documentary photography. It can be argued that maybe candid street is just as “real”. It’s unfiltered. Un-posed. Discreet and unobtrusive. Of course, we don’t talk about the work of current photographers in this aspect because they’re creating future nostalgia. Its historical value is almost implied. An afterthought, if a thought at all.

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The Atom Bomb by Miki Vuckovich cover

Skateboarding and street photography are not strange bedfellows. There’s the obvious connection with the street. Both skaters and street photographers grind it out on the pavement and asphalt. Skateboarders looking to land the trick, and the street photographer looking to land the shot. But that’s not where the similarity ends. Skateboarders, current and former, have shot some fantastic street work. Ed Templeton is a prime example. His book, Wayward Cognitions was reviewed here on Gabe Angemi is another example, with zines under his belt and an incredible Instagram feed. Then there’s those photographers who shoot skateboarding and also shoot street. The ones who shoot the action for skateboarding magazines and websites, but also shoot street. Miki Vuckovich is a prime example of this kind of shooter and he’s damn good at it.

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Valerie Jardin book cover

Practice, practice, practice. That is a mantra for street photography. A commandment, even. Like with a musician, or an athlete, only with practice can one become better. Simple? Yes. Common sense? No doubt. But taking the plunge into street photography might seem like an insurmountable feat for some. That first step can arguably be the hardest one an aspiring shooter takes. This is the point where advice and suggestions really come into play. The point where a budding Street photographer is most impressionable. Looking at great images is surely the most important thing to do, but if you’re not tight with another Street photographer, you want some instruction. Outside of taking a workshop, there’s a wealth of resources out there. There’s an incredible amount of books, tutorials and so-called rules shared by an equally incredible amount of street photographers in both print and digital formats. But whose guidance do you trust?

As with learning any skill, art or trade, it’s best to be guided by someone with experience. But that alone doesn’t cut it. Shooting street for years doesn’t mean squat if they’re not good at it. Valerie Jardin has skills and the service time to meet the qualifications for a trusted instructor. Now, she has an e-book, Street Photography: First Steps And Beyond, to add to her resume.

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A Wah Do Dem by Boogie COVER

“Raw” is a term that gets thrown around a good deal in street photography. Not RAW as in the digital file, but as a term used to describe a style of street photography. But what is raw? Is it gritty? In your face? Is it shot with flash? Is it an “untouched” image? Is it less artistic? Any of those things can indeed be components of a raw street shot. However, in my book, raw is more of a feel. It’s not a thing that’s easy to describe, but it’s easy to identify. It may be easier to point out what isn’t raw. Raw wouldn’t necessarily be used to describe Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. Or Elliott Erwitt’s. Or Brassai. Raw isn’t what most folks would consider pretty. It’s more documentary in style than artistic. Raw is “warts and all”. Raw can be unsettling, uncomfortable. Raw can take us to places we wouldn’t think of going to, maybe because of the reputation. Because of fear. In instances like that, the photographer becomes a guide, taking us through these places and bringing us out unscathed physically, but maybe not mentally.

Over the last decade, one of these guides has been the seemingly fearless Vladimir Milivojevich, otherwise known as Boogie. The Serbian-born photographer has been featured here before in Under The Influence and his background is as intense and fascinating as the work that he does. Born and raised in Belgrade, in 1969, Boogie began photographing his war-torn country in the 1990’s. His website ( says, “growing up in a war-torn country defined Boogie’s style and attraction to the darker side of human existence.” A look through his previous work, only solidifies that.

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Columbia, Missouri doesn’t come to mind as a street photography mecca. When we think of famous locales for street photography, we think of Havana, London, New York City, Paris, Tokyo and the like. But the truth is, great street photographs can be made almost anywhere. It’s up to the photographer and their ability to see. Their vision. And, of course, their ability to make the image. One has to look no further than the legendary Mark Cohen and his work in Scranton, Pennsylvania, with a population of just over 40,000.

Columbia, on the other hand, boasts a population of just over 100,000. Does that equate to more opportunities, more subject matter, for a street photographer? Perhaps. But if you narrow your shooting area to just one block, it should be a veritable “hot zone” for street. Familiarity with the turf won’t do. Intimacy is required.