Masters of Photography

Under the influence of Raghubir Singh

Introduction

“Taking pictures is like panning for gold. You do it again and again, and sometimes you find a nugget.”

How true are these words from the great Indian photographer, Raghubir Singh? Think about that quote in regards to street photography and the words ring even more true. Like a prospector looking for gold, we use our wits and our technical know-how to give ourselves the best chance to get a shot. But getting that shot is like finding the nugget. It’s like gambling. We work the elements to put the odds more in our favor, but it’s still a game of chance.

Under the influence of Boogie

Introduction

The Under The Influence series has been a rewarding expedition. But, I’m not just talking about myself discovering great photographs and photographers. Unearthing the photographer’s biographies has been a surprisingly intriguing and joyful task.

I’ve always been a fan of biographies, particularly reading about the lives of historical figures. I loved going into their lives and learning how they came to be the important, or infamous, men and women whose names resonate through time. However, when I began researching photographers, I did not expect to be that drawn to their histories, their stories. But I was quickly proven wrong. Vivian Maier immediately comes to mind when I think of intriguing biographies. Lewis Hine, Robert Capa and Weegee are others that come to mind. And there’s photographers with incredible stories that are working right now, still writing their own biographies. One prime example is the photographer known as Boogie.

Under the influence of William Klein

Introduction

Perfection. We all strive for it when it comes to photography. Perfect exposure. Composition. Tack-sharp images. But, street photography isn’t about perfection. At it’s core, street photography is about capturing life. And life is far from perfect. William Klein, in his own way, mastered imperfection within street photography and became a trailblazer.

Under the Influence of Lewis Hine

Introduction

“Photography is an empathy towards the world.”

Lewis Hine(1874-1940) not only spoke those words, he embodied them. Hine was a social activist with a camera. He was a revolutionary. Lewis Hine, without any doubt, is responsible for keeping America’s children from labouring in sweatshops, factories and fields.

Hine’s story is a fascinating one. You can say it’s heroic. For a country that is forever indebted to him and his work, it is tragically ironic that he died in absolute poverty.

Hine moved to New York City in 1901 to teach at the Ethical Culture School, a school emphasising moral education founded on humanist values. In 1903, he bought his first camera and taught himself how to use it. He used his photographs in his teaching, and in 1904 he created a photography program at the school, likely the nation’s first. Hine took students into the countryside to photograph nature. He also took them into the streets of the city.

Hine saw the tenements and sweatshops. He saw the poverty. He began documenting it. An activist was born. Hine knew that the camera could be a weapon. At this time, Hine began taking photographs at Ellis island, documenting the influx of mostly European immigrants. At this time there was a strong anti-immigration sentiment in the country, not unlike there is right now. Hine portrayed the potential citizens with dignity amidst the chaos of Ellis Island. An amazing feat considering the language barriers and the stressful situation for the scared immigrants.

Introduction

” My first reaction at the very idea of this interview was to refuse to talk about photography. Why dissect and comment a process that is essentially a spontaneous reaction to a surprise?”

This quote from the celebrated photographer Marc Riboud takes street photography down to it’s lowest common denominator. It’s very core, in my opinion. A spontaneous reaction to a surprise. Those words are simple ones on their own. But, when strung together, they define what makes street photography magical to me. What makes me love it so. All the talking, analysing, criticising and researching amounts to nothing if I can’t go out there and bottle that lightning once in a while.

Marc Riboud, now 91, is truly one of photography’s living legends.

Born in Lyon in 1923 in France, Riboud took his first photograph at age 13. After joining the French Resistance in 1943, he went on to study engineering. In 1952, he made the move to be a freelance photographer.

He then moved to Paris and there he met Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He became an apprentice of Cartier-Bresson’s and joined Magnum in 1953. An amazing career was underway.

Under the Influence of Dorothea Lange

Introduction

The intersection of art and photojournalism is a glorious destination. Where the observer straddles the line between creator and reporter. Equal parts artist and journalist. As street photographers, we share a common skill that resides in that intersection. The skill is that of observation. To snatch away that moment from time, we must keenly observe. Observe like a photojournalist. Like we’re covering a story. But the skill of observation is also what gives us the media to “paint” our picture. Observing and the camera is our paint and canvas. Being able to really “see” is the first step in capturing a great image. Great observation skills, whether you’re a “natural” or someone who’s acquired them, sharpen with experience and tell us not only how to see the image before we take it, but tell us when and where we should take it. It becomes part of the process. How long to wait. Move or stay still. It all becomes instinct through observation. That being said, to be a good street photographer, we must be, to some degree, good social observers. And in the twentieth century, there was no better social observer than Dorothea Lange.

Under the Influence of Robert Capa

Introduction

I’ve referenced the Magnum Photos cooperative often in this weekly series, and with good reason. The amount of iconic images produced by it’s members is simply staggering. The members themselves, also iconic. Over the years, the cooperative has become the benchmark for greatness in photography.and it shows no signs of decline our slowing down. I’ve wrote about members such as Elliot Erwitt, Bruce Gilden and Martin Parr. And also about one of it’s founding fathers, Henri Cartier-Bresson. All of them giants of photography and massively influential. However, the most impressive member is one I haven’t touched on yet. The founder who had the idea that birthed Magnum, Robert Capa.

Capa’s legacy is simply fantastic and can be split into two. One, as essentially the creator of Magnum. And two, as the first and arguably the greatest war photographer/photojournalist of the last century.

Under the Influence of Bill Brandt

Introduction

Hitting the wall. I don’t know about all of you, but I know some of you have been there, too. It’s the point where you just run out of mojo. When the juices are reduced from a steady flow to a trickle. Or worse yet, a full stop. String together a few fruitless Street Hunts, and the wall can be easily hit. It’s a most discouraging and frustrating time. The camera waits. Eager for you to feed the mojo into it, but it’s just not there. I get it. Bored with my work, I struggle to get out of the funk and end up more frustrated. But now that I’ve hit the wall a few times,  I’ve come to the realisation that it’s ok to put the camera down and do some research instead. Find a master and dig in. Don’t just look at their work, get in their heads. Read about them. Find out what gave them their mojo. Learn what made them tick. I’ve found this process helps to turn the focus on myself and my creative drive. At best, it may push you. The least it will do is make you more critical of yourself. Either way, you don’t lose and, you get some great history along the way.

Bill Brandt (1904-1983) came as much needed kick in the pants during a recent funk. Brandt is regarded as the most important British photographer of the twentieth century, and after viewing his work, there is good reason why. After a study of his images, I believe Brandt was equal parts magician and photographer. From his work on the streets of London, to his surrealist-influenced nudes, Bill Brandt produced images that have become timeless.

Photo of the week by Robert Doisneau

Street Photo of the week by Robert Doisneau

Robert Doisneau is one of the most talented and amazing photographers that has ever lived. Period. He was an active Street Photographer for more than 60 years, more than most others and his work depicts the evolution of the modern world from the early 1930s all the way up until the end of the 20th century, in the mid 1990s. His photographs of France are iconic, they are epic. You have certainly seen one or more of them in your lifetime even if you don’t know that he was the photographer that made the shot. He was creative, innovative, funny, brave and daring. He would take the photo of a funny situation just as passionately as he would photograph the fighters of the French resistance in the barricades during WWII. He would capture the magic, playful moments of children, just as well as the sensational look of a beautiful woman. He would be there to snap the moment, to forever record scenes that are now part of European Modern History.

Under the influence of Weegee

Introduction

The line between photojournalism and street photography can be a blurry one. Though there are clearly defined examples of each, some work straddles the line. The determining factor on how you categorize one of those images depends solely on your definition of each. Some say everything is street, and other types of photography, like photojournalism, are just a sub-genres of it. Others say street is a bastard child of photojournalism. But does it really matter? The question, in my book, is tired. Just like film vs.digital and color vs. mono. However, we like categories. Categories make things easy. Easy to market and easy to consume.

Long before there was social media and a “need” for such debate, there was Weegee. Weegee didn’t care about the line. He crossed it, went back over it and, at times, erased it.

Weegee, the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig(1899-1968), was the original tabloid photographer. His claim to fame was his stark and gritty New York City crime scene photos, along with his images of fires, car wrecks and other tragedies. But buried underneath his shocking news photos was a lovely portfolio of street work.

Fellig got his break into photojournalism in the 1930’s, breaking out of his job working in the darkroom at Acme photos, a stock photo company. He would go out at night and photograph crime scenes while the staff photographers slept, but he never received credit for his work from the stock company. Going freelance, he then developed a relationship with the Manhattan Police Department.