Without any ado, I will commit a crime of telling you the answer now. Simply, I don’t know. Before you start to think “what a boring post” this is, let me tell you that I don’t know because my definition of street photography is different to yours and yours is to a person next to you.
Before we go on, I have to say that I will try my best to accommodate creative geeks who have thought of street photography but never had a chance or will to give it a shot. This post will be casual so relax and hope you will enjoy it.
My definition of Street Photography
Now, if you want to know what my definition of street photography is and what I love about it then stay on and we will look into it further.
Let’s start then by giving you a brief background of me. I was born in 1989 in Uzbekistan. This was an environment of uncertainty and fear of the future as Uzbekistan was declared independent of USSR. I am not sure about others but I owe this brief crisis of my unimportant life at the time a great deal. What do I mean by that? I am sure in West and East people have an image of Soviet Union as gray standard 4 storey flat blocks with windowless concrete government buildings. Communists with no religion and tradition that know only to worship their seniors, work like a zombie with obedience. Well, yes… Buildings were like that as I grew up myself in a gray 4 storey flat but I don’t know how people lived in USSR. My parents told me that whatever ideology was creeping in your head, it had to stay there. Your tongue and limbs had to do what you were told. You make your own mind up on this.
I hope I gave you an image of life that I might have been a part of. I owe independence the fact that people started to revive their religion and traditions. No longer was there an idea of being equal to everyone in every way. People started to diversify and have thoughts that they could action upon. Some people liked to work, study and be a good citizen. Others liked to stay at home, drink tea and go for a Friday prayer. This allowed me to see both sides of life, as if I was sitting on top of the Berlin wall. Soviet buildings are still there but now their role is to remind us of the past. To me, they are like a smoked cigarette filter forgotten under the sofa. Dirty, but no one bothers to clean it or pretends they are not there.
I loved paintings as I grew up but could not paint myself. I knew the techniques, however, my hands were telling me off every time I picked up a pencil. So until the age of camera phones arrived I had my paintings in my head only. Now, I am in London working in IT and take street shots with a DSLR when I am not working. Time flies…
I think it is impossible to define street photography because, it is about what thoughts, ideas and emotions you have in your head. Now, if you have never taken a street shot then you might be thinking I am going mad. Yes, you have to be a bit mental to take street shots. Bear with me and I will explain.
In a normal society you think of some things or have an idea about something but your brain might counter react to it as it is impossible to happen or unacceptable if happened. By now you definitely think I am going loco. Imagine you had a very bad day. I mean a really bad day. You go out to think about something else so that you get on with your life. In my street photography I keep on that thought until I take at least few photographs. The reason being, whether you want it or not, your brain starts to look for similar scenarios on the street that you experienced earlier. This is almost like when you lose your car keys you keep saying “car keys” in your head and eventually you will find it. When your thoughts are concentrated to one specific thing it will have a much higher chance of seeing it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a bad day. If any emotion is concentrated in your head you will have the same affect. You see why I don’t know what street photography is for people other than me. It is impossible to have a person that has exactly the same idea, thought or emotion as you do, so there is no way of making a rule that everyone obeys.
To me, street photography is like an urban legend, a myth that can be changed from person to person.
There are people who will disagree. They will say that street photography is about capturing your subject’s current situation, their emotion and feelings. May be that is true and people can actually do this but for me I have to have the same emotion to see it in people. If I am tired, I see tired people more often and I know how they feel so my job to document it will be much easier. To me, priority is not that the subject is actually feeling a particular emotion but that I can make an image that shows what I feel through other people. Don’t take me wrong, a lot of the time my subjects actually feel the same as I do so it will be their natural state but feeling the same emotion gives you a bonus to make something special.
Equipment! You have to have a decent camera with a wide angle prime lens, cover all the logos with a tape blah blah blah… I consider this a load of rubbish. Once again, this works for some and doesn’t for others. A lot if street photographers take this rule as a bible and do not even think people with other equipment as street photographers. If this was true then I would be a devil as I use Canon 7D with 70-200mm lens. They think that I am afraid of people noticing me and take pictures from a distance like a spy. Not really. The reason why I got this lens was because I never used a DSLR before and this was a good starting point as a general, all purpose lens. Most of the time it stays at 70mm and I do like people seeing me when I am taking their photograph.
Street photography is what you make of it. If you want to use a pro camera and feel comfortable with it then by all means. Yes your images will be sharper, yes you will have less noise but if you don’t have a budget or just starting out then why not take your iPhone out of your pocket, pay about £2 for an app and fire away? Once you know what you are doing and how you want to do, you might want to consider upgrading. Equipment limitation should not get in the way of your creativity and ability to capture what you want.
Probably I can suggest getting an image editing software and a computer if you don’t have any. Even this is not necessary. Apart from this you are free as a bird to fly and take pictures.
In a nutshell, think of who you are and what is important for you to document.
Create your own style! You are a person so you should be different from others. Look at the work of other people and share your own. Socialise and talk about photography but never desert your style. This is your signature and how people perceive you.
Personally I love quite dark and contrasted images. I did not start like that but gradually found my paths. Being inconsistent is also a style if you want to but it will be difficult to see an image and say I recognise this work!
B&W or Colour? I tend to mainly create in B&W, however, this depends on the situation. Sometimes colour is what makes the composition. So it really depends on the scene and what you are trying to capture. It is difficult to give an example but imagine you saw a tall blood red wall then a woman with a long blue dress walks by. It will be just a woman passing by a wall in B&W and blue with red will look like the same colour.
Subjects! I photograph anything and everyone. I don’t have a prejudice to have to have a person in my composition. If something looks appealing to me I tend to take a shot. With digital camera nowadays you can set it to continue shooting and take a photograph of everything regardless if it makes a good composition or not. Once there are about 1k images you can then just go though them and select one that looks better. I try my best not do this these days. There is no creativity in it. I have to admit I was doing this until I got a book called “Decisive Moment” by Henri Cartier-Bresson. If you can buy it I highly recommend having a refresh of your passion and getting inspired. I know, I know… He is being talked about in almost every blog but there is no way of escaping him as the body his work and the volume of his investment is insanely huge for street photography. If you get stuck, look at his work and you will be inspired instantly.
I will finish up by plagiarising Helen Levitt: “Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.”
Street photography helps me to go out and free my mind. Protest, rebel, inspire, cry, laugh, and shout with my photographs. I try to make the camera a language that everyone can understand and see things from my prospective although not so affectively but this is for you to decide.