“We should all acknowledge that it’s one thing to recognize the qualities of a great photograph when you have one in front of you; it’s something else entirely to produce one yourself.”
Gordon Lewis writes this at the beginning of the sixth and final chapter, “What Makes a Great Street Photo?” in his book, “Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment”(Rocky Nook, 2015). As a street photographer, I know this is true. I’ve looked at so many street photographs, and so many great ones, that I used to think going out and taking a great street photograph would be a piece of cake. That somehow I had picked up the skills and eyes of great photographers through some kind of absorption. Just go out and do it. But reality smacks hard. It’s not that easy. And, like Lewis writes in his conclusion, “greatness is the exception, not the norm.”
Lewis’ book, much like another book I reviewed, Tanya Nadar’s “The New Street Photographer’s Manifesto”, is a tidy gateway book for the photographer looking at giving street photography a go. An effective primer.
Gordon Lewis, according to his bio, has been shooting street for over forty years. Refreshingly, he doesn’t use his decades of practice as a pulpit to hammer the reader with demands of dos and don’t. Lewis takes a more rounded, and, in some instances, almost fatherly approach. By fatherly, I mean he encourages shooters to find their own way. Especially in regards to style.
The fifth chapter, “Styles of Street Photography” contains the most inspirational pages of the 129 in the main body of the book. Here, Lewis not only discusses the elements of style, but the important task of developing your own style. He stresses that “your style should be characteristic of who you are” and how “the more perceptive you are, the stronger and more persuasive the message of your photographs will be.” Wise words, indeed.
The fifth chapter is also a showcase for some of Lewis’ better candid street photography. Lewis’ images are plentiful throughout the book, and the bulk of them are quite good. The pictures serve two purposes. They are examples of street photography and they break up the text. The latter purpose makes the book a breeze to read.
“Techniques”, the third chapter, serves up Lewis’ best street portraits, providing samples of candid and “direct approach” portraits. The author efficiently discusses topics such as shutter lag, zooming, focusing and exposure. These subjects can be boring for a future street photographer eager to get going with the genre. But Lewis handles them deftly and without “heavy” technical writing that would possibly scare off a complete amateur.
At its core, Lewis’ “Street Photography” is more for the amateur, the virgin street photographer. It succeeds as a primer for the uninitiated, for those who are curious about street but haven’t taken the big plunge into it. It’s light on total content, but the content touches on the essentials of street. Lewis writes about them with skill and bits of wit. Not once is the reader bogged down.
From the first chapter, which attempts to define, or rather break-down the appeal of street photography, you can feel Lewis’ long-lasting passion for street. The well-tread ground covering film versus digital cameras in the Tools chapter is handled fairly and you reassuringly pick up on Lewis’ experience. It is a comforting bit for the beginner.
Like mentioned before, Lewis balls up his words with some very nice photographs of his own, and the book’s size, 10″ x 8″, makes it physically easy to handle the slick pages that seem to accurately present them. Some in color, some mono, he really does have some solid work. And, he doesn’t just toot his own horn. Lewis also gives us a photo-heavy section on highly recognizable masters of the genre along with some more contemporary shooters. Great images, but the light stock paper reminds you that you’re not looking at a photobook. And that’s not what “Street Photography” aspires to be. It’s more a manual than anything.
Experienced street photographers will likely find “Street Photography” doesn’t give them anything new to chew on. But I found Lewis’ insight into the more personal side of street to be refreshing. Passages on finding your own style and having the right mindset were inspiring and were an elixir for the my own bad-shot and no-shot blues.
I can recommend “Street Photography” to anyone wanting to get started in street. It satisfies the curiosity the uninitiated may have. It’s a low-cost investment that could pay big dividends for the up-and-coming street photographer.
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