NOTE: This is a Guest Blog post written by Timothy Lunn exclusively for www.streethunters.net.
‘A Window Covered with Raindrops’
Saul Leiter once said of his photography:
‘A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person.’
This fascination with windows – and by extension – reflections, is widely recognised as a hallmark of his work. Whether bending light or breaking it, reflections allowed Leiter to re-imagine his native New York as an abstract painting, conjuring up an artist’s vision of colour and shape.
Although he passed away in 2013, many present-day street photographers have followed his lead, using reflections to develop their own sense of the surreal. One contemporary inspired by Leiter’s work is Dmitry Stepanenko, a leading London street photographer, organiser of the London Street Photography Festival and Judge of the Miami Street Photography festival.
It’s a chance meeting, perhaps. They know each another, or at least they seem to. The older man leans awkwardly to his right, whilst the younger man stares ahead of him. How long till they break the silence, wave a hand and raise a greeting?
But there’s problem.
They aren’t staring at each other at all. In fact, the link between the two figures is imaginary, an illusion – some trick of perspective produced from the reflection in front of us.
The result is a photograph that is part real, part surreal.
It was 2013, but in this photograph, Dmitry had already stumbled across a theme that would pervade much of his later photography. Like Leiter, he had discovered the power of reflections.
‘In normal circumstances it wouldn’t have been possible to capture these two scenes at the same time. Only with reflections, you’re able to combine two scenes into one. Then people can try to find a connection between the two … try to find stories.’
Since then, Dmitry has incorporated reflections into much of his work, using double planes, illusory perspectives, and contrasts of light and colour, to envision his dream-like cities.
Last year he published his first monograph, Heavy Colour, in which many of his compositions tended toward abstraction; his recently published Zine, In Bloom, has developed this surrealist style further. This work was exhibited on the 27th September at Stour Space, London.
Given his experience in shooting reflections, StreetHunters asked Dmitry to identify five different methods for crafting them on the street.
5 Tips for Reflections
Saul Leiter was fascinated by windows and glass. What are your feelings on windows? How do you compose your shots to work with reflections?
I use windows, mirrors and other reflective surfaces in my photography as they provide me with the means to combine different scenes to create stories on the street. They also provide me the means to play with light that can sometimes vary dramatically in terms of both strength and colour.
Glass also helps to create semi-abstract compositions from the more ordinary situations. Reflections can be quite hard to master as one needs to be alert to what is happening in two or more scenes at the same time. One also needs to cater for different exposures and try to avoid distractions.
It’s not just windows that Leiter was obsessed with, but the water droplets that covered them. What uses do street photographers have for water and for rain?
I love to play with light. When I am walking around and shooting, I am always searching for some interesting semi-transparent and reflective surfaces – the more unusual they are, the better.
Some examples include curtains, broken or coloured glass, plastic film, windows with some water droplets etc. All of them can create interesting effects in your photographs: sometimes mystery, in other cases unusual visual effects, even abstraction.
For example, here the water droplets on a shop window are combined with a delicate reflection of a woman’s face to create an abstract image.
Frozen windows can also create an interesting texture and make the image more abstract.
Here rays of light are coming through the branches of the trees, reflecting in the pond to create an unusual play of light.
David Lynch is another key influence of yours and uses mirrors to explore themes of isolation and personal identity. What mirrors exist on the street and how can they be used to create reflections?
Windows and mirrors can be used to create surreal and mysterious photographs, to make the viewer wonder about what is going on in a frame. There are so many reflective surfaces on the street aside from the shop windows and paddles, you just need to stay focused and they will find you.
Then it’s up to you how you embed them into your photographs.
Last month, I saw a street photographer shooting into a cigarette bin for its reflection. What other, everyday objects are there for shooting reflections?
You can use a wide variety of objects in public places. For example, the photograph below was taken through a gap in the ordinary magazine stand.
This photograph used a semi-transparent art object in a gallery to create an almost abstract image.
Reflections aside, what about refractions? What other surfaces, textures and materials exist for bouncing and transforming the light?
Apart from using transparent surfaces for reflections, you can also shoot through them. If you are lucky with the light, you can catch something unusual. In some cases, it can lead to an interesting play of light or even create a painterly feeling to the picture.
Examples of such surfaces include plastic film, curtains, coloured glass, broken glass, different types of nets and even a telephone booth.
This photo was taken through film on a sunny day so you can see the light play.
Here, the glass gives an interesting texture that I combined with white flowers in the background.
In this photograph, a fine net allowed me to create an image which I relate to pop art.
Thank you Dmitry!
Of Alienation and Dreams
We finally ask Dmitry if there is anything we left out of the interview.
Only one thing, he says.
‘Reflective surfaces are just the way of achieving a goal. They’re not the goal in itself.’
However keen Dmitry is on windows, reflections, and mirrors, he is eager to stress that it is the story matters most. All of the planes, perspectives and doubled layers in the world won’t help if your reflections don’t tell a story.
Leiter’s story was of an ideal world – a painter’s vision of beauty, balance and harmony.
So, we asked Dmitry what his story was.
‘I feel a little bit lost in the city. A little bit alienated. A reflection sometimes can create a parallel world, a parallel universe for people. They are here and at the same time they are not here. It creates a bit of mystery, and a sense of alienation, of dreams.’
Dmitry’s work can be seen at: http://www.dmitrystepanenko.com/
You can also follow him on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/dmitstep/
For more on the London Street Photography Festival: https://lspf.co.uk/