Book Reviews

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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 It is a historical document as much as straight documentary photography.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 Streethunters.net. 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 (www.artcoup.com) 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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Introduction

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.

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Robert Rutöd

Introduction

Timing is a key ingredient in street photography. One has to look no further than the title of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s revered book, ‘The Decisive Moment’, for reference. A photographer’s timing, especially when shooting street, makes the  photo. Knowing when to press the shutter is everything. But don’t forget about luck. Luck, the x-factor. Luck, the variable. Unless a photographer has precognitive skills, they’ve got to get lucky. Even Cartier-Bresson himself said, “of course it’s all luck.” Boil it down, and it’s about being at the right place at the right time.

The mixture of timing and luck is the subject of Austrian photographer Robert Rutöd’s self-published photo book, ‘Right Time Right Place’. A winner of the New York Photo Award and the Special Prize from the Czech Center Of Photography in 2012, Rutöd has had his work exhibited across the globe and featured in numerous publications. Most recently, the former painter and short film writer and director secured the ‘2015 Artist Of The Year’ at the Dong Gang International Photo Festival in South Korea. Rutöd sent this book to Streethunters for review.    

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Introduction

I must admit, since I wrote my Under The Influence on Mark Cohen back in September, I’ve become even more intrigued, perhaps obsessed, with the photographer and his work. The images found online were just simply not enough. I knew his retrospective, Frame, was coming soon, so I resisted purchasing his highly-acclaimed Dark Knees. My thinking was this… Frame was a retrospective and obtaining it would be the best way to satiate my hunger for more of Cohen’s work.

It was, without doubt, worth the wait.

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Elliott Erwitt Personal Best Cover

Introduction

When editing written work, one of the more difficult tasks is to “kill” or “murder your darlings”. That phrase can be traced back to Arthur Quiller-Couch from his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures, “On The Art of Writing”. What does the phrase mean? To myself, it means to basically trim away the fat. Eliminate the self-indulgent elements that don’t necessarily aid in furthering the work. Even though the fat is where the flavor is, excess of it isn’t a good thing. The writer Stephen King has said,

“kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

So, too, must the photographer kill their darlings when selecting images for a photo book, zine or exhibition. The more images in their library, the more brutal the process must be. When I look at work by prolific master Elliott Erwitt, I imagine the photos “left on the floor” are likely images I could only dream of making. After repeatedly devouring his massive collection, Personal Best (teNeues, 2014), I wonder if Erwitt had to kill any of his darlings. Or, if the man had ever taken a bad shot in his sixty-plus year career.

Before I go on, I must give a disclaimer. Elliott Erwitt (born 1928) has taken the top spot on my list of favorite photographers. Not that’s worth anything, but consider it an advance apology for my unabashed gushing over his work.

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The Weegee Guide to New Yorkv

Introduction

Visiting New York City is on many a street photographers’ to-do or wish lists. And rightfully so. It’s New York. The reasons for wanting to make a photographic pilgrimage there are abundant.  Think of all the famous street photographers that have shot there. Garry Winogrand, Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Bruce Gilden, Mary Ellen Mark and Elliott Erwitt to name just a few. And there’s up-and-coming, future famous photographers putting out superb work right now. Khalik Allah comes to mind. And these photographers work in a streethunter’s nirvana. The Big Apple is an American city at maximum. A bottomless cup of cultures, characters and scenes. And, needless to say, the city is also a wellspring for the news photographer. In a city of over eight million people, there is news happening all the time. Crime, fires, traffic accidents. And no one photographer in the 1930’s and 40’s could work the streets better than Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee.

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Introduction

Few books have shaken up and influenced the street photography world like Robert Frank’s The Americans has. Fifty-seven years after its initial publishing, the book still is referenced heavily to this very day when discussing the advancement of photography and the genre of street. But The Americans is criticized and analyzed as much as it is praised. Rightfully so, considering it is such an iconic work. But is there a point where a landmark like The Americans starts to fade away as the landscape of photography itself changes? As street photography becomes more popular and diluted? As it becomes, dare I say, less “special”?

Those questions were part of the reason why I wanted to own The Americans for myself. That and because it almost seemed mandatory. Because it’s cited so often in the street photography world, I felt like I had to own it. That a photography library, no matter what size, could only be built around this cornerstone. The only other book that I can think of to bear such a heavy load would be Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment. But, at close to $90 USD for its latest edition, that piece would have to wait. At under $25 new, The Americans, now in its ninth edition, demanded to be purchased, and sooner rather than later. Questions needed answers.

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