Yesterday I found much at the library, including two great forewords. Bruce Davidson’s introduction to the first-edition of his book Subway is one of the best first-person explanations I’ve read on street photography, the hows and whys. (According to this page, it hasn’t been included in the re-release from last year.)
Davidson describes working-out (military style) for weeks prior to shooting on the subways in order to be in shape for whatever the situation might present; muggers, thieves, your standard NYC subway fare in the 80s. He writes at length about fear, preparation, and the art of trusting one’s intuition.
John Szarkowski’s long, comprehensive essay at the beginning of Garry Winogrand’s Figments from the Real World is another keeper. (Really, if you don’t own the book, just go to the library like I did with some quarters and xerox the thing – it’s worth it.) I read it a year ago and thought it was all well and good, but now, on re-read, it makes serious sense. Like this:
“It was typical of him that he was most interested in those parts of his work that were the most problematic. He had a special affection for those of his pictures that were almost out of control, the pictures in which the triumph of form over chaos was precarious. He believed that a successful photograph must be more interesting than the thing photographed, but he photographed nothing that did not interest him as a fact of life. Success–the vitality and energy of the best pictures–came from the contention between the anarchic claims of life and the will to form.“
Technically speaking, there’s also a great bit about why he chose to use lenses wider than 35mm (but not as wide as 21mm), and how they led him to compositionally use tilted frames to his advantage.
“He also said that the tilt was never arbitrary, that there was always a reason, which is true if one counts intuitive experiment as a reason. Sometimes he said that it was, on occasion, simply a way of including what he wanted within the frame, but his proof sheets make it clear that he would often tilt first one way and then the other, trying to find the configuration of facts that would best express the force of the energies that were his subject. Sometimes he suggsted elliptically that he tilted the frame to make the picture square and secure.”