foto8 has published a new piece I wrote about the photographic coverage of the crisis in Haiti, and how media organizations could benefit from pooling resources in order to visually document the enormity of Haiti’s post-quake reality.
I started 2point8 nearly four years ago, while shooting No Flash Corner. Happy to see the concept has gone global, and that people are making really interesting photographs that are quite different than mine.
My favorites belong to a flickr photographer named Fernando Cipriani, who shoots in Buenos Aries. He uploaded his take on naturally reflected light + street photography to the No Flash Corner group, and it really stands out.
Here are a few selects, one of which has been my desktop for the last few months. Salud, Fernando!
Hey, can someone please start a photoblog that’s about rephotographing, on a global scale? Something that takes a look at familiar and famous photographs, and accounts how they’ve been rephotographed, since? It’d be an easy enough task, on tumblr or wordpress. I’ve seen quite a few posts over the years around the topic, and shoot, there’s even a Wiki page to get you started!
Blake has a new one of Shore/Ulrich. I saw a few over here awhile ago. There’s a Jeff Wall one, and one of my own from a few years ago of a Shore picture from El Paso, below. There are larger projects, like the Bernice Abbott “New York Changing” project and there’s the Kertesz train that appeared in Genius of Photography.
I haven’t seen a comprehensive, myopically obsessed gathering of these. Anyone willing to bet whether this is being tackled already on flickr? Let us/me know! If you start the thing, please leave a comment so we can keep an eye on what you find.
In January, I asked David Yee to send me this photo of his, which I’d seen and loved and immediately wanted to write about. I knew it was a kind of skeleton key that could illuminate something that had been bothering me – as both photographer, and writer. It wasn’t immediately clear what I wanted to say about David’s picture, but in the past few months, as my weariness for “typical” street photography has increased (and the rarity of a picture like David’s has become clear) I held on to the photo, knowing it might be a needed jumpstart to step-up and write more.
Docu-photography’s greatest gift is to show the world as it is, but it’s also docu-photography’s greatest failing. Photographing on the street becomes the goal – and once that goal is reached (having the nerve to do it, with verve) the quality of the pictures somehow falls to the backburner.
Most people who shoot on the street think of street photography as the be-all end-all. There’s a reaction against what’s contemporary, and that reaction cuts both ways. When did you last see an important, thrilling exhibition of contemporary street photography?
When people complain about street photography, they complain about its obviousness (which is often a reaction to the success and ubiquity of street photography’s early champions, and the styles they promulgated). Naysayers complain about its inelegant description of plain-as-day facts; its telegraphed jokes, funny as a laugh track; its ethical pegleg – the conceit of hobbling around taking pictures of unsuspecting strangers; the obviousness of its attraction to both the ridiculous and sublime; its phyla, even. All in all, they knock the inevitable everything of what it means to make, look, and present a photograph of public life as we see it.
As viewers become more and more visually savvy, the hits of street photography’s past begin to sound more like the soft-rock rotation on AM radio. You know the words and can sing along, but the signal’s crowded out, and hell, haven’t you heard it a million times before?
Consequently, the mad digital rush has produced so many new people with cameras, and correspondingly, so few distinctive, new views. Most of the jpgs I see of street photography are emotional 404s, at best. Client cannot communicate with server in any meaningful way.
It’s not anyone’s fault, really. If you’re a budding photographer, you have two trees to choose frome. Educate yourself, or go to school. Neither’s a piece of cake, each requires intensive investment, both emotionally and intellectually (and what about financially?) and who really wants to do that when you have 165 friends on flickr telling you you’re ALL-CAPS AWESOME!!?? Popularity breeds sweet complacency, right?
Now that Everything Is Accessible Now, there are fewer people who can take the time to encourage, advocate and enable a learning experience where a photographer who currently takes justokay pictures may one day make better pictures. Which leaves it up to the photographer, sinkorswim. As it should be, perhaps? I guess I’m surprised at how few people appear to be suited-up for that challenge, who are reaching and growing and striving to do more with their work, rather than knowingly recapture and trade-in on the styles and successes of the medium’s past.
Which brings me back to David’s picture. It struck me as terrifyingly original, within the constraints of docu-photography-as-we-know-it, and I loved how it made me think about what I want to see more of (in my own pictures and in everyone else’s).
Granted, his photograph may just be a picture of a woman standing in a suburban driveway… But it could be (and is, I tell you!) everything else: fashion shoot outtake, film set continuity snapshot, stop-sign halted stolen snapshot, the moment before the moment when your best friend was shaking cracker crumbs from her lap. The picture’s malleableness, both in subject, and interpretation, is everything. It’s a solid-state blank slate of a picture.
How does it do it? Because it breaks convention. Follow me: if you spend/t a lot of time looking at Bresson, Frank, Friedlander, or even Winogrand, you might come to the conclusion that street photography can be as chaotic as it can be ordered, and that the overall organization of a scene was just as important as the zipzap of the moment. In Bresson, particularly, both sides of these categories align into a kind of zenith — the moment becomes so finely sliced, it’s visual prosciutto – savory as hell.
David’s picture is a perfect expression of an indecisive moment, a slice that hasn’t reached its full extension, and in its halted state, here and now, becomes something incredibly open to interpretation. It’s a snapshot of sorts, but it conveys more to me (and asks more of me!) than any pictures of Pittsfield with pre-wet streets and ethereal god-light. (Crewdson shoots street, too. Or at least his camera operator does…)
Yee’s is a simple picture, plain stated, but it’s not numb to its own intelligence. It’s open-ended, but not imprecise. It’s suggestive, but not lurid. It asks just about as much from you as it’s willing to reveal.
And it’s proof of the power of a single photo’s ability to communicate something that well-intentioned projects with finely-honed artist statements spend years trying to find but miss, repeatedly.
I’m not sure if David considers himself an artist, or this picture art, but here’s what he told me about the frame:
“can’t quite put my finger on why, but it feels like the
further back i pull from the “final moment”, the more i
enjoy the shot.”
And that’s just it. As a practicing photographer, David found something more by photographing against type, the standard-bearer of which sounds something like “wait until the very last moment when everything’s fully extended, and whatever motion is being made has reached its apex and is a complete expression of the emotional feeling of the scene…” and he’s ratcheted that back and we’re left with this. Here it is again.
So there it is, a blowhardy example of how something in-between, inconsequential, and often overlooked, can become something else entirely. And how just one picture can alleviate the burnout I currently have from being sent links to work that looks exactly like the work someone sent yesterday (and yesteryear!).
Next post, I hope to highlight (and re-highlight, in some cases) photographers who, after learning their own ways of working, are pushing their skills and moving it forward to make work that glances backward, looks ahead, blurs boundaries and makes things new.
And I’d love to see more pictures like David’s. Hand them over!
If you have a photoblog, chances are Todd Gross beat you to it. When I started 2point8, I made sure to put Gross’ site quarlo.com in the footer down there, even though it had grown dormant. Quarlo launched in March, 2001, which preceded the “it’s September 12th, I need a photoblog” rush later that year. (Interesting to see who else was already up and running by then; Lucas Shuman, David Gallagher and others).
In looking at his site again now, it looks like he switched from digital to film soon after that. I don’t know Todd, or anything about him (he’s a photographer in New York with a photoblog) but he’s begun posting pictures again, and I’ll be watching to see what comes next. If you’re interested in a very particular (and often cross-processed) eye on the streets, he’s uploading new work to flickr; if you’re new, drop into the quarlo archives.
I don’t know much about Jeff Jacobson, but I know that I first saw his work a couple of weeks ago in an out of print book called “On the Line: the New Color Photojournalism“. (Article about corresponding exhibit on time.com.) Jacobson’s shots from the Republican National Convention (in the 80s) are outstanding – a perfect example of street photographs that weren’t taken on the street.
My library had his book “My Fellow Americans…“. The images of Jacobson’s in Google images are not as good as what I’ve seen in these two books. Copies of “My Fellow Americans..” can be found used for around 3 bucks. Not bad!
Jacobson was a Magnum member back in the 80s, and then left to start his own agency (I think). I saw a thread that mentioned he’s been ill recently, and another link saying he’s available to shoot weddings.
There’s a street corner in El Paso, Texas, that Stephen Shore photographed in 1975. The picture appeared in his book, “Uncommon Places.”
Even at the time, Shore’s photography was a cataloging of the kinds of things that were doomed to vanish; wallpaper, street corners, truck stop restrooms. His pictures were down the road from Greil Marcus’ “Old Weird America” and just shy of the multiplex and big box store. I visited El Paso a few weeks ago, and the location bears little resemblance to the Shore photo. Here’s what it looks like from above (pic links to a flickrmap):
Here’s Shore’s picture. Note the large brick building on the left of the frame, and the small, historical marker in the foreground:
Above and beyond the merits of Shore’s picture as a photograph, there are few key things that have changed in the last 31 years.
- The street that the pedestrian is waiting to cross has been filled-in and is now cement, part of an extended memorial area
- The (rootless, planterless) tree is gone
- The marker has been turned into a larger memorial/statue area
- The front facade of the large brick hotel remains, and has been added onto, after demolition of the Capri Theater and Payless Drugs
- The parking lot on the left is larger and the liquor store is gone
Here’s a crude cellphone video of what it looks like now:
One of the many highlights of the “Where We Live” exhibit in the new photography wing at the Getty (or photography basement, really) are all of the Mitch Epstein prints. They’re taken from “Family Business“, a project Epstein shot in Holyoke, Massachusets, covering a lawsuit against his family’s business, and the decline of his family’s furniture store. (Perhaps I like Epstein’s work so much because I used to go to Mountain Park in the 70s, too.)
And then yesterday, I came across this spectacular Epstein print at the High Museum in Atlanta.
I don’t know why I hadn’t paid attention to Epstein’s work before. If (like me) you’re interested in how someone can take great street pictures in addition to working on long-term projects that aren’t “street” per se, take a look.
Many of the pictures in “American Recreation” look like pictures taken by someone who cut their teeth taking street pictures. Same with Larry Fink’s “Social Graces”.
But what does that mean, really? Just because a photographer has the capability to put together solid compositions when everything’s in flux, and can do so in a way that captures a particular moment that otherwise would have been unrecognized, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a street photographer.
Which is a long way of saying that this whole concept of street photography feels like a pretty rigid box. In fact, perhaps that’s what’s next for this blog, to step out of that box, look back at it, kick its sides a bit, and figure out how a particular “street” way of seeing can be extended into whatever you’re looking to photograph.
I’ve started down this road a bit (in practice, and in words) but it seems worth stating up front.
I appreciated this photo from the Oval Office by Eric Draper in the New York Times a few weeks ago.
Three people seem more able than two or four or more to create a unique kind of compositional harmony, and this picture clearly has it. Trios. Everyone’s walking clockwise. Condi and Tenant are looking forward, while Bush is looking back.
One strange thing about the photo is the painting on the wall of Honest Abe. Maybe it’s the cartoon influence, but it’s difficult to not imagine Abe’s eyes following the whole scene.
A street photograph (of sorts) that wasn’t taken on the street…
Here’s a map of “No Flash Corner“, a place I consistently photographed for a year. If you’re interested in a combination of extraordinary natural light and the serendipity of street photography, it can’t be beat. Trouble is, it’s seasonal, and extremely fickle. If it’s the slightest bit foggy, it’s just any other corner in the city (with a swell neutral backdrop).
Obsessions are a chance to dig deep into new knowledge. I learned more about photography by consistently photographing that one spot than from doing anything else, before or since. I spent weekends there and came home with nothing. Other days were more successful.
The spot is best in June and July, but those are two of the foggiest months in San Francisco. When the sun’s out, the light is strongest and the bright spots are at their widest. Earlier or later in the year, the spots are smaller, and faster moving, and there’s more variables to wrassle. Here’s a map that shows exactly how it works.
The yellow line shows how things work from April through September. When the sun reaches a point in the sky just north of Post (sometime between 4&6pm, depending on the season), it’ll reflect off the mirrored building due East of noflashcorner. Your subjects, if they’re standing in the right spot, will be brightly lit from two directions at the exact same time. In the fall (the red line), light reflects off a blue-mirrored building (the light isn’t very strong), and bounces down on noflashcorner and three blocks of Grant St.
If you have a flickr account and end-up shooting there, add your pictures to the “No Flash Corner(s)” pool I set-up for capturing global locations with stellar reflected light.
If you like betting on weather, crowds, and whether or not you’ll be lucky enough to align the right subject with the perfect light, give it a shot. Leave the tele-zoom at home and let me know how it goes!
Are you familiar with Sylvia Plachy? When I think of the great photos I’ve seen in print in the past year, of the twenty or so I can instantly recall, three are by Sylvia Plachy.
Here’s her latest from Sunday’s NYT Magazine. A great street photo taken in a pasture. The other two photos (1, 2) of hers were both in the opening pages of the New Yorker, which features her work on a bi-weekly basis, it seems. Her portraits (many of them taken with a Holga) used to be a regular feature in the Village Voice.
She has books available (I’ve spied “Red Light” and “Self Portrait with Cows Going Home” at my library) but her recent work grabs me more than the books. Strong in its kinetecism, composition, and the way she seems to be everywhere at once, I learn a little something new every time I take a look.
I’ve never seen a book like Rosalind Solomon’s “Chapalingas“. I’m spending more “getting acquainted” time with it than books I’ve picked-up from Winogrand, Parr, Bresson or Arbus.
She’s had shows in the U.S., but she’s had more success abroad. Chapalingas was published by Steidl, in Germany.
I keep bringing her up because my sense is that while she’s clearly in the Arbus strain of street photographers, her work has a broader, more universal appeal. She’s both more candid and more classical that Arbus, though I hesitate to explain why right now. (She studied, like Arbus, with Lisette Model.) I’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks from looking and re-looking at Chapalingas. It’s a four-hundred page book, and you can find it used online for under forty bucks.
Here are a few selections (that are probably on her site as well) that I keep thinking about. All are taken from Chapalingas, copyright Rosalind Solomon 2003. If I remember correctly, these six images are from New Orleans, Tennessee, Tennessee, Hong Kong, Peru & Jordan (I think).
I’ve been revisiting Gary Stochl’s On City Streets recently. (Stochl, previously on 2point8.) Specifically, I was thinking about the recurring tropes in the book. The pictures span forty years, but during that time, Stochl stayed obsessively true to his format (35mm, black & white, the streets of Chicago) and kept a steady approach. Consequently, there are unifying themes and ways of shooting that recur throughout.
Dorkily, I wondered what it might look like if I sketched out a map of which types of photographs Stochl tended to take, and how often they appeared in the book.
Per Bob Thall’s introduction, Stochl’s pictures “rarely contain the dramatic moments or the weird, ironic juxtapositions that often attract street photographers”. Without mining either of those veins, what are Stochl’s pictures about, and what might we learn by analysing what (and how) Stochl saw?
On a quick pass, I found nine buckets into which I could place the pictures. Some pictures dipped into more than one bucket. Here are rough descriptions and examples for each. (all examples Copyright 2005, Center for American Places, Gary Stochl, used without permission)
Separate Geometries: Stochl seems most comfortable when he’s dividing up a particular frame with poles, streetlamps, walls, anything that gives his subjects their own particular place within the frame, separate from someone else’s particular place. Separate but equal.
Two categories only had one entry each; “Unusual Old People” and “Parallax Kissing”.
If you have the book, I made a quick list of page numbers to highlight which pictures fall where. Follow along!
Reflections: 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 30, 33, 36, 44, 45, 49, 51, 52, 53
Solitary Thinker: 7, 16, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30, 33, 32, 36, 45, 46, 51, 53, 54
Signs: 32, 34, 35, 39, 46
Separate Geometries: 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 54, 55, 44, 45, 51, 52
Backs: 10, 11, 27, 28, 54
Masses: 3, 15, 16, 18, 20, 43, 46
Duos/Trios: 25, 40, 42
What does any of this tell us? Not really sure, other than it’s interesting to see not just how a particular book was put together, but to take a quantitative look at a photographer’s fascinations. What moves them? How does their vision change (or stay the same) over the course of 40 years?
Ultimately, what Stochl was shooting over those 40 years was not necessarily that impressive. How he did it was pretty remarkable. His persistance helped to create an admirable piece of work. The pictures are pretty quiet, and they won’t make you jump up and down, but they offer-up new things when you return to them, which is one of the few things I demand from art in general, not just photography.
While it might feel like everything’s already been done before in photography (it has), it pays to learn that there is infinite room within the forms (just as in writing, a sonnet is a sonnet still) and no one’s got a stopwatch keeping track of how much time you spend photographing people’s backs.
So get out there. Go out and take pictures of them, if that’s your thing. Do it like there’s no tomorrow.
When I went to see the Winogrand Archives at CCP in Tucson, I didn’t realize that their print collection of his work is so extensive. I did two days with the contact sheets and spent a few hours looking at prints. I saw prints from the Image Gallery Show (Winogrand’s first exhibition, in ’60) and earlier work from the Workshop Gallery (a group show, in ’59), plus all the Women are Beautiful prints. Here’s CCP’s published list (pdf) of his prints that are available for viewing.
The hitch is that the published list is not exhaustive – it only lists well-known prints that were made for exhibition or publication. But CCP houses 20,000 Winogrand prints. The librarians there are very helpful and will help you find what you’re looking for, as long as you schedule an appointment. But there’s no reason to stick with the fine art prints — there are thousands of work prints, too.
Just a few quick notes of interesting (unpublished) things I saw on contact sheets at the Winogrand archives.
- Sheets 2463-2440: approximately 1,242 frames from one airshow
- Sheets 2487-2488: great sequence of Muhammad Ali on Hollywood Boulevard, greeting strangers on the street, a young girl grabbing his hand and pulling him around
- Sheet 2494: 24 exhausting frames of a young woman in white, chewing her nails, leaning against a waist-high cement wall
- Sheet 2481: 6 frames of two fat men talking, followed by 5 frames of two skinny men talking
- PC2223: One of the recurring frames of Winogrand’s daughter, waving at camera from inside a school bus
- Sheet 723: Contact sheet from the 50s with examples of shots taken from inside cars. Lots of street shots taken from third (or fourth) floor windows. The Bronx? (A lot of Winogrand’s contact sheets from the 50s have shots from this vantage; it’s as if he had to try everything from a distance before descending to the street. Later in life, the cycle repeats, with many shots of the street from inside second-story apartment/home in Los Angeles, as well as from cars.)
- Sheet 769: A kid playing on the street, upside down inside a cardboard box, his feet sticking out
- Sheet 600: Surreal sequence from Rockefeller Sq. of another photographer, a marching band, and the large hand of a statue
- Sheet 601: Another sequence that shows editor’s eye. Girl with bag at feet, looking at camera. Winogrand marks the frame for printing the instant she looks away
- Sheet 7639: Great street sequence of scowling man and crazy lady
- Sheet 7664: Miles Davis at Muhammad Ali fight
- Sheet 10597: A few frames from Yosemite (of all places). Half Dome in the background, kids on bikes and station wagon in foreground
- Sheet 7785: 14 frame sequence of a couple (with another couple in the background) doing headstand yoga poses in Central Park
- Sheet 7750: Double-dutch-a-thon on Madison Ave., closed to traffic, open to pedestrians, 1971
- Sheet 10792: Boy riding a bicycle, wearing a gas mask
- Sheet PC2223: Great four frame sequence from LA, posthumously-printed, taken from inside a car, of a family standing around their station wagon – while a man (dad?) tries to cram a huge taxedermied head of an Ibis (with full rack) into the back of the car, while a toddler, sitting on top of the head (not the shoulders) of another adult, watches
Part of the mystery with an iconic photograph, especially a candid street photo, is wondering what happened before or after. I was able to track down a few of Winogrand’s more well-known shots, and I stumbled across others, while (carefully) plowing through contact sheets in his archives last week.
I’ve already taken a look at the “chimp” photo here on 2point8, so it’s as good a place to start as any. If you visit the archives, it’s on sheet 5916. Winogrand wrote “London Chimp” on the back of the sheet, which gave me a quick pause, until I realized that the earlier images in the roll were taken in London. The last 5 frames of the roll contain the Central Park chimp sequence.
By and large, with the popular shots, Winogrand either nailed it right at the beginning, or right at the end. Sometimes he took one shot, sometimes up to eight or ten of a particular subject. But he seemed to have this uncanny knack for knowing when he’d captured it. If the good shot was the first frame, who can blame him for sticking around and taking a few more, to be sure? When he was thoroughly working a subject (there are sequences in which the first frames are of a subject that’s far off, and he gets closer and closer, firing off frames as he goes), he tended to get the shot he was looking for, and then boom, he’s off to whatever’s next.
My notes on the “London Chimp” contact sheet read:
- 1 -> 8: Dinner (in England)
- 9 -> 29: various airport shots
- 30: blank frame
- 31: the chimp shot
- 32: the subjects are not as close together, the woman’s pulling away (closer to camera, and more to the left – a gap’s between them) and she’s smiling directly at the camera, the kid on the right has disappeared
- 33: woman looks back at the man, who’s looking right at his chimp
- 34: the man’s pointing at the chimp’s smile
- 35: woman looks at camera again, new kid appears with a soccer ball
While the sequence answers some questions, it asks a few more. Did Winogrand head straight to Central Park from the airport? How long was the gap between the trip and the chimp couple ? Because it’s the first shot after images taken in England, it’s as if he’d gotten word that something was happening in the Park (animal adoption day? search me) and he rushed over there for the express reason of taking that one picture. It feels purposed, that way. Willed.
Contact sheets have a weird way of compressing time to make things look like they happened in quick succession when a long time may have elapsed. There’s no exif data – no way of knowing.
Ultimately it doesn’t much matter when/how/where/why he took it — he just did, and it’s there, and there are four frames that follow that aren’t nearly as good, for various reasons, but they’re interesting to look at because they document a living, breathing situation that existed on a certain day in 1966 (I think) in New York City. And one of the frames does much more than document: it amazes.
Another sequence I stumbled across was for a picture from the Fat Stock and Rodeo project. If you make it to Tucson, it’s on sheet 10753, from 1974.
There are nine shots in the sequence, and Winogrand gets it right on the last frame. He approaches three people (the boy, another boy, and a man) from the side, and takes a frame or two as he gets closer. Once in front of them, he swings around; the other boy and the man are suddenly out of the frame, and he takes the shot.
Now the preachy part. It bears repeating that in street(ish) photography, you never know exactly what’s going to happen. In approaching any situation, anything (and everything) might occur and you may or may not be on top of your game enough to be ready for it. Above, I’m making it sound like Winogrand saw (in advance) exactly what he wanted, went for it, and made it happen.
Simply, I don’t know what he or any other photographer thinks while shooting. I only know from my own experience that you can want something, even if you don’t know what that something is — it can be a vague sense that something’s going to happen and you might want to be there to see what that something might be.
I don’t want to turn this into a digression on intuition, but you get the picture. Put out your feelers. Listen for the small things. Trust your curiosity. Pursue an interest, however vague it might be. If you’re the kind of person who shrinks from challenge, don’t give yourself an easy out. Stay in the game. Hold your ground. Repeat a cliche. Stand up for yourself — it does the body good.
Last week, I spent two full days doing research in the Garry Winogrand archives at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. I went there for a few reasons, but mainly because I was interested in their holdings of Winogrand’s contact sheets. CCP has all 19,000 of them.
I spent five hours a day with a loupe, trying to take a critical look at what Winogrand saw and chose to photograph over thirty years. Big task, not enough time. Specifically, I looked at a slice of the nearly twenty-five hundred sheets that were printed posthumously — work that was done mostly in Los Angeles, shot from the passenger side of a moving car.
No one’s really waded in and made sense of the posthumous images yet, and I wanted to see what they looked like, how messy they might be. There’s something about the “story” of what happened in the last years of Winogrand’s life that’s intriguing. How a photographer, knowing that he’s running out of time, would increase the pace, and leave thousands of undeveloped rolls to be developed after his passing.
What I found was as fascinating as it was just plain mad, and in accumulation, the pictures temporarily blew out my ability to make sense of anything visual. (Eyes = blood shot) I don’t know how magazine editors did it in the old days, hunched over a light box with an eye closed; it takes stamina.
Quick hits on items I’m planning to bring to 2point8 in the near future:
- There are books-worth of unpublished material in the archive that rival the work that’s already been published.
- There are mind-numbingly boring sections in which you could tell he was searching for something, trying something new, and failing
- Winogrand managed to be both prolific and a keen editor, a combo that any photographer in today’s digital world (like me!) can learn loads from
- Being able to observe his edit marks and notes to his printer (Tom Consilvio) was illuminating (see below)
- I have a vague sense that Winogrand is the primogenitor of digital photography, even though he never shot digitally
At the archive, you’re asked to clear your pockets, surrender your pens and leave all your belongings in lockers. You can’t touch anything without wearing cotton gloves. The staff there does a great job and watches you constantly. For good reason. Against better judgement, I knew I needed a rough sketch of what I was up to there, so I snuck this blurry snapshot, showing a sheet from 1971 antiwar demonstrations in Central Park. The red checks and 0’s determine which frames Winogrand requested for work prints.
This particular sheet of about 40 images is from a folder of a hundred images (4000 images in each folder). Each box in the archive held three folders (12,000 images per box) and there are 56 boxes in total (which equals 72,000 to 760,000 images on contact sheets, depending on your math, and images per sheet).
More to come on all of this…
About a year ago, I first saw this image by Richard Kalvar.
It encapsulated a few of my favorite things about photographs taken on the street, but mainly, it just got stuck in my head. I had no idea who the photographer was until last week. Came across a few more of his photos and realized that he was a Magnum photographer. Was president of Magnum, even.
When I think of street photography, I think of stuff like this:
If you like black and white street work from the 70s, check out his archive, or just try this one, this totally insane one, this one, this one, or this one. Perhaps it’s my perception, but I don’t understand why Kalvar isn’t more well known.
(None of the above links work thanks to Magnum’s site redesign. Awesome!)
At a recent lecture, Alec Soth spoke about how photographs fail to tell stories, that they merely suggest them, in the same way that poetry uses metaphor to tell a deeper, lyrical story that reflects and branches out.
The best street photography tends to be in the art realm rather than journalism. Everyone’s seen the picture of the uptight businessman or the drunk on the curb. It’s the job of street photography to show us something new, something we haven’t seen before, or at least a new perspective.
I first saw this Gary Stochl photograph a few months ago, while browsing his book, and I keep thinking about it. Here’s why:
- The photograph doesn’t tell you what it’s about, and that’s part of its allure – the question makes you linger. It’s not clear where these people are (Chicago), where they’re going, or what happened just before or just after the shot. Because the figures lack narrative grounding, they’re free to do whatever they need to do in the frame. They’re unencumbered, cut-free, and because of this freedom, are able to engage your imagination.
- The figure in the center of the frame with the lacey top and handbag isn’t looking at the camera. She’s facing us, which allows us the opportunity to look without having to confront her gaze, or figure out what she thinks about the photographer; her attention is elsewhere, and we follow it, which sends us on a roundabout path through the picture.
- When have you seen a picture that so clearly shows the intimacy of strangers? How/why the heck are these five (six, including the photographer) all crammed together?
- The composition is perfectly balanced. Two left, one middle, two right. Two men, three women. Two women bookending the middle woman from both directions. Both sides of the picture anchored by arm and bosom. Each man, occupied by something other than the woman in the center of the picture
- There’s both a compositional centering that’s happening, and a dispersing. Viewer’s focus goes into the center, and then back out to all spaces of the frame, and back.
- The mirroring of the hooped earring.
- The mirroring of the ear-whisper on the left and the “maybe that’s an ear-whisper” on the right. Makes you wonder what they’re saying or about to say. Makes you wonder if the guy in the upper right is about to whisper in someone’s ear.
- The restraint of the handbag, hemmed-in by the woman’s right arm, and how the verticalness of the handbag strap and her dress strap keep the action anchored.
- Subjects pop from the black background. Makes you wonder if they’re all heading into (or out of) the light. Thanks, black & white!
- Pre-digital, so you don’t have to think about whether or not the photo was shot in color and digitally converted to black and white because the dress was too distracting and the women on the left was wearing a day-glo yellow jersey.
- The caught moment. A small speck of time actually existed in which these five people were together (like this!) and so close and moving closer (or apart) and then it was gone, and everyone went their separate way (including Stochl), but Stochl had captured something, he’d taken a small part of their day, and their lives, and now I can sit and look at it, and look again and find wonder and be amazed at what I missed the last time I looked at it.
This post opens a new category called “Second Look” where I’ll try and write about single images. Thanks for reading. Now go make pictures.
I once knew a musician who didn’t like to listen to anyone else’s music because he didn’t want it to influence his creative muster. Conversely, I knew a poet who liked to copy her favorite poems (by other poets) in her own hand, to get the feel for them.
When it comes to photography, you can have your eyes closed to influence, or you can follow the exact recipe that’s worked for photographers you admire (as in “needing” a Leica with a 28mm lens). Either (or) might work for you; I’ve found that a path right up the middle works well.
A few times a month, I make a point to carve out a couple hours and go to the library (usually between 10-2, when the sun’s high and the light’s uninteresting), or a museum bookstore, so I can spend time with books that are too expensive to own.
Monographs, compilations, histories, explorations. My local library is (literally) stacked with all kinds of photo books, so I just grab a big stack and head to a desk and plough through them. There are a few books that have really opened my eyes when thinking about street photography, so I figured I’d mention them here.
And again, you might find enough direction and inspiration by watching television or flipping through fashion mags — I’ve found books to be the best way to study the history of photography, to realize what’s been done, and to think about new ways to approach the age-old issue of photographing on the streets.
A few years ago in a gallery, before I started taking photographs seriously (I used to think of photography as “an easy art”), I saw a few images from Philip Lorca DiCorcia’s “Heads” project. I remembered them when I opened-up DiCorcia’s book. Although DiCorcia’s methods (expensive lights, cameras and lenses) may be beyond your means (or interest), the results are stunning, and get at the core of what street photography is all about; people as their elemental selves.
I’ve found much guidance from compendiums, specifially Magnum Degrees (and more recently AP-20). In the larger compilation-type books, you’ll find photographers who are new to you, and perhaps aren’t as popular as the biggies you already know. I hadn’t seen Martin Parr‘s work before seeing it in the Magnum book, or Gueorgui Pinkhassov‘s incredible street shots of Tokyo (including the inside cover).
Sure, there are more Bresson books than you can shake a stick at, and even if you’re tired of looking at his work (or Winogrand’s or Meyerowitz’s), there’s much that can be learned from slowing down and taking on a particular image and figuring out why it works.
Let’s look at an image of Winogrand’s, from his project on zoos. You’ve probably seen it before – and that’s part of the problem, try seeing it again with fresh eyes. We can still learn from iconic images if we keep looking closely.
A friend recently asked me what I liked about this particular image, and rather than talk about the obvious cultural relevance (an interracial couple in 1964) I remembered how much I love its amazing details, and what they say about Winogrand and his abilities as a photographer.
Positioning, positioning, posititioning. Everyone talks about the perfect moment in relationship to street photography, but you can’t have the perfect moment if you’re a block away, fiddling with your flash card. Being in the right position is great composition, especially when you’re not a compulsive cropper. It’d be interesting to see the contact sheet from this roll to examine where Winogrand was in relation to this couple before and after this shot. My hunch is that this isn’t the only picture of them, but it’s clearly the best. Why? Because he’s close enough to make the subject matter.
A quick list of what’s going on, or what Winogrand (through perfect positioning) was able to capture:
- Monkeys are being held like children
- Monkeys are dressed like humans
- Monkey’s left fist clutching woman’s sweater
- Child on right, below monkey, clutching human hand
- Monkeys not wearing hoods –>
- Child wearing hood/hat –>
- Woman wearing paisely scarf/hood
- Man wearing suit & tie
- Both monkeys looking down and to the left
- All five foreground faces in perfect light
- Indifference of crowd in background
- Photographer’s shadow doesn’t block key subject matter
- Expressions on the couple’s faces; stern, focused, compassionate
- The “normality” with which the couple shoulders the animals
- Perfect place / perfect time
One thing I’ve learned from this image that I try to apply to every photo I look at; can you imagine how it was created? Did Winogrand just happen to be there, walking around? Possibly, but I doubt it. Yes he was working on a zoo project. He was probably in the vicinity with cameras, which is half the battle. (We’ll get at this next, in Ways of Working #8 – Develop.)
Perhaps this was some kind of “adoption day” at the zoo, and he read about it somewhere, and showed-up thinking that he might get an interesting picture or two. He couldn’t have foreseen this particular scene, and that’s the unpredictable joy of street photography. What I’m trying to say is there are three ways you can take pictures. You can sit on your butt and take pictures of your feet; you can step outside and see where the day takes you; you can keep your ear to the ground and find out when/where interesting things are happening, and/or do some research and seek them out.
Winogrand’s photograph continues to teach me the second and third ways.
Keep your eyes wide; visit your local library if you appreciate the tactile feel of books and their high-quality images (so much better than the Web); look at old stuff even if old stuff bores you – figure out why it’s working compositionally at least; when you find something you like, make a list of everything you like about it. Then try it with one of your own images and don’t cry.