Friday, May 17, 2013

I Am a Witness to Love, I Am a Street Photographer

Love. It's everywhere isn't it? Well, yes I know, it does depend on how one looks at the world, but often it's not that it isn't there so much as it is we don't see it. That is where we street photographers come into the picture. We are a very lucky group of people. We get to see love all the time and everywhere we look. Love between a parent and a child, love between a dog and its human. And then there is romantic love. I can't count the number of times I have seen - been lucky enough to see - couples obviously in love or loving each other.
Hello My Darling

I so often am privileged to witness that look of love that passes between lovers as they meet or as they part. It's a private moment, yet there it is in plain sight for the world to see, to witness. If only we would slow down so we are able to see it. 

It's the Look of Love

Mind you, sometimes a couple will be just sitting, passing the time together. Suddenly, one will look a the other and in that fraction of a second (John Free says all Street Photographers see the world in segments 1/500th of a second long) it takes to point the camera and click the shutter, such a look is passed from the one to the other, that it is a gift worth treasuring. I sometimes wish this couple could have a copy of this photograph. But, that's not how this thing works. It's a fleeting thing; a moment that comes, then is gone forever.

Lovers on the Grass

Then there are the times when from even metres away, the street photographer can just feel the joy being eperienced by lovers as they embrace oblivious to their surroundings and to other people passing by. It's as if the world itself is their living room. But, you know, I don't often get the sense people are "showing off" or "posing"; it is usually just two people expressing joy and love in each other's company.

Loves in the Park

Now, I am not one of those street photographers who goes out of their way to be invisible. I see no point in hiding or sneaking around. Of course this means that sometimes I am seen and more often than you might think, this can result in a great image too. People might sometimes change their pose a little, but overall they  like these two, maintain what they were doing (except of course they are smiling now for the camera). And these two were happy in each others embrace, and proudly proclaim that to the camera. I like this one!

Sunday Seaside Stroll

Another aspect to street photography that I absolutely love is its ability to change people's lives, even if it is just for a moment. Take this couple for example. Strolling on a beach path one Sunday morning. I just instinctively lifted the camera and made the photo as they approached me. Now, they were so engrossed in whatever was happening for them that they didn't notice me, even as we passed each other. Again, just intuitively I said to them: "It's great to see such a handsome couple". They both looked at me and smiled, then the guy said: "It is indeed".

That's all, nothing else, and all over in a couple of seconds. Later, as I looked at the photo on my computer, I noticed that they are both looking upset or at the very least really distracted by something. Who can say what sort of day they'd had or what kind of bad news they had received and were processing. 

And that's the point you see. I knew nothing of this at all when I made the photo. And, then, despite the fact they hadn't seen me, I spoke to them, and what I said elicited a smile and a humorous comment from the man. So, by acting on instinct, being fully present and going with the flow, it is likely I played a tiny part in cheering up two people who were quite probably having a bad day.

Like I said, I have so many images that are witnesses to love in many of its forms. These are a tiny few of the romantic love kind. I have had the great good fortune to see and share thousands of similar moments. And what's more, the fact I am actually there to witness and record those moments with my camera, means that I can then share these moments of love with others, with you. 

Street photography is a great gift to me and to all of us. Fleeting moments that come and are gone forever as I said earlier, are usually missed as we rush about just living our lives. But just because they are missed doesn't mean they aren't important or that they shouldn't be recorded for sharing with others and for posterity  I am one who is lucky enough to be called to do just that. And I am grateful.

Sharing a Sleeve

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Social Documentary Photography: It Can Be Pretty?

For those of you who don't know, I am in Lisbon in Portugal right now. We've been here two weeks, and will be here for another four. At least. I say 'at least' because it is a city that already I know is going to be very difficult to leave. But, in keeping with my new resolution to 'live in the moment' more, I categorically refuse to think that far ahead.

Anyway, enough about that. Well, actually it's related to what I wanted to talk about in this post. You see, one of the BIG reasons I wanted to come to this city is that it is a street photographer's paradise. Friendly open people, life, vitality, picturesque buildings as backdrops. You name it, this place has got it! But, so far I've only been out with my camera once. Been sick you see. Another story! And that once I just got a couple of images of buildings in the Alfama district where we were staying (we've moved now. Yet another story! Hell, I love travelling!).
So, before I get started, here are the two images.

Alfama Houses

Love in a Lisbon Lane

Now, I am a Social Documentary and Street Photographer. Of course both of these images are made on the street, but they wouldn't meet the definition many would give for being street photographs. No people, you see. But, still they are street in that they are of the street and tell us something of the moment in time that they were made, especially the second one with the "graffiti" love heart.

I'm not even going to begin to list here all the various ways that Documentary Photography is defined. Here is my definition, well what I use as my guide when working. 
Documentary Photography seeks to produce a visual record (a photograph) of a moment in time, a place, an event, a person (or people) in such a way that a viewer will be exposed to something of the life, culture and environment of that time, place, event or person and hopefully will be moved to react in some way or at the very least have their lives impacted in some way by the viewing of the image. Documentary Photography will, by definition and because of its nature, always provide only a partial and purely subjective view which could be described as a "comment" by the photographer on the time, place, event or people depicted in the images produced.
I guess that's not overly articulate but it does sum up what I try to do with my work. The question here, however, is: do these two rather touristy and "pretty" photos fit with this definition? Are these two images documentary photography?

Both are, like all photographs, records of a moment in time. They're pretty ordinary moments in both cases, but moments nonetheless. And I think both images tell us something of the way the people live and something of the physical and cultural environment. The first gives us the impression of a pretty "village" type house with flowers and laundry hanging. It evokes a sense of place immediately.

The second photograph with its locked metal door, bars on the window and crudely drawn graffiti, also evokes a sense of place, but this time of a more urban environment. Now, what adds I think to the documentary value of these two images is that, although superficially appearing to be very different, are actually of buildings no more than two hundred metres apart. Alfama is famed as a "village in a city" with all that this appellation suggests: quaint houses, with roses at the door, and at the other extreme, very urban lanes and graffiti!

How a viewer reacts to either or both of these photographs is going to be very hard to measure: we are all unique and our reactions will be determined by all kind of factors. And any impact the images have on a viewer will likewise depend on who they are and what they bring to the experience of viewing.

I will admit that I didn't really have my documentary photographer hat on when I made these images. I was just sort of wandering around and playing tourist (most unusual for me I can assure you!). So, I did not have an intention when making these photos of impacting anyone or making any kind of comment when I made these images. 

Once I started thinking about it however, I thought, yes, this is documentary photography. I'm not preteding they are great photos by any means, but I think they do make a statement about the place, the time, the poeple who live in the places in the images, and they have the potential at least to have an impact on the viewer. I've used the word "pretty" a few times. What's wrong with pretty? Nothing! If a viewer looks at these images and thinks one or them of them is pretty, or stark or scary or interesting in some way, then they succeed as documentary photographs.

DISCLAIMER: As mentioned, I had no intention of making documentary photographs of the scenes depicted in these photos. It is not my "usual" subject matter, nor to I regard it as an especially serious  subject for my work. This, however, does not exclude it as being a study of value, of interest or as being potentially influential in some way on a viewer. Of course it has to be added that as a subject for documentary photography the living environments of people everywhere is a rich area for exploration and for recording in our fast changing world.