Monday, July 22, 2013

One Thing I've Learned About Street Photography from Kenny Rogers.

Okay, let's begin at the beginning. Kenny Rogers is (or was) a very big name in Country music. Not an obvious introduction to a post on street photography you might think. Well, you see, among his many chart topping hits, there was one called The Gambler. He made that tune famous!
  Anyway, it's about a couple of guys stuck on a "train to nowhere". One, a gambler, starts talking to the other guy because they're both too tired to sleep. He says (and forgive my paraphrasing) "You know son, I make a living out of reading people's faces. And I reckon that yours suggests you've seen better days. So, if you give me a swig of your whiskey I'll give you some advice, an 'ace' you can keep". Or words to that effect.
   He then drinks the whiskey and starts to give the guy some really good advice about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to run; when to hold your cards and when to throw them away. Still, I hear you saying, what's this got to do with street photography? Okay, here's the bit of the song I'm talking about:
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin' is done.
Still not being real clear am I? Alright, here it is in street photographer lingo:
You never chimp* while you're on the street and still making photographs. There'll be plenty of time later once you've uploaded your memory card to your computer for checking how many good ones you got, and how many you didn't; what you've done right, and what you've done wrong.
Now, all of us who use digital cameras have been guilty of such behaviour. And it's a very bad habit! I mean, while you're busy peering at the monitor on the back of your camera, you aren't there and then; you're no longer on the street. You are no longer of the street—and you are no longer in the moment either. You're off in your head somewhere, analysing. You've left the Zone'! Not only does it take some time to get back into the Zone when you lift your head once again to the street, just think of what you have missed as the life of the street has just flowed right on by while you've been distracted by your monitor analysing.
  Many street photographers actually turn their monitors off, so they aren't tempted to 'chimp'. And of course this is where our film using sisters and brothers are ahead of the game. They have no choice but to wait till later to see what they've got.
  The gambler gives his advice about not counting your money while still at the table because he knows that once you take your eyes, mind and heart off the game, you set yourself up for a losing streak. Think about when you last caught yourself chimping. Do you think you missed some good opportunities? Did you miss some good moments? Did it take you some time to get back into the game, sorry, I mean the Zone?
  So, here's what I suggest you do: Resist the temptation (and after several years of photographing on the street, I admit I still succumb occasionally—and pay the consequences too). Just don't look at your monitor. Turn it off if you like. It really is that simple; Tough love of this sort is the only solution. Actually, that's the tough part. You can add some love by setting up a reward system for when you find yourself not chimping for a whole session on the street. Here's what I do: I remind myself that I am going to sit down "in a little while" to have a coffee or cup of tea. Just to rest my legs you understand. If I've been good and not chimped, I will then—and only then—allow myself a quick run through of the images I've made so far.
   But, even then, though, I don't like to spend a lot of time analysing what I've done. If I do, I run the risk of getting too much into the thinking mode, and right away from the Zone where I am really in and of the street, and in the moment. And, really, that's where the best street photographs are made.

*The Urban Dictionary defines 'chimping' as:
What one does after taking a picture with a digital camera and looking at the result.(My Note: The street photography take on this would be: checking whether or not we have "captured the moment").  Derived from the words they (photographers) speak when chimping: "Ooo-oo-oo!" (as in the sounds chimpanzees make)

         I do not endorse gambling. In fact, I believe gambling (as in poker, horse racing, sports betting            and the rest) is a curse and more often than not simply another way for the rich to get richer.

1 comment:

  1. There is no such thing as chimping, it is an invention from the imagination ...nothing more. I shoot film and digital and I don't chimp but I do examine the histogram on the monitor, its my opportunity to measure the progress of the sun and whether or not it is time for me to consider exposure compensation, iso adjustment or shifting into manual for complex light. I keep an image of the graph in my mind, all of it, and I make decisions about light and shadow and sometimes colour. These decisions take longer on film and especially colour film as it less forgiving than b&w. I know where I am and I look at the camera to make sure it is of the same mind. It is also an important part of a feedback loop where I use that energy from the last photograph ...for the next. When else are these things done?
    Its a pause where I might turn left instead of right, sometimes its a few seconds and I will take my time making a decision about what I want to do and while I'm doing that I'm looking about and thinking on what I saw on the monitor and what is in front of me now ....and I think and oftentimes it results in an idea. It can be a moment to make a decision and moreso for those of us that rely on the camera less.

    When I rely on the camera more, that the photo is a creative one that requires technique then I'm on that monitor like a fly on monkey poo.
    Its odd too that the source of this misdirection comes from a rangefinder user that zone focuses.

    You sound like you need to be given permission to do what you want so I will give you permission now to do what is necessary to get the photographs that will make you happy. You can chimp if thats what you want to call it and you can do lots of it and not even think about it when you are out photographing ...and that should leave your mind that little bit freer for discovering other things instead of being guilty of nothing. (grin)


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