Thursday, February 27, 2014


Hello friends

My first slideshow made up of photographs from my time in Lisbon last year. Lisbon is really wonderful for street photography, and this slideshow is really only a small sample of the images I have from that really intense and rewarding time.

I feel in a sense I have managed to convey a little of the mood of the city (Van Morrison's very groovy and intense backing track helps this happen).

I hope you enjoy the show and please feel free to comment, share, contact me or watch again!

Thank you for watching.


Monday, February 24, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Remembering

(Armadale Western Australia February 2014

I'm always drawn to war memorials. I guess it has to do with my father being a career soldier in the Australian army. Among other things, he did two tours in that horrific war on Vietnam as part of the Australian commitment to its "friend" the United States. That service led eventually to his death and to the destruction of our family. That is not a story for this blog, I know. What I want to reflect on here is why I'm drawn to the places and sites that memorialize war.

I was involved for a few years in an organisation with other sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans. But, in the end, I didn't like it at all. What bothered me most was that there was too much focus on and too much glorification of military exploits, of battles fought and won. And there was too little emphasis placed on the concept that war itself is the problem. War is the evil that caused so much of our pain.

And, of course, memorials like this one in my photograph, are venues for gatherings such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services, battle commemorations and the like. So, what is it that pulls me in every time I encounter such a place in my travels? As I said, it's personal.

I think at some point I made a decision as to what these "war memorials" represent to me. I have come to believe they are places which honour the memory of the victims of war. I ignore the battle names carved on them, and choose instead to think upon the names of the dead and their lives, as well as the families they have left behind. For me they have become anti-war memorials.

There is nothing naive about me. No,not at all. I do not for a second think that war is going to ever be "a thing of the past". Sadly it does not seem to be in the nature of the human animal to find other solutions, to not covet the land or resources of others. No, war is a permanent fixture. But I don't have to like it. I do not have to support it. I do not have to celebrate victories or (and this is even more perverse) defeats in which some seem to find so much to glorify.

So, what of this photograph? I had thought to call it "Some Remember while Some Forget", based on the man who looks like he is remembering or trying to remember something, and the person walking away as if not even noticing the memorial. However, I decided that the simple title would be better: Remembering.

And we should always remember. Not, as I say because that's the way to put an end to war. It isn't quite that simple. But remembering, not forgetting, is important because it can help us realize that in the end it is all of us who are responsible for war. Yes, I know, I said that war seems to be in our nature. So, you might ask, how can any of us as individuals be responsible? Perhaps it's a good question. All I can say in response (and in a rare display of naivety) is that maybe the question posed by the title of a movie from 1970 might be an even better one to ponder:

Suppose they threw a war and nobody came

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meeting Scotty on a Sunday Morning Sidewalk

Let me introduce you to Scotty. I was out on the street early today, and so was he. Not too many other people about on a Sunday morning at just before nine. Not many with coins for the minstrel; not many passersby for me to photograph and share a moment with.

Scotty Singing on a Sunday Morning Sidewalk
(Armadale Western Australia February 2014)

Well, yes there were the Sunday morning "let's read the paper over breakfast" crowd in the cafes, but not too many people actually on the street. So, as I walked by, I shouted out to the guy singing and strumming on the sidewalk:

Me: You're an early bird. What's that expression?
Scotty: It's the early bird catches the worm.
Me: That's right. Have you caught any yet?
By this time I was standing next to him and we kept on chatting.
Scotty: Well not really, but you know I used to have a worm farm. I know how to do that! 
(this said with a laugh)
Me: Really? They're a great idea aren't they?

Scotty went on to explain how he kept a worm farm going through the hot summers and how he used the worms for fishing. Now, being a vegetarian, I can't help but go "Oh" at this kind of thing.
"Well, you know, I used to feel pretty sad about them myself sometimes," Scotty said, clearly picking up on my vege face.

"But those worms helped me feed my family," he added. We agreed that we all have to do what we have to do and sometimes it's not always how we'd like it.

We talked for quite a while. I learned a little more about him. He joined the navy at 17 and "saw quite a bit of the world". Now, he's a man of the road, a nomad. A lot like me you could say.

"I'm a free man," he told me. He went on to explain that his busking allowed him to eat well and he move freely wherever and whenever he likes.

"I put my tent and a few spare clothes in my pack, grab some food and water, and I'm right for a few days at the beach. I just pitch the tent in the sand dunes." Scotty has seen a lot of Australia in this way. And while he's at it, he's bringing a lot of joy to people in the street with his fine voice and guitar playing.

We chatted on about photography (the pros and cons of digital vs film, photoshop vs a traditional darkroom for working on photos), the various places around the world we'd both visited, and a lot of other stuff too. As you do on an early Sunday morning sidewalk.

Then I asked Scotty if he'd mind me making a photo of him. He didn't mind and, while I focused on making the photographs, he played an instrumental. Very groovy indeed! I thanked him, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. He started up a new tune and I turned my camera towards the now more numerous passersby.

PS I gave Scotty my card and he told me he uses the internet in the library sometimes. I told him to look me up sometime. I hope he does.  If you see this Scotty, I hope you like it mate!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


(Perth Australia February 2014)

I spent a few hours on the street in Perth a couple of days ago. One type of scene I am always attracted to is couples. Young or old, they speak to me of love, of friendship and of shared times. So it was with this young couple sharing a moment on a mobile phone. Maybe they are looking at photos, sending or reading a text, or just surfing the net. Doesn't matter; the important thing is that I thought it was a nice scene, so I made the photo.

And then, as I often do, I thought I would try another, this time including more foreground leading to the couple on the bench seat. So, I set the lens to wide angle and made another photo, then I moved on.

Later at home I uploaded the photos from the day to my laptop. And here is the second one of this couple:

As you can see there is a longer bit of foreground leading into the photo towards the couple. But, do you notice any other difference? Yes, that's right. In this one the two are kissing and the young woman has her mobile to her ear. And I hadn't even seen this happen when I made the photo; I only noticed it once it was on my laptop screen.

You see, street photography is magic in action. Things happen, often without the photographer seeing them at a conscious level. I suppose on the most mundane and superficial level one could say I was simply in the right place at the right time.

Of course that's true: it was the right place at exactly the right time. But the question is, how did I arrive at that moment and place? Well, without wanting to sound silly about it, it is simply a matter of being there. By this I mean, I strive to be fully present when I am working in the street. I walk or sit and watch, just allowing the scene to unfold before me. And quite often I will somehow "know" something is about to happen without the message reaching my conscious mind that it's about to happen. On those occasions I will "think" I'm making one photograph, whereas in reality I am simply getting ready to make a different one altogether.

Another name for this process is intuition. It's that "knowing" we all experience from time to time when we are in that right place and in that right state of mind, and it all just falls into place. There's no way I could consciously know these two were going to kiss. Besides, as I said, I just allow things to unfold as they do. My job then, is to be ready, willing and open to photograph at that precise moment. Just as I was fortunate enough to do here. Oh, another thing: I try very hard to not be distracted by my conscious mind trying to tell me its version of how things "should be".

And look at the image. It is not only quite a lovely scene of a young couple kissing; it is (or could be) a comment on our modern culture: note the phone at the ear while they are kissing! You know the type of thing: "People just can't put their mobiles down for a second these days".

Now, I know this is not an earth shattering street photograph, but I rather like it. It's a so-called "ordinary moment" shared between two (well actually it's three because the photographer is always a participant in any photograph) people. While, like all moments, it is fleeting and is not likely to be ever remembered again by these two, it has been preserved by my camera (with my help of course!) and can now be shared and enjoyed by many many people pretty much forever (more or less!).

If you define magic as something that inspires awe, then this truly is magic: I am awestruck every time such a thing happens. I have experienced it too often to dismiss it as mere "coincidence" or "random" or "chance" or "luck". It goes deeper than that. And that's really what make is all so very special: a link or connection is made that is difficult to explain on any mundane kind of level, between all the participants in the situation.

So, while it can all be explained away, at least to some point or other, I think I will just finish by saying that when I am fortunate enough to have a moment like this occur, then it most surely is magic!


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: A Family Moment

Well, how long has it been since I've missed the Pick of the Week? Months! No point in making excuses. All I will say is that I hope the feature is back for good this time.
Anyway, one image jumped out at me as I went through my recent work. "Hey Dad! We;re over here!" I made this image in Amsterdam last (European) summer.
A mother and son enjoying the sunshine, and suddenly the boy sees his father, jumps up excitedly and waves as he runs towards his father.
A spontaneous moment which I was fortunate enough to witness and record forever with my camera.
To witness and to record such moments is a true joy and confirmation to me that I am doing the right work.
My only wish is that I'd been able to give this mother and son a copy of this photograph. Such moments are worth treasuring.
Don't you think?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Empathy in Street Photography: A new word to help us understand what it's all about

In the Bus Queue (Nottingham England 2013)

I've learned a new word this week: sonder. I forget now where I came across it, but it's an invented word. Or, to be more accurate, it is a word that has an invented meaning. A little research led me to the source for this word (don't worry: I will tell you what it means and why I'm writing about it very soon): The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. According to the explanation on the site:

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of new and invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language - to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don't yet have a word for. The author's mission is to capture the aches,  demons, vibes, joys and urges that roam the wilderness of the psychological interior. Each sorrow is bagged, tagged and tranquilized, then released gently back into the subconscious. 
Very groovy don't you think? A really excellent and innovative idea and project. The world is in great need of new and expressive words and ideas  we can all share and relate to.  I suggest everyone has at least a look at the site. Koenig also invites us to write him with ideas about emotions we can't find words for.

Anyway, back to my newly discovered word, sonder. Here is the definition from the Dictionary:

sonder:n. the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own - populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness - an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you'll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

I was really struck by this idea. We have all had, I think, those little flashes in which we suddenly realise that others around us, friends or strangers, are just like us with the same worries, loves, fears, joys, heartaches, responsibilities and complicated lives, as we ourselves have.

But what really impressed me was how this word, this concept, relates to my work, to street photography. Another way to put the lengthy definition above is to say sonder means empathy; it means feeling with our fellow travellers on planet Earth. And it is through empathy that I am able to photograph people I encounter on the street in a compassionate and loving way.

After all, they are just like me, and I am just like them. This informs my work and enables me to meet the people I photograph as equals; there is no imbalance. Our encounter  becomes a sharing, an acknowledgement that we are all in this life together.

My job is to simply make a note (through using my camera to make a photograph) of a few of the moments in which we cross paths. I can then share our encounter with others, who in turn may come to understand at least a little of the lives of others.

Sonder is also a word in German. It means special. And I like that too. The realisation of the things we have in common is a truly significant insight (and it cries out to be shared). It follows that the brief encounters between me (with my camera) and people in the street are special. Like I always say, there are no ordinary moments.

But wait, there's more! Sonder is the Swedish word for, among other things, broken. As in broken apart. The English word asunder is related. And aren't we all, in some way or other, at least a little bit "broken"? We've all had hurts, disappointments, losses, traumas in our lives that have left us a little damaged and "worse for wear".

And, you see, this is a huge part, at least for me, of what street photography is all about. As I encounter people in the street, I try to remember that, just as I am doing my best to make my way in the world, so are they. Their humanity is my humanity; their brokenness is my brokenness.

I know I've quoted the great humanist photographer Abraham Menashe a few times, but I would like to leave you now with another quote from an interview he did a few years ago.

"The world is in need of affirmation. At the very heart of our humanity is the challenge of unconditional love, which is to suspend judgement and open fully to the vivid reality of other beings. Unconditional love does not know barriers; it says yes, it affirms the moment even if it is full of grief".
 Peace to you all.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Camera Shy? It's a good question. Reflections on pressing the shutter or not

Camera Shy? (Nottingham England 2013)

A huge, ongoing point of discussion in my line of work (street and documentary photography) are the questions: do people object to being photographed? Are we invading their privacy/space? On and on. Good questions, of course, and all of us need to think about them. Not just once either: we need to continue to reflect on these and other questions as the world changes, as we change. Just part of the work of the artist really.
Now, in this photograph (made in Nottingham in England a few months ago) we see three young women in school uniforms. Two are hiding behind an umbrella, while the third, who has a smile on her face, peeks out from behind her hand. Sort of hiding, sort of not. 
In fact, the two hiding behind the umbrella were also laughing. So, as I moved to make the photograph, I made the judgement that they were weren’t really hiding. They were just fooling around. So I pressed the shutter. 
Of course, most people I photograph don’t actually see me, so how can I know whether they would object to being photographed? I do not have the simplistic approach of: “if they don’t object, they are agreeing”,  that would make it very easy to do pretty much anything. I don’t hold at all with that idea. Unethical and wrong.
No, it’s more subtle than that. It is more about intuition and being fully present right in the moment. if I am truly right there and then (as I like to say) I just know if a person would object or would approve of being photographed.
The great humanist photographer Abraham Menashe talks about waiting to “be invited” to make the photograph. It’s about being there as I say, right in the moment and suspending judgement, and waiting. I can’t count the number of times when I’ve put the camera to my eye, framed what looks like a great photograph of a person who hasn’t seen me, only to put the camera down again. I usually don’t know why; it’s just happens that way. I haven’t been invited. At some level, that person and I have connected. 
So, in this image, my Pick of the Week, it was an easy decision; the choice obvious. It isn’t always so. But, If I am fully present, suspend judgement and approach the work with compassion, love and empathy, then usually the answer makes itself known. Do I always get it right? Of course not. But, like everything else in life, it is one’s intention that is of key importance. And with practise comes more and more success and the joy of a shared moment between me and the people I photograph, whether they “know” I’m there or not.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Five Men

Five Men.jpg by Pauls-Pictures
Five Men.jpg, a photo by Pauls-Pictures on Flickr.

Welcome back to what was once and is now to be once again, a regular feature on my blog. The Pick of the Week. I read yesterday about how "blogging is dead" and one of the reasons is apparently because bloggers start out with the best of intentions then for a variety of reasons, stop blogging.
Well, I've always been a stop and start again kind of blogger. I don't like it, but I can't argue with the reality. Let's see how we go this time shall we?
Anyway, let's get to this weeks pick. It's not a photo actually made this week. Right now I'm in the desert town of Kalgoorlie, about 700 kms east of where this image was made. But it is the image that jumped out and said "pick me", so here we are.
Five Men, it's called. For obvious reasons. Or maybe not so obvious? Sure, there are five men in the photo. But there is a group of four on one side of the seat, and a group of one on the other.
It looks like the man on his own is eavesdropping on the other lot. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't; but it looks that way in the moment the photo was made.
Does he know the others? Do they know or even care he is eavesdropping on their conversation?
And of course there is a sixth person engaged in this moment: me, the photographer. In a sense I am also eavesdropping (though I couldn't hear them at all), or at least I am watching them as they share whatever it is they are sharing.
None of the other five participants in this moment saw me, or noticed what I was doing.
A fleeting moment perhaps in which these five men stood and sat as they are in what I think is quite an appealing composition.
My sense as I looked at these men was that they are all loners, all of them look like they spend a lot of time "on the street" and have come together for just a short chat before some or all of them moved on.
That's my job you know: to preserve those fleeting moments when people come together to form groups or little fleeting "situations". I have paid attention. And I have made the decision to preserve forever that little scene that when you really look at it, is really rather beautiful. Love, Compassion and Empathy. It's all in this scene, all in this photograph.