Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Two Can be the Loneliest Number (sometimes but not always)

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It's the loneliest number since the number one

So opens that wonderful song One written by Harry Nielson and made really famous by Three Dog Night who recorded their version in 1969. Practically everyone else has recorded a cover of the song since then: from the Muppets, to the New Seekers all the way through to the Australian singer Johnny Farnham. You might have even heard the song on an X Files soundtrack. Why, even Lisa Simpson has had a go with this one (in The Simpsons Episode 553 for all you fans out there).

But, today we're here to talk about line number two: Two can be as bad as one. It isn't always, though, as I suggest in the title of this post. During my time on the street I get to witness scenes, lovely and not so lovely, inhabited by two people. Sometimes they are sweet and tender moments like this,

A Kiss Goodbye (Lisbon Portugal June 2013)

And then there are those sweet and romantic moments, moments when I know that there is love in the air, like this one (if I'd been any closer I would have been sitting at the table with them, yet they didn't notice me at all),

Romance and a Special Date (Katoomba Australia May 2014)

You could say that, as these two photographs show, two is not a bad number at all. In fact you might say it's a great number, one of the best! But, often I see scenes, and witness moments that don't seem quite so love filled. Of course sometimes the scenes are what we might term neutral, such as this scene inhabited by two people who are clearly strangers to each other

A Seat to Oneself (Perth Australia January 2014)

This, as we see, is a simple scene on a railway station platform, one person waiting, another just walking on by. Other times, the two people may be strangers, but there seems somehow to be a connection of some sort; a story we can imagine. Or perhaps the scene could be seen as symbolic in some way for some viewers. As in these pictures,

Every Face Tells a Story (Melbourne Australia December 2012)

Strangers in a Park (Perth Australia December 2013)

But, more often than you might imagine, I witness and get to share in moments involving people who might be known to each other or might not. Like in this one,

Not on Speaking Terms (Melbourne Australia June 2012)

As you can probably guess from the title, I have imagined these two as known to each other, but not on speaking terms. Someone has suggested they are father and son who've had a falling out. Who can say? One of the mysteries of the street.  Sometimes (again more often than you might imagine), I am privileged to witness and share moments of high (or perhaps the correct adjective is low) emotion between two people who it is clear are known to each other. Like these for example,

 It's Just Not Working Out (Echuca Australia July 2011)

 Sisters Thinking (Ramsgate England February 2013)

So Much for Our Happy Holiday (Echuca Australia April 2012)

Then there are those scenes and moments that exude emotion, but whether that emotion is a positive or a negative one, can't be worked out. Such as in this one,

La conversation intime entre deux amis (Melbourne Australia August 2011)

Is this simply an intimate conversation between friends as the title suggests? Or is it something deeper, more serious? We can only imagine. Whatever the emotions detected or being experienced by the people in these scenes, I do not treat images such as this lightly. The people photographed are sharing with me something of their personal and private lives. I can't, of course, know exactly what they are experiencing or thinking or feeling; my role is to share and record the moment. Emotions witnessed or recorded are of, of course, sometimes more positive, happier even. Such as this where the two people seem to be sharing a joke or a private happy moment,

I'm Saying Nothing (Katoomba Australia April 2014)

Again, I have no idea what these two are talking about, or thinking or feeling. It's just that the scene feels to me more positive, lighter. Still, it is a private moment and I am grateful to have been there to share it.

A good street photograph will evoke an emotional response in the viewer. And if the image itself has people expressing an emotion, then all the better. It makes it easier for us as viewers and fellow human beings to empathize and perhaps even understand what's going on, how the people photographed are feeling. A little glimpse can be gained into the emotional lives of others.

One last thought about the number two. There are scenes one sees on the street where the number two is both good and bad, depending on who's who. In such cases it is often the eyes that will tell you that three is most definitely a crowd

Holding Tight (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Adding Titles In Street Photography: They can really help a photograph tell its stories

Once again I find myself at odds with a number of people in the visual arts world, and more specifically in the world of street photography. You see, I happen to think that it is of huge importance to give my street and documentary photographs meaningful titles, titles that can add to the power or enjoyment of my photographs. Yes, I've heard that a picture is worth a thousand words (just by way of introducing a tiny bit of trivia, a study has proven that a picture is actually only worth 84.1 words. Don't believe me? Check out the report here), and I have heard that we should allow a picture to speak for itself.

And I have heard, and also hold to, the notion that a viewer should be allowed to bring their own interpretations to a photograph: the photo tells the story, but it's up to the viewer to decide what that story is. However, I think words are important too, and they can be used to add to the story telling ability of some photographs. And, cutting to the point of today's post, words can clarify the message or story a photo is trying to tell. A few words can clear up confusion is one way to put it.

Have a good look at this photograph, and think about what story it is telling you (I won't include the title underneath like I usually do; I don't want to give it all away just yet!)

Well, here we have a photo of a man sitting on a train station platform swigging from a bottle. Those are the facts, which of course are not the story. What story you are being told here is for you alone to hear. I can only speak for myself.
When I composed this scene in the camera viewfinder, this guy wasn't drinking: he was just sitting there waiting, I presumed, for the train. Then, just as I was about to press the shutter button, he took a swig from the bottle. Bum, I thought, I don't do pictures of people drinking (as in alcohol) on the street (or even at train stations). Still, trying to stick to my resolution to not chimp (ie check the photo on the screen of the camera), I didn't worry about checking or deleting it and just shrugged thinking, oh well another missed one.

Then at home when I uploaded the files to my laptop and zoomed in, I saw that in fact it is a lemonade bottle he is drinking from. Not a train station, platform sitting alcoholic after all. But, what to do? I liked the image. I wanted to complete it and share it. A title! As I've said, I title all my photos anyway, but in this case the title needed to say a little more; it needed to clarify what this photo is not.

So, the title of this image is The Not So Secret Lemonade Drinker. Clever don't you think? Well, maybe not. But for me it clears up a key point of potential confusion (not every viewer will take the time to zoom in and check the bottle). Sure, I know I might have ruined part of the story for some. On the other hand there's still plenty there for a viewer's imagination to play with in order to come up with the story (or stories) this photograph is wanting to tell.

Of course a photo should speak for itself. Of course a picture is or can be worth many words. But, you know, if a picture really is worth a thousand (or even 84.1) words, then what harm can there be in adding a few more carefully chosen, thoughtful words that might actually add something more to the picture?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Street Photography on My Way to the Shops Today

I'm usually terrible when it comes to carrying my camera everywhere and all the time. I mean to say, I don't have it with me often enough. So, today we ran out of bread and bananas, and a clear and urgent call to replace and replenish supplies of these staples meant I had to head off to the shops, a ten minute bus ride away.

At first I thought, no I won't bother with my camera; after all oftentimes for me "chores" and street photography don't really mix that well. But, then, I had a real strong feeling that I should take it. So, I grabbed it and a spare battery and headed off ten minutes too early for the bus.

So, I strolled round the corner to the busstop. On the way, I was really attracted to the house on the corner opposite to the one we're looking after. I'd walked past it a heap of times, but today for some reason I thought I would make a couple of photographs of it. I know, I know. It's not what you might call classic street photography, but it is very much documentary I think. I mean, this is how people live today in this suburb. And in a lot of others too of course. Anyway, here's the house, or rather my photo of the house.

Storm Brewing Over Suburbia (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

A few years ago I gave myself a project I called Hometown Houses (you can see the collection on my website here) while we were living in Echuca on the Murray River in northern Victoria. Other commitments took over and I fell way short of my aspiration to walk every street of the town and to photograph all the houses that appealed to me or spoke to me. And then we left the town to embark on our current journey, so the project is kind of asleep or on hold, or paused. Stopped anyway.

But, today photographing this house, I had the brainwave. Why not start up the project again? Just this time it will be hometown in the sense of whatever town or suburb we happen to be living in. Well, okay, not such a brainwave, but I think it's a good idea nonetheless. I mean, suburban houses have a special appeal all their own.

They are where a large percentage of the population live (in this country and of course in many others). They so very often are a reflection of the society, the time they were built in, the occupants' individuality and preferences for how they want to live or what they think is important, and really are an important element of our society that cries out to be recorded. After all suburbia, like all things, is in a state of constant flux. New houses replace the old; new styles take over every so often. Yet at the same time, there are pockets where you will find houses of all eras side by side. Then again, in some suburbs you will find acres upon acres, miles upon miles, of identical houses or apartment blocks all built at the same time.

In any case, that's one of my new, or renewed projects, I'm going to work on. Today was a good day to take my camera out. I've reconnected with this project, but I also came home with a few photographs that fit more neatly within my humanist street photography practice. Like this one for example. This lady was waiting at the busstop to catch a bus going the other way. She just caught my attention. And we shared a moment!

At a Suburban Busstop (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Oh, all those storm clouds. They looked like they were going to turn into rain, but they didn't. And that was a very good thing as at the other end I had to walk a few hundred meters to the shop. You will be happy to hear that we now have a pile of bread and a pile of bananas. So, we should be okay for a while even if the storm does come


Saturday, June 14, 2014

One Street Photography Lesson I've Learned from the singer Kenny Rogers

I'm republishing this from a few months back because I think it's a lesson worth getting out there. Enjoy!

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 behavior. 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, analyzing. 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 analyzing.
  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 analyzing 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 on          the backs and with the money of the poor.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Some scenes just make you sad

Self Portrait for Two (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

On the face of it you might not think there is much in this image to make me or you or anyone sad. Especially, you might tell me, given the number of images we are seeing everyday of people who are homeless, people who are experiencing trauma or who are in some other way vulnerable or disadvantaged. And of course, on the face of it, you would be totally correct: images of those kinds of things are distressing and make me, and you, and most likely a lot of people, very sad. Hopefully they also serve as a call to action for some of us. Hopefully photography in that context can contribute to change.

Sadly, however, far too many of the photographs I see of homeless and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people have an aura of exploitation about them. Oftentimes for so-called street photographers, these groups provide little more than "easy targets" for a "gritty and real street shot". In reality they provide nothing more than a kind of trophy for the photographer. But that is another story for another day.

Back to this photograph, made on one of the busiest corners in the CBD of Melbourne. These two people are (obviously) making a self portrait of themselves. They are standing diagonally across the road from the beautiful and historic Flinders Street railway station. A must see for tourists to the city. 

So, what is so sad here? Surely this is simply two tourists making a souvenir photo of themselves? And they are smiling aren't they? All good questions. Again, on the face of it, nothing is untoward here. And really even not on the face of it, I can't say there is anything untoward here. 

It's just that I watched them for a while as they were setting up the camera and tripod, and then the guy arranged his partner n just the right place, set the timer and joined her on the other side of the camera, and the photo was made. As they went about this process it was as if they were in a little world of their own. The crowds flowed around them, nobody (except me) even glancing in their direction. And, more poignantly, they didn't look at anyone else either in the whole time I was watching them and then making this photograph. I was about two meters away from them for five minutes and they didn't once look my way. I am quite sure they didn't even see me.  It was if they truly were alone on this busy intersection.

There just seemed to be something sad about the whole scenario. To me anyway. A sense of loneliness took hold of me as I watched them. And, really, that's all I can say. I don't have an explanation for why I felt the way I did. I mean, I often pick up emotions, become affected by what I see and feel on the street. And it's not always possible to pinpoint what causes a feeling or a sense.

Anyway, a good street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the viewer. And it could be added that an even better street photograph is one that causes an emotional reaction in the photographer. One thing I can say is this: if sometimes I do have an emotional reaction to a scene I witness, then it suggests that at least some viewers will also have an emotional response of some kind. And, to me, that is a very good outcome indeed.


Monday, June 9, 2014

BEING SEEN: Sometimes it Makes the Moment

Smiling for the Camera (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

One feature of my street and documentary work is that I don't go along with a lot of the current "wisdom" about how it's done, how to behave on the street and the rest. Of course, we are all unique beings and each need to learn our own way, all need to find our own way of living and our own vision.

Take this photo for an example. Made on my first outing into the CBD of Melbourne this week. I saw this couple who, when I looked, were in their own little world. I made one image. And, rather than walk quickly away (as per received wisdom) I walked just a couple of steps and I waited with the camera to my eye. Then they both turned and looked at me with these "poses" (sorry another bad word in some circles), and I just instinctively pressed the shutter. And, here you see the result: a lovely portrait of a couple happy with themselves and each other. And, importantly, with being photographed (oops, another myth: people hate being photographed).

The first image I made works too, I think. An unguarded moment that just asked to be preserved. Here it is:

A Loving Couple (Melbourne Australia June 2014)

Now, these photos are very different: in the second one, the couple is completely unaware (at least on a conscious level) of my presence; in the first they have actually seen me. And, yes, it is true to say that my presence and my camera has caused a changed in their behavior. They are in a sense posing for the camera.

So, they are different photos. But, is one better than the other? I don't mean in technical terms; that's an area for someone else to debate. You see, I don't believe for a minute that the first image here is more or less of a valuable human moment than the second, despite the second being the more "candid" one in the accepted sense.

I think candid is a misunderstood, or rather an incompletely understood, concept in today's world of street photography. The common perception is that it means that the subjects of a photograph are completely unaware of the camera's presence. Of course that definition is valid in itself, but, to look at the dictionary definitions of the word, then the meaning is not so black and white (no pun intended. But it is funny though LOL).

The Free Dictionary (which I like to use for obvious reasons) includes this:
Candid as an adjective means:
      1. frank; outspoken; open and sincere
      2. free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward

The definition also includes the idea of a candid photo being "unposed". And, it is true that these two struck a kind of pose when they saw me and my camera. So, for many the second image is a candid, while the first is not. Okay, they are posing. But, really, don't you think it's a frank and open one? Do they seem sincere to you? Do they look to you to be acting in an unreserved manner and do they appear to be free of disguise?  Have they taken what you wold think of as a straightforward pose?

The answer to all these questions for me is a big yes.

Also, and as importantly, my approach to this scene (as it usually is) was a candid one. It is I think a matter of one's intention. I mean by this that I don't intend to have people see me or pose or change their behavior.  My attitude and approach is frank and open; I do not hide; I do not engage in "stealthy" behavior or "subterfuge" of any kind. I always try to be straightforward in both my way of being in the street and in my dealings with the people who do see me, and most of the time they are the same with me! The bottom line is that I always endeavor to be frank, outspoken (as in honest and speaking my truth), open and sincere in the way I approach my work and the people I am fortunate enough to photograph.

Of course, this is all just my opinion. But, it is my way of working and it does, well, work pretty much all the time. I think today's two photographs both have something to offer.  Yes, they are different, but they are both candid in their own way. Anyway, isn't it our role as street and social documentary photographers to record the so-called ordinary people going about their so-called ordinary lives?

Well, I think it is.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

PICK OF THE WEEK: Lisbon revisited

Concentrating Couple (Lisbon May 2013)

No, sadly I am not actually back in Lisbon. What I am doing is revisiting my work from my ten weeks there last year. Imagine. A year has gone by since I made this photo. Hard to believe sometimes. But, it's been a good year and the trip goes on!

I was very busy during our stay in Lisbon. I was on the street pretty much most days. Not every day: after all even I have a day off sometimes and there are things to see and do there that didn't involve street photography. But, yes; most days I was out walking with my camera. What a city to be in; what a city for street photography. An interesting aside: my friend John Free the well respected and greatly gifted social documentary and street photographer, is in Lisbon right now conducting workshops. Can't wait to see the photos he makes there.

Anyway, this week's pick is a bit of a favorite. I like this couple for some reason. They seem to engrossed in whatever it is they're reading. I was tempted to leave this one in color; the guy's tattoos are pretty bright and stand out. In the end that's why I converted to black and white. I wanted the eyes of the viewer (that's you!) to be drawn to the two people themselves. I hope it works.

Meanwhile, I will get back to my Lisbon images. See what else I can find.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Paul's Pictures Lands in Melbourne

Hello friends from Melbourne Australia. We arrived the day before yesterday and are gettng nice and settled into our house and cat sitting assignment. A lovely cat called Freddy, she is starting to come closer and sniff us out a little more. Patience is a virtue, not least with cats.

Of course we've been to Melbourne before, but only for a few days at a time. This will be our first longer term stay (unless you count the year or so after my birth that I spent here. I don't!) and this gig is four weeks. After that we're looking to stay here for a couple more months, but let's wait and see what turns up.

For me the main attraction of this city is the amazing street photography opportunities that one can find here. It's a friendly city with a busy but attractive centre. It has also many vibrant suburbs, many with their own character and unique culture.

I haven't' taken my camera out yet; it usually takes a couple of days to settle in and get various chores and jobs done. I am thinking Tuesday or Wednesday will be day one for my adventures in this wonderful place. Meanwhile, here's a photograph made in Melbourne just before flying to Europe in December 2012.


The Unbearable Loudness of Body Language (Melbourne December 2012)