Saturday, May 2, 2015

Paul's Pictures Hits the Beach and a Lesson is Learned about what Street Photography Really Is

Longboard Walkers (Sydney Australia February 2015)

There is so much debate going on around the question, "what is street photography?". And, don’t worry, I have absolutely no intention of entering into that debate. I don't mean to say that I don't have my own definition, my own interpretation; far from it: I know precisely what it is for me. If any of you are interested, just type in "define street photography" into your search engine. You will come up with enough reading material to last a lifetime. And, don't even think about looking at the differences between street photography and social documentary: some people say there are a heap of differences, others say the genres overlap. For me, or rather for the majority of my work, the genres are more or less the same.

Anyway, moving along a little. I was rereading the definition of street photography on Wikipedia, and really liked the first paragraph (on the whole):

Street photography is photography that features the human condition within public spaces. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic

The "human condition" and "within public places" are two of the elements that speak to me. No need to be "on the street" (though I have to say, that's where I spend most of my time and do most of my work), and not even in urban environments, though my street photography is almost exclusively in urban areas. Just my preference really.

And, for me the second paragraph also resonates: 
Framing and timing can be key aspects of the craft with the aim of some street photography being to create images at a decisive or poignant moment. Street photography can focus on emotions displayed, thereby also recording people’s history from an emotional point of view. Similarly, Social Documentary photographers document people and their behaviour in public places for the purpose of recording people's history and other purposes; 
I think it's probably fairly clear that the image above does reflect the ideas expressed in these quotes from Wikipedia. Of course, for me this definition might be a little limited in its scope. For instance, I would add that my work seeks to not only record but to celebrate humanity and the human condition in a way that is guiuded by love, compassion and empathy.

I've written before that, while the focus of my work is not on the camera or the technical side of things, I do feel a responsibility to make the best possible photograph I can in order to do justice to the people who are gracious enough to appear in those photographs. So, I do take careful notice of framing and timing when I can. And, while I do believe that there are no ordinary moments, I do try to make my photographs at what we might call a "decisive" moment; that moment that allow for the expression of that extra something. It's hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. 

Longboard Walkers is for me one such image. On a day threatening to storm, some surfers walk along the sand while surfable waves roll in (odd as it may sound, the waves which look pretty tame in this photo, are actually at least six feet. And who says cameras never lie?). You can almost hear the conversation: where should we get in? Who's going first? And you can almost sense the emotions: the excitement and anticipation; even a bit of anxiety: after all it was a wild day.

Above all, the photo for me shows us a moment in time, a moment in history even. Longboards seem to be back in fashion after a long while out of sight, at least from what I've seen anyway. The photo says to me, this is life being lived; it says that, for some, there is excitement to be had in connecting with nature; it speaks of freedom, friendship, challenge, open spaces. It also gets me thinking about life, and how I really should carry on doing the things I love, cherishing the freedom I have, along with the love and connections in my life.

I know, this is my own photo, I made it; well along with the surfers and the waves and the stormy sky. So, you might think, it will obviously mean something special to me. But, if people looking at it get even a fraction of what I've been able to, then I will be well pleased and know that I have done my job.


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