Friday, October 30, 2015

Victory to Truth and Honor: A Salutation Like No Other

For me and for so many other street and social documentary photographers, and especially those of us coming from a Humanist position, creating good photos that celebrate humanity and tell stories and show scenes that enrich the viewer, it is not enough to have the right camera, understand composition and the rest. Of course I for one will never know enough to fully do justice to the work I do. But like all things in life, it's a lifelong learning process.

No, for me and those others, the making of good work comes from a broader based learning. It comes from an engagement with other art forms and movements. It comes from an ongoing study into what makes us human, why we do what we do. It comes from a knowledge of how society functions, how we all fit into our environment. In other words, in order to be a good street or social documentary photographer I believe that one has to at least be making the attempt to become a well informed, well rounded, human being.

Today's post isn't directly about these ideas. It's more about an aspect of communication in which we have the opportunity to not only revive an old courtesy that seems to be fading away, but also to let others know a little at least of what drives us: the ongoing and never-ending pursuit of honor and truth.

A while back I reconnected with a very good friend. We'd been out of touch for a many years, and I tell you it was really good to hear from him again. I think we've kind of taken off just where we left off. Anyway, I was looking at old emails from him (he used to send his poetry out to people on his list; ah, the good old days when you had to actually email people to share your writing, thoughts, ideas, whatever), and I noticed a really nice sentence he used on one as a way of signing off. He wrote:
Vishwa dharma ki jai

This is Sanskrit and means (according to my friend), 'victory to universal truth and honour'. When I read this expression, I was moved. Now, I don't have a problem with 'yours sincerely' or 'kind regards' and so on, as ways of signing off  an email or (just imagine)  a letter. Indeed, I think those salutations (is that the right word?) can be meaningful and can carry heartfelt and sincere wishes from one person to another.

However, as with all things we do 'automatically' and as a matter of course, these expressions seem to  have lost much, if not all their true meanings. In fact, how often do we get emails with no such signing off, and with merely the sender's name at the bottom? Actually, now I think about it, I remember emails that have no name signing off. On the face of it that might seem rude, but most often it isn't: people and  the way they communicate are changing; I guess some of these so-called 'niceties' are just naturally going to be lost.

So, when I read my friend's Sanskrit salutation, I thought, hey, I'm going to make sure that I for one do not forget these traditional expressions of good wishes and salutation. And what better salutation for a truth seeker (that's me) than my friend's?

It might be that a wish for the victory of universal truth and honor sounds a bit old fashioned, a bit formal even. Not at all: how up to date, how necessary in our materialistic, fast-paced and sometimes lonely and corrupt world, is it to seek truth and to act with honor. Honor isn't the fuddy-duddy, formal term you might think. Look it up: it's about honesty, truth, right behavior, integrity, all that good and right stuff.

So, I'm going to try to use this great salutation whenever I can. After all, it does say a lot about my attitude to my work as a street and social documentary photographer.

And my message to you, dear reader? Vishwa dharma ki jai

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fingers Poised? Look Before you Leap, I Mean Click

A few years ago when I was still reading newspapers, I saw a report about a columnist at a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia who was ‘let go’ because she sent some ‘controversial’ messages via Twitter while at a TV awards night. Now, I would not be surprised if you hadn’t heard of this: it’s hardly Earth shattering, and it isn’t really important on any number of levels if you ask me.

What I want to talk about here is a follow up opinion piece I read a few days later. In it the commentator, while claiming to put the responsibility squarely on the offending Twitterer, writes, ‘... the availability and immediacy of the technology intrude upon the normal choices and judgments which people make.’ He adds that services like Twitter, Facebook, emails and the rest, ‘bring into the public realm many things that would previously remain private.’

Of course, he’s right there isn’t he? You read all sorts of stuff out there in social media land and it ‘ain’t all pretty, as the saying goes. This guy goes on to say that we are at ‘an evolutionary disjunct between old notions of the public and private spheres and the means of communications now widely available.’

Therefore, it seems to follow that it’s not your fault if, when visiting social media land, you blurt out something that you might later regret or that is offensive or libelous or otherwise insensitive. Or is it? Well, of course it's your fault. You, like me and everyone else, are responsible for what we say and do whether it’s online or in person or on a postcard! 

There is a story about US president Franklin Roosevelt. As we all know Roosevelt had polio and used a wheelchair. However, for public speeches he stood with ‘discreet assistance’. Apparently, one day he actually fell over and lay sprawled and helpless in front of the assembled Washington press corps. Of the dozens of photographers there guess how many took a photo? Go on guess.

Okay, I’ll tell you. Not one. That’s right: no photographer thought it was relevant; they all—each and every one of those hungry ‘vultures’—judged that it was a personal matter and therefore not to be reported. You can bet that if a world leader fell in front of the cameras today it would be in your inbox, on YouTube and plastered all over the Internet before he or she was back on his or her feet.

Something similar happened to me a while back while I was working on the street. I saw a guy leaning against a tree. Instinctively I raised the camera to my eye; then, just as instinctively I lowered it again and went to the man and asked him if he was okay. He told me he was feeling really sick, so I offered to help him to a doctor. To cut a long story short, he had nothing serious and it all ended well.

My point is that, just like those Washington photographers, I had a choice: make the photo or not. Like them I decided this was not a photo “opportunity”, so put the camera down.

You know something? I have always thought that if there was one tool that shouted ‘availability and immediacy’ it’s the camera. This isn’t a new idea of course: it’s about the decisive moment and all that. Photography 101 you might say.

So how come it’s so different with the buttons on your mouse or your mobile? Especially as you usually have to type a message before you get to send it. If you ask me that’s a lot less immediate than the camera shutter. What I’m getting at here in my usual long-winded fashion is this: if those photographers could make the decision in the heat of the moment to not press the button, why do we need to make excuses for us ‘modern types’ with our keyboards and mobile phones and whatever?

Of course, the answer is we don’t. As I said, we are all responsible for what we say and do. I suppose a good motto to follow in our online or other communications—and in life generally— would be ‘Do No Harm’. Or at least, do as little harm as possible.

Now, I am not saying here that I’ve never said anything on Twitter, or on Facebook or any other place, that was hurtful or insensitive or judgemental or in other ways just not good to say. Mind you, I do try to stick to my little motto, Do No Harm (it’s not mine of course, I just adopted it).

And for those times when I have failed, I apologise very sincerely. I do not make excuses; I can choose to press send or click OK or whatever after I’ve typed a message (note my italics please), just as I can choose to press my camera’s shutter button.

Let’s not have any more of this ‘evolutionary disjunct’ stuff. Though, when you think about it, we actually are at a lot of those type of places right now, don’t you think? It’s just that I would rather not use this particular disjunct (I love this word) as an excuse to be sloppy when it comes to how I communicate with friends and strangers alike in cyberspace, or in terrestrial space, or even in my head! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

All I Need is a Dollar a Month

Over the several years I have been focusing more and more on my work as a Street and Social Documentary photographer, and sharing my photographs with you all on the internet, I have received so much support, love and encouragement from so many people all over the world that I can hardly find the words.  I’ve discovered that, not only do many people like and value my work, but they have also shared me with how much they admire and support the vision that motivates me and informs all that I do.

And that leads me to the reason for this post. A couple of days ago I suddenly thought all I need to continue and expand my work is $A1 a month. Well, actually that’s a dollar a month from each one of you! I have so many plans, so many ideas, and while I intend to carry on as I am creating photos, expanding on my blog and whatever else I can think of to get my vision out there, that $1 a month will make it a lot easier and less stressful for me, help me get more of my work out there and enable me to share my vision with as many people as possible for as long as possible.

Some of you may be asking: Why should I give him $1 a month? What’s in it for me?  
These are both very good questions that I think only you can answer. You have to decide whether you want to support me and my work in this way; you have to decide if what I am doing is worth it.  The best way I can try to answer your questions is to tell you a little bit more about myself. 

UPDATE: As a thank you gift, I would like to offer anyone who chooses to support me in this way at least two full resolution, electronic versions of any of my photos for you to print and frame as you wish (the vast majority can be printed up to very large sizes).

As many of you already know I am a Social Documentary and Street Photographer. I come to my art from a Humanist perspective which means I strive in my work to celebrate humanity in all its diversity and specialness.  I believe strongly that there are no ordinary people, nor are there any ordinary moments. And I seek to share some of those moments. Love, Compassion and Empathy are the guiding principles that inform my work. If you would like to read a little more about my vision, you can read my Artist’s Statement here.

A few years back my partner Pauline and I decided to simplify our lives in order to focus on the things we consider most important. So, we sold our house, cars, furniture. Gave away our books, records, CDs and all the rest of the material evidence of over 30 years (and you should have seen the tons of rubbish we threw out as well!).

We live a very simple, minimalist lifestyle: we now have very few possessions (only what we can carry) and as a way to explore more places and live more frugally, we do house and pet sitting. We support ourselves through the sale of my work.

It is not an exaggeration to say that my work, my art, is my life. I am either photographing or writing, thinking about photographing and writing, researching and learning, communicating with others about their work and mine. In fact it’s part of my plan to really focus on sharing the work of others much more than I have in the past.

You can find out a lot more about me by going to the links below. Or you can talk to me directly with any questions or comments.  If after learning more about me and my work, you decide to support me with $1 a month (or more), then just follow these steps:
  1. Go to my blog here
  2. At the top of the right hand column you'll see a section with a Subscribe button and a dropdown menu
  3. Click on the dropdown menu and choose the level of support you prefer
  4. Click on Subscribe. You will be taken to PayPal
  5. Follow the prompts at PayPal  to complete the (very secure) process

Thank you all so much for your support, whatever form it takes. I hope that I can continue to share my photographs, my experiences and my vision, with you all

with love

Links to my sites.

Paul's Pictures (my website)Instants Out of Time (my blog)Flickr (my photostream)About Me (a page with all my links)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Flag Flies in Suburban Fortress.jpg

Scone Australia October 2015


Sydney Australia Augustt 2015

Walking the Dog.jpg

Terrigal Australia June 2015

Reap What You Sow.jpg

Sydney Australia June 2015

Love is Love.jpg

Sydney Australia Augustt 2015

Footprints on the Path.jpg

Sydney Australia July 2015

Boarder Crossing.jpg

Sydney Austalia August 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Corner Store.jpg

Nottingham England August 2013

Friends Meet in the Mall

Perth Australia October 2013

Canal Side Daydreamer.jpg

Weesp The Netherlands August 2013

Keep Clear

Nottingham England August 2013

Street Photographers Can Help Change the World for the Better

Lovers at the Shop Window (Amsterdam August 2013)

Reading a post from the Book of Life site, reminded me of a dilemma many artists, many street photographers face: how do we practice our art in a world cursed by suffering, conflict, environmental decay, corporate greed and the rest?

The post poses this question.  The opening paragraph reads:
The cultural elite gets nervous about cheerful or sweet art. They worry that pretty, happy works of art are in denial about how bad the state of the world is and how much suffering there is in almost every life.
It goes on: have we forgotten about the misery, corruption, and suffering?
The author proposes that, rather than having forgotten, the reality is we feel too small, too inadequate to the task of doing anything, so we withdraw from the struggle.

At this point, I have a confession to make. I wish I knew far less than I do about the suffering that is going on (and always has) in the world; I wish I knew less about history and how the political and economic systems that plague us all work*.

It’s hard to be optimistic, to have hope that things will change for the better. But the author suggests: ‘Cheerfulness is an achievement and hope is something to celebrate.

That’s where artists come in. That’s where street photographers come in. I know, not all street photographers believe what they do is art. That’s okay; doesn’t matter what you call what you do. Same difference, as we used to say. The point is, artists need to produce art that inspires hope, that celebrates the good in the world and celebrates humanity.

Of course it is also the artist’s role to highlight the suffering, the inequalities, the injustices, the threats to the planet. In fact without these artists there are many people who would be able to say, “but we didn’t know about … . " The role of the artist is to make sure nobody can ever make this excuse.

But, I and I suspect many other artists, aren’t able to focus on that side of things. For me at least it is not a case of not wanting to, or that I don’t care. It’s more that I am physically and mentally not able to.  However, I do not ignore the suffering in and of the world; I do not deny it and pretend that all is well.

What I choose to do about it is celebrate humanity through street photography. I choose to photograph the ordinary moments in people’s lives; moments in which they might be expressing joy or sorrow, laughing or crying, going about the normal business of daily life. I choose to do this as my way of contributing to change in the world.

Sound pretentious? Sound a tad immodest? It’s true that street photography doesn’t seem on the surface to be a part or the political or moral and ethical battles which at this very moment in history are determining the future of humanity and of the planet. After all, one might ask, how is the making of photos of people doing ordinary things in the street help anybody?

It is a valid question and I will try to give an answer that means something.

After World War II the French Humanist photographers, as well as other artists around the world, sought to shift the focus; after so much death and destruction, they turned their cameras (and paint brushes, music and the rest) towards the good in humanity. They sought to celebrate life.

In France, photographers began focusing on a number of themes which, for them, reflected this desire to celebrate humanity. They seem obvious to us now, but then, after so much pain, their work represented a revival, an affirmation of survival and the possibility of a good life:
  • Lovers. Couples kissing or otherwise showing affection. Couples strolling and enjoying each other’s company.  Such scenes, such moments, demonstrate our resilience as a species.
  • Children. Children playing. Children enjoying life, laughing and being, well, children. After years of war people must have been overjoyed to see children once again free to be.
  • The Family.  Photographs of family groups, of families around a table enjoying a meal and the company of loved ones. Weddings too, played a part. Again images of normality, of hope in a future brighter than the past.
  • Work. For so many years the main role of working people had been to fight or to otherwise support the war machine. Humanist photographers saw the workers as the new heroes, so they showed people engaged in all kinds of labor and occupations to celebrate their efforts and nobility.
  • The street. As life returned to normal, photographers began to portray people going about their ordinary business: shopping, chatting in cafes, gossiping on street corners, buskers, stall holders and others making their lives or living on the street. All the ordinary things that for so long people had been denied.
  • Public Gatherings. During the war years, there was little tolerance of public gatherings. So, now that peace had come, photographers spent time recording fetes, carnivals, festivals and the like. Documenting  these celebrations of community became a big part of humanist photography.

Of course for a great many street photographers these themes form the foundations of who and what they photograph. But how many of us think that we are helping to change the world?

Now, intention is key. It is why you make photos that will, at least in part, determine the impact they have the potential to make.  I can’t speak to anyone else’s reasons or intentions. I can only say that for myself, photographing ‘ordinary people’ doing ‘ordinary things’ is an act of resistance to the dehumanizing and numbing power of the obstacles all people of goodwill are up against.

In this way, there is a possibility that my photos might bring a smile to someone, or perhaps prompt a happy memory or even suggest a course of action.  And then there might be a time when a photo of mine brings a tear to someone’s eye, or brings up a sad memory. Both are valid; both are about what makes us human and both  just might have a chance of engendering a little hope.

Why do you do street photography? What do you hope comes from your photos?


*     * No, this isn’t true. After all, ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s just ignorance.  I just wish it didn’t upset  me as much as it does, but then, if it didn’t, what sort of person would that make me? And what  use would I be as an artist?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Your Camera: An Instrument of Your Sub-Conscious Mind

Only art penetrates the seeming realities of the world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive.
                                Saul Bellow (Nobel Prize lecture 1976)

Whenever we read something there is a part of our minds that immediately interprets what we are reading through our stored knowledge and experiences; through the unique filters we all have.  Same thing happened to me when I read this little excerpt from a famous speech. Immediately I saw how it relates to my own art, street photography. At least to the street photography that I practice.

Of course for many street photographers this is simply not the case. Much street photography is planned, searched out, hunted for (now this is a term I loathe when it’s used for street photography. We really have to do something about the language we use.), designed to highlight technical skills or even as an act of compliance with the current paradigms in the genre.  None of this is criticism, not at all. I’m just saying that while I consider what I do to be art, many do not. Fine I say.

Naturally I am alert to and aware of (not to mention constantly trying to learn more about) light, composition and the other factors that go into making a technically correct and decent photograph. The people I photograph deserve no less. But, I would say that more than this, or rather, before and in addition to these considerations, I try to open myself to the people and situations I photograph, to the moment. Yes, the moment. Again, pretty much like a lot or most street photographers.

My best hope is that I am open to receive moments that, while on the surface appear to be ‘ordinary’, and without any special or obvious meaning, are nonetheless able to reveal in some small (or perhaps not so small) way something of the essence of humanity, some small (or again perhaps not so small) insight into the human condition.

I think it’s true to say that for the vast majority of the time as we all go about our ordinary lives, we do not notice even a fraction of the moments that flow around us in the lives of the people who cross our paths.  (not to mention the amount of time we aren’t even aware of moments in our own lives that go unnoticed.)  And even if we become the flaneur as so many of us street photographers try to do, we still cannot on any kind of conscious level see and register every tiny little thing that goes on in our field of awareness.

But it seems to me that, at what we can call the sub-conscious level (I know that’s a huge space, there are levels below levels. Besides, let’s not get too technical here!) we do see more; we do take in a lot of the small, quickly moving and changing tiny details of things. Of gestures, of looks; all kinds of things enter into us at those sub-conscious levels.

This ability is inherent in all animals, including human beings. I think we all know that we would not have survived this long as a species otherwise. I know this is all pretty broad, but I think you get where I’m going, so stay with me while I get there please. Thanks!

Anyway, suffice it to say, we all take in all kinds of things, all the time, and at all kinds of levels from the glaringly obvious conscious level, right through to the very deepest of sub-conscious levels (and some say there are levels below that).

Those of us lucky enough to be roaming the streets of the world with a camera, have an instrument in hand that works very well in recording some of these little things (gestures, facial expressions, movements, and the rest) that under cameraless circumstances would only be received at some sub level and perhaps remain buried there never seeing the light of day.

So, many of these little details, while they may or may not be important to our survival, or even to our ability to navigate in our environment,  can be for street photographers the extra ingredient that makes an okay photo suddenly become a little more than an okay photo.

I came across one such photograph recently. This one was made back in 2011.

A Decisive Moment Best Forgotten
(Echuca Australia Nov.2011)

I spotted this parent sitting on that wooden wall with her children (there is a toddler to the left of the frame in this photo). The nice little family scene drew me in. I made one image of her sitting and including the toddler, then, suddenly, she stood up and went to grab her bag. I instinctively pressed the shutter again. To me looking at the camera screen after the event it seemed to me to be a good image of a parent’s burden, as she strained to lift the baby, grab her bag, watch her toddler and get moving all at the same time.

These are the things I saw on a conscious level. What I didn’t see till later on the computer screen was details of the baby’s face. Now, it’s a bit out of focus or blurred, but there, plain as day, we can see the baby being sick. Gross, you might say. Why make a photo of that for goodness sake?

Well, that’s the point you see: I didn’t make a photo of a baby being sick. At least I didn’t know I had at the time. But, looking back, I thought I must have seen that little detail at some level. And you know, I think it makes for a better photo. It tells that story of an overburdened parent even more strongly. Don’t you think? ‘Oh hell,’ you can hear the mother sighing. ‘What next?’

So, perhaps some deep level of my mind saw the whole story while my conscious mind (and my eyes) only saw the overall scene and my mind took action and made me press the shutter at that exact moment. Hence the title: A Decisive Moment Best Forgotten.

This sort of thing has happened to all of us. Share those moments with us!


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I Call Myself a Humanist Street Photographer And With Good Reason Too

Over the last few days I've been reading and researching the French Humanist Street Photographers for a project I'm working on (stay tuned for that!) and while looking around, I came across a great post on the (possibly soon to be defunct) F/50 International Photography Collective site. The post is headed 'I'm not a Street Photographer' and is by Collective member Peter Barton, In the post Peter points out the problematic nature of calling oneself a 'street photographer', especially nowadays.

'I’ve never been happy calling myself a "Street Photographer". There’s something about the term that makes me shudder – especially when the short form "togs" is used.' Peter says in the post.  He then goes on to talk about the famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) street photographer who is well known for the statement, 'I have no ethics' and who Peter describes as 'aggressive and bullying'.

While accepting that there is more to street photography than this particular photographer's in-your-face style, Peter says that 'if that's what it takes to be called a street photographer then it's not for me.’ Barton laments that the photographer described above and 'his ilk' have such a high profile. What to do? he asks. 

In a search for the answer, he came across the term Humanist Photographer. The term resonated with him and he tracked down a definition in the introduction to a course at the Simon Fraser University:

Humanist photography is the celebration of life and its inexhaustible diversity as seen through the lens of a photographer. Often called poetic realism, this genre celebrates the ordinary, the small pleasures of life, and the daily pitfalls of our existence; it never ceases to enchant us with its truthfulness and poetics.

Now, I've written to Peter to thank him for his post and for quoting this definition. Why? Because it's exactly what I do and his feelings more or less mirror my own. Well, I suppose anyone who reads this blog already knows that, right? Anyway, Peter prefers the term Humanist to Street. 

And this is the only point on which we don't agree. I have for a long while now called myself a Humanist Street Photographer, and I intend to continue. In fact, if I weren’t already disposed to do so, I would anyway for exactly the reasons Peter is rejecting the term Street. Here's why:

I am very pleased, very honored and very privileged to be a photographer. Or, let me rephrase that. I am privileged to be a Street Photographer with the same kinds of motivations that drove (and drives) the great humanist photographers of the past such as Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronas, Edouard Boubat, and people like Joel Meyorwitz and so many others nameless and unknown in the present, who have sought to celebrate humanity as described in the definition quoted above

So, I will not allow the faddists, the hucksters and the social media hammer wielders to dictate what I choose to do or how I choose to label myself and my work-even as a way to distance myself from them. Why should I? Street Photography is a really huge business these days. Camera companies, social media "gurus", workshop "teachers", all are on the bandwagon. Well, not all of course, but there is definitely an industry called ‘Street Photography’. 

And it’s a business based on fads and on fashion; and, like any fad or fashion, there’s a lot of hype and marketing surrounding it.  But, like any fad, it will pass; the business people involved will move on to the next latest and greatest thing.

What will be left amidst the who knows how many millions of 'street photographs' (the good the bad and the ugly and in all the multitude of sub genres and styles) will be the work, the photographs, made by the street photographers of the past and of the present who were and are motivated by a humanist view of the world and have an intent to simply record the daily lives of the so-called 'ordinary people'. That's history I guess.

I am not saying that my work will last; I am not comparing myself with the greats from the past or even the present. And there is one thing you can say about me: I most definitely do not have a high profile; in fact no profile is closer to the reality. But in my work as a Humanist Street Photographer, I strive to 'celebrate the ordinary, the small pleasures of life, and the daily pitfalls of our existence.' And I plan to keep on doing it too, long after the fad has faded, just as I was doing it a long time before the fad was fomented (or was it fermented?) in the minds of the marketeers

And I have a dream: I dream that my photographs will 'enchant [people who see them] with their truthfulness and poetics.' 

Saturday, October 3, 2015