By Chris Carson Writer & passionate Street Photographer based in London UK.
Street Photography? Now there’s a question. It’s a question that’s been confounding photography experts since the dawn of creation. A street photograph is one you take while you’re out and about in the concrete jungle. But what of? That’s just it, nobody knows. Except that it must be one that works. To define a photograph that works, it’s one where you look at it for longer than thirty seconds. If you can do that, then it works. If it works, then it’s art. If it doesn’t then it’s a snapshot and we’ve all got plenty of those. Just ask anyone with a camera phone. There’s also a very big difference between a picture and a photograph. A lot more so, than one working and the other doesn’t. A photograph is where the photographer has thought about what’s in the frame and worked the viewfinder as well as having framed and composed the shot. As opposed to him or her stopping dead in their tracks and snapping away. It would also explain why the favourite tool of any photographer is the prime lens, eschewing zooms. A prime lens takes a little more effort to compose and frame the shot and shows that the photographer has given some considerable thought to just how the final photograph will be composed and whether or not it will work. Which is generally something you don’t know until you try, and then study later. If you’re lucky and got your sums right, it’ll work. Getting a photograph to work has always been and will always be, a calculated guess. Hence, junkers and keepers. But as you gain experience, you slowly begin to win more often than you lose. That’s not to say you’ll get a working photograph every time, but you’ll never know unless you try. Thankfully digital is much easier on the pocket than film ever was and is far more tolerant of the necessary trial and error.
The French born photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was probably the first person to characterise the artistic world of street photography and became one of it’s greatest practitioners. His images have been reproduced millions of times over the years in just about every publication you can possibly imagine. More recently a reclusive French descended American photographer called Vivian Maier has taken the world by storm, and justifiably as her work is sublime. The tragedy is that she died in 2009 never knowing the firestorm her work would create once it was discovered. She slipped on ice in the Chicago winter of 2008, aged 83 and cracked her head. While she lay in a hospital bed, from which she never really fully recovered, the storage depot where she’d stored her lifetime collection of images, sold them off to pay her bills. It was only when people began to get their hands on her collection that her genius was finally realised. An absolute treasure trove of approximately 150,000 images taken obsessively since she was in her early teens has allowed us to peek into a world an awful lot of us never even knew existed.
If you want to become a photographer, you’ll know all about it. It gets into your bloodstream and courses your veins and is relentless in its pursuit of knowledge about the world around us, that just about everybody else takes for granted. But is something wondrous to be continuously marvelled at by any photographer. Just as the rich are different, so photographers are too, and see the world in an entirely different light than anyone else. Vivian’s obsessive fascination with photography required her to work with the best tools available to her at that time. That meant using the world class Rollieflex Twin Lens Reflex which was the gold standard of cameras at the time. It certainly wasn’t cheap and must have taken a considerable amount of her resources to acquire it. But that’s dedication for you and she wouldn’t have resented the high cost of ownership. Her Rollieflex allowed her to practice in what was cheerfully known at the time as belly button photography. Simply because by design it was held at waist height and allowed for an interesting perspective that’s hard to replicate with any other camera. To get the same perspective with today’s SLR’s you have to get on bended knee, as I often do with a Nikon. I can’t help wondering what Vivian would have made of today’s Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras with their horrendous complexity and whether she would agree that they add to the photographing process or detract from it, making it all the more difficult to catch that perfect shot. Which is only there in what seems a blink of an eye and is gone in a split second, never to be repeated. I know the trouble I have in getting the shot I want, but there again Street Photography has always been the same. In so much, it’s almost a practical impossibility for those not quite so dedicated or the faint hearted. Seeing the moment is one thing. Capturing it in the lens is another. You see what you want and you have to get it while you can before it disappears before your very eyes and the moment has gone forever.
I liken it to kissing frogs. You have to kiss an awful lot before you find a princess. Which Vivian and Henri knew all too well. One last word, no posing allowed. It’s all serendipity. What you see is what you get. Warts and all. The status of this website is one of continuous evolution so please come back again soon, with increasing regularity. Also, I’d like to hear from you if you have any questions. Or, anything you might like to talk about. I’m always open to any interesting conversation. Just drop me a line from the Contact page and I’ll do my best to reply.