A reprise from early 2009. Just because I'm in the mood for Lisbon.

FRIDAY, JULY 31, 2009

Street shooting in Lisbon

Do you shoot out in the streets? It's hard if you live in one of most American cities, for a number of reasons. There are really very few places to shoot. People live in their cars and at the malls. And people in American tend to dress down. Cargo shorts and white t-shirts with logos on them. Comfortable and tacky. And we do tend to be the one of the fattest countries around, per capita.

If you live in New York City or San Francisco, save your energy. I know your towns are walking towns with a plethora of rich visual targets, just right for fine photography. If you are large, given to wearing bright t-shirts, cargo shorts with stretchable waist bands and running shoes, please try to look out for photographers and maybe don't loiter too long in front of obviously cool landmarks or architecture.

But if you are really into shooting in the streets you'll want to find towns where people strut their stuff on foot and where the ambulatory culture keeps the people looking good. You'll want to head to a European city. Grenoble's great because a huge swath of the downtown is pedestrian only. But one of my favorites has always been Lisbon because it seems anchored to a time warp that keeps everything five years slower.

Back in 1998 I went to Lisbon to photograph a project for a subsidiary of IBM. The project went well and I engineered some down time in the the city. Two days before the event and two days after. Every morning I left my hotel with a Leica M6, a 50mm Summicron and a 75mm Summilux. I kept a pocket full of slide film, an open mind, an open agenda and a nice pair of hiking sandals and a desire to dive into the city life and come up with some fun images.

Here's the problem for me with street shooting: I get so involved/immersed in everything that I forget sometimes to take the photographs. I found a fabulous little neighborhood bakery and I was in line so quick I forgot to lurk around and try to sneak good shots. Then I was enjoying my creme filled confection and hot, earthy coffee so much I forgot to even meter.

But after a while my basic sense of discipline kicked in and I came back with hundreds and hundreds of images that I really like. The above is a smattering. A taster plate. A flight of photos. When you go out to shoot I think it's best to throw away intentions and schedules and let yourself slide into the process like a you slide slowly into a hot bath. If you go looking for the right moment you'll generally never find it.

It's some perverse law of the universe. It's in the same set of laws that mandate if you see a great scene and vow to come back the next day to capture it the scene will never present itself again. Once Belinda and I were staying in Mexico City, in the very hotel that Trotsky used to live in, oh so many years ago. We were only in Mexico City for a few days and I kept meaning to make some cool photographs of the Hotel's interior but I didn't. Something else always came up. I decided I'd get the photos next time I was there. Of course an earthquake weeks later leveled the hotel.

It's also the same perverse law of the universe that demands you do things here and now. If you delay anything it will be changed, diluted, and made more crass. Put off going to Rome and the Rome you could have experienced will no longer exist having been replaced by a different and more homogenous version.

It's the same unfortunate law of photography that says, "Print now or you'll never see this image again." We have the right intention but we need the right follow through. When an image jumps up in your face and fascinates you the time to act on it is in that moment. But most of us put the images into a folder, go out and shoot more and then put those new images into folder and so on, waiting until life slows down and we have time to luxuriate with our little treasure and to photoshop them just so and make them perfect before we sent them off to the printer. But we wake up to find the moment gone, the image left untouched. And we think they will continue to exist but a certain physical/metaphysical relationship has changed and we'll never come back to the same image in just the same way.

These images remind me that the only time is now. Carpe diem.


António Carlos said...

Thanks for the very nice photos and wonderful comments about what street photography really should be, immersing in daily life! Being a Portuguese (living in the north of Portugal) this post made my day! And I do come here everyday to enjoy and learn from your photos and thoughts.
Greetings from sunny (and very hot) Portugal,
António Carlos

Anonymous said...

I will say it again, I love how you see my country. You should visit us again in a near future. Best wishes.


João de Medeiross

Anonymous said...

Nice shots, as usual. So, you go out street shooting and come back with hundreds of images. Are you carrying hundreds of model releases? Of course, if you had to obtain a model release every time I doubt if you'd end up with hundreds of images.

How do you handle this? Or does it matter? Clearly, I'm not a street shooter, but I'm sorta getting the itch to try it.


Michael Strycharske said...

I lived in Washington DC for a while and parts of it have a very european feel. Yes it is inundated with tourists - especially at the momuments and other points of interst - but it is a great place for street shooting. Some of the out-of-the-way neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan are rich with markets, sidewalk restaurants and small, neighborhood parks. I used to wander for hours and shot many a roll of Kodachrome doing so.

Ab said...

Hey Kirk,
I have not been to Lisbon, however each time i see pictures i really want to go there ( and so many other places).

Time escapes up, and i can say as a Londoner now living just outside Toronto, the pace in North America is relentless. We all have to be careful not to get carried away with the momentum and sometimes just float.

Thanks for the advice in the pool, you absolutely called it, i regularly breath tot he right, and have always been told to alternate sides. Well the necks better and i will be in the pool tonight, alternating y breathing and rolling the body not turning the neck.