2.12.2011

Street Shooting with abandon. The joy of strolling and looking.

Rome, Italy.

When we're immersed in the rhythm of our everyday lives we tend to overbook and underlook.  We scan for danger and opportunity.  Will the woman in the Chevy Suburban, juggling her latte and her cellphone, run the red light and slam into my car?  Can I grab that parking space before anyone else?  But when I go off to shoot somewhere (even if it's just downtown in my own hometown) there's a mental shift that moves me to disregard tight scheduling, turn off the cellphone (yes! They do have off switches!) and stop running the obsessive mental checklist that clicks away in my head.


I allow myself to succumb to the ebb and flow of the visual life in front of me.  I get up early and grab the camera (one camera) that I want to use based on how I feel in the moment.  I usually feel conflicted about taking more than one lens.  If I take two I find myself confused about which one might be best for each subject.  There is not "right" or "wrong" lens so the choice becomes mired in a web of countervailing possibilities.  My mind moves from decisive to indecisive and the energy that first attracted me to a subject seeps away, replaced with a paralyzing ambiguity.   One lens and one camera is best.  It's easier to wrap your vision around a subject than to be enslaved by choice.


I want to look like everyone else in the street.  I want people to think, "There's a guy.  He has a camera."  Instead of,  "There's a photographer."  It seems transparently the same but it's not.   And the people you encounter shift their demeanor based on the display you create about yourself.  One camera and a lens might say, "Tourist",  while a bagful of paraphernalia marks you as someone actively hunting images.  You become someone who "wants" something from someone else instead of someone immersing themselves in the milieu.  And people are wary of other people who want things from them.


I don't linger unless I'm trying to line up and image.  If I work without feeling sneaky people very rarely take notice of what I'm doing.  If someone catches me "taking" their image I smile and ask, with my eyes, if it will be okay to take another one.  Sometimes I put the camera down and just savor a thing in front of me because I know its beauty might be transient and inappropriate for "image capture."  Like closing your eyes and enjoying the song rather than focusing on how to capture an image of the music.


When I go out for my walks I'm drawn to scenes that show what it's like to be human.  The couple falling in love.  The woman who seems displeased about something.  Perhaps it's her ice cream.  Maybe she didn't pass her driver's exam.  We've all been in both emotional places and the photographs have the power to remind me of my own feelings.  That's why I take them.


When I walk often and for a long time with one camera I come to know it in a much different way than I do a camera I pick up only every so often.  It's like driving a car for years and knowing just exactly where everything is.  Then, one day you take your car in for service and you get a loaner car, and everything feels awkward and out of place.  It hampers your ability to drive in the subconscious and fluid manner that you've become accustomed to.


People choose cameras for so many reasons.  But I think they largely overlooked how it will feel and wear after months and months or years and years of use.


Street photography requires that you suspend your own greed for success.  The things you think you'll find rarely come up.  But if you have a list of predetermined images in your head when you begin you will have made it so much harder to find the images you weren't looking for.  And those might be the images that will surprise and delight you exactly because you never knew you were looking for them until they found you.  If you learn to let go of the desire for control you'll learn to stop suffering for your art and start having fun.


Might sound like "New Age" madness or hippy stuff but before you go back out to shoot again try reading the Tao Te Ching and see if it changes how you react with the world.



15 comments:

Poagao said...

Your description of how you get into various modes is interesting, and no doubt valuable for people who are thinking of becoming professional photographers. I am not one myself; I enjoy remaining in the mode you describe too much. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also enjoyed the Dao De Jing.

kirk tuck said...

What I describe above is perhaps the antithesis of professional practice. Rather, it's how I approach doing the photography that I really like. My own work for my own pleasure.

Anonymous said...

Incredible photos. Thanks.

Poagao said...

Have you read the Tao of Pooh? It makes a nice addendum. Sometimes the Dao De Jing can seem a bit obtuse, and I say that as someone who's read the original Chinese.

Cedric said...

Your words are as telling as your photographs. I came across your blog for your review of the E-PL2 but I'm glad I stuck around.
Thanks.

starrlife said...

Love your perspective and philosophy. I've been wondering about using photos that have other people in them - do I need their permission to use, post them or is it public domain? I worry....

Steve Dodds said...

I hear you, Kirk. I haven’t felt that kind of ‘oneness’ with my camera you describe since the days of my old Nikon FMs and Kodachrome 25. But perhaps that’s only because I spent months at a time traveling with them and very little else.
Maybe it‘s that all I had to not think about were aperture, shutter speed and focus; not ISO, white balance, yadayadayada. When everything else is unconscious, the conscious can be left to compose. And avoid stepping in holes.

The Photophile - Lanthus Clark said...

I may have mentioned it before, but "street" is the one form of photography we actively avoid here in South Africa because of the huge crime problem. It would just be asking for trouble. That's why I really envy you for being able to practice this particular photographic art form. Thanks for sharing!

kirk tuck said...

Lanthus Clark. I am so sorry to hear that. Move?

Guy Laflamme said...

Great. This is a hobby for me but I carry my camera most if not all of the time. One camera, one lens, not always the same but only one. Over time, street photography has become more of a walking meditation for me. And I see it now more as travel photography, but without the travelling. Just enjoying urban landscape and people interacting on the street, be a traveller with fresh eyes. Letting time slow down, traffic noise recede and go zen. And that's good enough for me, whatever comes out on my monitor or negatives afterward. Plain fun. Long rambling to say, about your blog, well said.

Kurt Shoens said...

Apropos of your point about the effect the specific camera has on subjects, check out the NY Times lens blog item ("Through My Eye, Not Hipstamatic's") about Damon Winter's use of an iPhone.

You had such a good time in Rome with 6x6 and 35mm Tri-X. Any desire to pick up those cameras again?

christopheru said...

Thanks for writing and sharing this one. You have put your finger on why I want to ditch the bag of stuff (I have largely, unless I am doing something which calls for it) and keep it simple. I have a desire to get better at street photography and have concluded that blending in - your one camera one lens idea struck a nerve and sums up my approach to urban shooting these days - is the most important thing. The days when I get a chance to just get out on a walk, and have no fixed agenda, are often the days that I get the best results. On a different note, I really am desiring a smaller camera for these occasions - in part to be inconspicuous, and in part because so much of what I am doing these days is from the back of my bicycle and something smaller would be easier to manage off the bike!

Thanks again for the blog.

kirk tuck said...

Kurt, I'm about this close (fingers less than a nanometer apart) from grabbing a Hasselblad 501 C and a 80mm and a bag of Tri-X........

Archer Sully said...

Wow, Kirk, you continue to amaze me. While I find your pieces on professional photography interesting and educational, its pieces like these that speak to the aspiring artist in me, and help me feel more inspired, and I'm not being sarcastic ;-).

Thanks once again. I'll go out and make photographs now.

Clay said...

Great shots and great thoughts. I look at these shots and think about how hard to find places in U.S. cities where people are just hanging out. If people are on the street, it seems like they're all marching somewhere. It's a different vibe in European cities, where there is more than grudging space laid out for pedestrians and people take the time to stroll.