Happy Valentine's Day. Go out and photograph something fun or romantic.

Love the cookies at Sweetish Hill Bakery!

I was just thinking about a book I could recommend to my photographer friends on Valentine's Day and it came to me in a flash:  Robert Adams,  "Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values."  A great collection of essays that bring some meaning to the life of some artists.

Robert Adams collected another series of essays entitled:  "Why People Photograph."  That's a good one too.  Fleshes out why we do what we do and why it resonates with us.  The two books would make a nice set for someone trying to get the impulses figured out.

The book that I want?  Five Beautiful Women  by Victor Skrebneski.  The book I must have but can't afford?  Of course, it's Richard Avedon.  "Richard Avedon:  Made in France"  

I hope everyone has a romantic day and falls in love all over again.  Hard to fight and argue when you're happy.

(the above photograph was taken with a Leica R8 and a 90mm Summicron on color slide film).


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.