A re-posting of a "last year's favorite."


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.


wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

That second one is still one of my all-time favorite KT photos. Museum stuff, really. Did I mention that I kove it, and that this older post of yours is bookmarked and then eternally cemented into my browser?

cidereye said...

Wise words yet again Kirk and like Wolfgang the 2nd shot is an old firm favourite of mine - love it! I've only just in the last year managed to force myself to take one camera & one lens with me on a photo walk after years of trying but I can't see myself going back now. As you indicate it's about what you will see and not the needless weight of gear weighing down your back and holding back your thinking and seeing.

Off out now, battered OM-3 + 50mm - NO bag, phone left in the car, no needless extras other than my lens pen & Kindle in my pocket for coffee time later on. I feel free just thinking about it!

streetscene said...

Hi Kirk, its Alex and I am new to the blog. I go back and forth between street and bird photography, although lately with the warmer temperatures I have been out more in the street. I added you to my blog roll and invite you to check out


Thanks for the informative and enlightening posts !


Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, this type of post is always very inspiring to me! Your insight, and your ability to express it eloquently with words is truly a gift.

"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."

True, how very true!

diforbes said...

Did you use small cameras on this shoot?

kirk tuck said...

No. The small digital cameras had not yet been invented. I used film.

Carlo Santin said...

One lens and one camera is best. Amen. I need to be reminded of this all the time. Just yesterday I went out for a walk and made the mistake of bringing 2 small cameras along and a couple of different lenses...spent most of the time trying to decide which camera to use to take which shot and changing lenses, felt like an idiot the whole time, took very few photos, none I was happy with really.

Enslaved by choice seems to describe 21st century western culture, doesn't it? I've always called it choice fatigue, and it's exhausting. Try picking up cereal at the grocery store. There must be at least 50 different kinds at my grocer, then there's toilet paper and paper towels.

Anyway, enough of my complaining. Thanks for the article Kirk, it hit the spot. Love those black and white film images, love Rome.