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 Summarit. 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.


Paulo Rodrigues said...

Hehe, when my wife and I were scouting locations for our wedding scotland, I saw some cooling towers and asked her to drive us there to take some photos. She refused and said we could photograph them when we came up for the wedding. By the time the wedding came around, they had demolished them. She found that funny for some reason :)

Anonymous said...

...you just put a big smile on my face! Portugal my beloved country seen by you. Your right sometimes the "street" is overwhelming. I live in Porto second largest city in Portugal, and theres so much things visual and phisical that I usually get carried away. But sometimes it is also really hard to "see" things where you live... Love your blog, best wishes.

João Medeiros

kirk tuck said...

Joao, Thanks very much for your note. I loved my time in Lisbon and fantasize writing a novel about a photographer who has an adventure in Lisbon. Portugal is intriguing.

Anonymous said...

...well why not? Maybe a photo novel, live up to your fantasies Kirk. ;) Carpe Diem!


João Medeiros

tokyobling said...

Loved the writing on this post. You should see American tourists abroad! I swear they are all issued a uniform at the airport: males are to wear khaki shorts, white sneakers and colorful t-shirts. Even if it happens to be December on the northern hemisphere. I spent a lot of time in Lisboa in the 90's, lovely place. Next time I'll have to try Porto.

kirk tuck said...

This is my favorite post. Funny, I only get a lot of responses when I talk about gear........

Beate Dalbec said...

I have been to Lisbon and loved it! One could spend a lot of time people watching (and photographing) there. Life happens on the streets there. Hopefully I will be able to go back there soon.

grouchomarx said...

I would say that for street photography, at least partially, the mall is the new street...



Omar Rodríguez said...


I started reading your blog just a day before you announced it will stop... Sight. You did not. Wow this time.

That day I started digging all the blog. Slowly, of course, but restless. And I muse to myself: what if Kirk place a link in sidebar that drive me straight to the "not equipment related blogs". Hope it doesn't offend you, but articles like this of Lisbon are your golden land.

PS: I love Lisbon too. Nice shooting chances there. Wait! Here, I mean. :)

Omar Rodríguez said...

By the way, I am on an assignment, but not a photographical one. But chances are that I roam the Ruas this monday.

Jim in NYC said...

Another reason why I live in NYC.