There was this shutterbug whose blogsite I stumbled upon not so long ago, the guy makes great street photography and in fact, one of his works, a set of Manila urban shots, once made it to the most coveted Freshly Pressed. Although I failed to bookmark the site and somehow can’t find it anymore, I remember imparting something like step outside, it’s where the real thrill is comment because — here’s the rub — he was shooting from the comforts of his car.
And then there’s this budding street tog who rides, shoots and never steps out of the jeepney for fear of camera snatchers prowling the streets of Quiapo. I share her worries, Manila is malignant with lawlessness. And so she asked me how did I ever have the morale to shoot in public places. My reply was simple, but first, a story:
Exactly a year ago today, I was with a bunch of gentlemen at a luncheon table in Bayleaf Hotel as we take a short break from the first ever Shutter Games — an on-the-spot photography competition arranged by Digital Photographers of the Philippines. The food was heavenly, but I was more absorbed by the group’s conversation especially when one of them, a silvery-haired man who speaks as though everyone on the table is involved in their business, talked about black and white photography, street photography, Bresson, Maier, black and white street dot com etc. I’ve never been so engrossed in nosing around. That night, I googled every topic they had and I landed on tons of fascinating black and white street shots. This was how I got stung by the street photography bug. So this is year one for me in this brand of photography and as a fledgling street tog, allow me to take a crack at answering one of the many FAQs in SP: how to overcome fear in street photography?
As briefly as I can now: In this day and age when camera has pervaded everywhere — air, land and sea — and picture taking has become commonplace as a coffee break, how is it that street photography (the genuine 24-karat street photography that is) can still be a very daunting task, especially for newcomers? What is so scary in capturing street scenes?
Aside from dealing with the fear knowing there are hideous elements out there who might find your gear too hot, street photography in part, is about being a social odd bird. A street photographer tends to focus not on conventional subjects, and this raises eyebrows; he finds beauty in the most mundane, which makes him subject of scrutiny; he shoots candidly in private and public places, causing suspicions; he crosses one’s space, making him atrocious. In other words, SP is risky business. Once a street tog goes into action, he is out on a limb. But that’s just simply the challenge of street photography. Chew over Robert Frank’s words:
If an artist doesn’t take risks, then it’s not worth it.
So, without further ado, how do we overcome fear in street photography?
My answer is simply –one must first make himself be an innate part of his playing field. Whether it’d be a street, a train or a village green, he must melt with the multitude, be immersed to the situation and, attached to the setting as dust is to a pavement. Be it a gospel truth that as there are vendors and pedestrians, there are street photographers as well. It’s nothing short of acclimatizing. Every time I set foot on a ‘gathering place’ with the camera around my neck, I always make it a point to allow a few moments of lolling, observing and taking in the pressure of the place, the distressing gazes. And when everybody goes back to minding their own business, I knew I have become “part” of the scene, a fly on the wall, and then calmly shoots.
As to the fear of getting into unpleasant situations (thank heavens I haven’t been into one), so far I haven’t heard of a good street shooting gone terribly bad. Or a battle royale arising from SP. There will always be some minor incidents, your subject going into an angry outburst, a dirty finger on you, or a run-in with the guards. As per street photographer Kip Praslowicz, it’s more likely for a cheerleader to get into an accident than for a street photographer to get punched.
The net is loaded with extensive tips and tutorials on coping with fear in street photography. I think Eric Kim’s short and simple 5 TIPS will suffice. IF at the end of the day, you still can’t seem to find the courage for this artistic endeavor, don’t give up just yet, every cloud has a silver lining.
When I first started doing street, I found myself playing around with one of the most ‘uninteresting’ subjects at hand — my own shadow. Now I have gathered a few stocks here from my first months on the street featuring that sparring partner of mine, and my take as to how a simple practice as shadow selfie could be a good ice breaker for budding street togs.
First of, shadow selfie is fun and easy. Creativity starts out of the classroom and here, there is no failing grade. People have been doing selfie for 175 years now so there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, you can do this all day without fear of getting into trouble since you’re not being an inconvenience to anybody but your dark side. For now.
One amazing thing about street photography is that it involves cryptic, enigmatic, or bizarre images. As for London-based street photographer Nick Turpin: “A series of street photographs may show a ‘crazy’ world, perhaps ‘dreamlike’. This is, for me, the most fascinating aspect of Street Photography, the fact that these ‘crazy’, ‘unreal’ images were all made in the most ‘everyday’ and ‘real’ location, the street.”
Your shadow is a creepy thing. You can create your own dreamlike scenes by simply picking a ‘crazy’ spot for which to juxtapose your surrealistic shade.
It’s all about the light, light, light. The more intense the light source, the sharper the figuration, the more you’ll learn to be appreciative and beholden to light which — after all — is the SOUL of photography. Then perhaps you might begin to share my fondness for taking photos at times when shadows are the longest.
Acquaint thyself with the street by taking your shadow for a walk. (Folks from the field of spiritual psychology would refer to the shadow as our Dark Side. The Negative Ego.) Take pictures of your Negative Ego out on the street, in the park or in the ghetto. Before you know it you’ll be in harmony with the street and pretty much gone, broken, snapped off from your comfort zone.
PEOPLE, the essential element in street photography. The component of greatest importance. Gary Winogrand is unrivaled here, imho. Let your shadow mingle with the crowd just to allay your anxiety. Go down the line if you have to. Embrace the human element of street photography. Maybe then you’ll never have to be afraid of your own shadow.
I believe that the shadow is one of the greatest gifts available to us, Carl Jung said. It is the opponent within us that exposes our flaws and sharpens our skills. It is the teacher, the trainer, and the guide that supports us in uncovering our true magnificence.
The fear associated in doing Street is but a natural sensation. I say, introduce yourself to the street first, make friends with the street, feel the street. Bite the bread of street photography. Shadow-selfie might just provide a warm up. It will walk you through the fundamentals of street photography the easy way and, ultimately, create astounding shots.
That’s without the shadow of doubt.