Street Photography and Fez
A non-bike related post about photography from a street photographer’s playground.
The photography genre which I most admire happens to be one of the most difficult to define. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most difficult to execute. Street photography is not reportage; it differs from documentary photography in that it isn’t focused on premeditated subject matter. For a street photographer the only set matters in hand are life, time and light. The term itself has evolved to mean significantly more than simply making exposures of people in an urban setting. A phrase both invented and perfected by famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson helped define the style—The Decisive Moment. In essence, street photography is about seeing and reacting in effort to capture the human condition within a special moment.
Recognized contemporary street photographers (such as Jesse Marlow, Matt Stuart and Trent Parke) have helped further inject meaning into the style through their masterful scenes that trigger an emotional response—compositions that speak using the language of wit, irony, humor and the sublime.
As far as subject matter, street photography doesn’t always have to contain people. A successful street photograph may use subjects such as clothing, shadows, or animals for that matter. It is more about the conceptual implications that attach the viewer to the humanity of the situation. Sometimes this is simply manifested through the genius of perfect timing and composition. I am certainly not an accomplished street photographer, or an expert on the subject for that matter, but in the following paragraphs I will add a couple of thoughts from my own experience trying my hand at this difficult art, for those who are interested. For better examples and to form your own opinion on what defines the genre, check out some of the links above as well as the pic of the month, here.
The Perfect Camera
Street photography is definitely more approachable with a smaller camera, such as the Fuji X100. I brought the inconspicuous X100 last year on our tour of Mexico and Central America and can vouch for all of the obvious perks of carrying a smaller camera. Having a fixed 35mm lens is a refreshing way to be limited, yet grow at the same time. Some say that 35mm is the perfect focal length for the street. It is wide enough to allow the photographer to shoot from within the scene. A camera with the size and weight of the X100 allow a more discreet approach that can help keep the moment alive, without compromising the shot. On our current tour I brought quite the opposite. The giant hand-Canon 6D can be a little intimidating to people on the streets. But it certainly has its advantages including an incredible selection of lenses and diversity for other types of photography. Despite its size, I tried to make the most of it. A lot of my photographs turned in to portraits because of it. Once a subject noticed the camera, there was interaction, which takes the photo out of the street genre.
Interaction with people who become subjects, or parts of photographs, is a constant contention. Street photography requires a combination of balls and the ability to blend in. The former of course refers to having the gusto to attempt a shot despite people who might either take offense, or simply compromise the moment and composition. Throughout my quest to photograph people in their element, I have been pushed, yelled at, confronted by the police (on multiple occasions) and simply frowned upon. Of course there have been many more times when making photographs has created smiles, caused blushing, or was just ignored. A lot of times photos can be taken without even being noticed. Personally, I feel that street photography is more relevant when candid moments are captured… that’s life, right? That is also what brings up the big question of ethics, to which there are discussions all over the web, including this one pointed out to me by a reader. My opinion is that if someone lets me know that they do not want to be photographed, I don’t do it; if the photo calls for interaction with the subject, I ask permission. Pretty simple. An unfortunate side effect, that I have experienced on several occasions, is becoming trigger-shy after being denied a shot or two.
Here are a few of my attempts from Fez (a couple more successful than most) followed by some street shots I am somewhat happy with from other locales, and finally by a few additional architectural shots from around Fez.
15 Street Photos
Here are 15 of the better photos I’ve taken over the last couple of years that fall into the category.