I’ve decided that being a street photographer is like being a thief. Most of my subjects don’t realize I’m taking their photograph, and before they know it – I’ve stolen a moment of their life. Approximately 1/200th of a second of their life is captured on a sensor about the size of my thumb. In most cases, I shoot 5 – 6 rapid-fire frames of each street scene, so it’s actually close to a full second of their life stored in my camera, waiting for me to process on my computer and eventually share with the world. These are typically ephemeral images that could never be recreated, unlike a landscape or still life photo.
For the last year I’ve been aiming an amazing ultra-wide angle lens on the streets of China. Some street photographers use telephoto lenses to photograph people from afar, but I prefer to be near my subjects and immerse myself in their environment. I walk up to people and sometimes frame the shot through the viewfinder, but lately I’ve been “shooting from the hip” and frame the shot later in post-processing. I imagine the shot’s frame in my “mind’s eye” as I press the shutter button on the camera hanging from the neck-strap near my waist. That’s why the photos are composed from a lower angle. Since I’m six feet tall, shooting from this lower perspective makes the shorter Chinese people look more epic than if I shot through the viewfinder at eye level. Aerial street photography is pretty boring. Just the tops of people’s heads.
Luck plays a huge role in my flavor of photography. Sometimes the street photos I take are amazing, and sometimes they look ordinary and lifeless. Sometimes the images capture the spirit and allegory of someone’s life and sometimes they’re void of any charm or uniqueness. It’s up to the photographer to sort out the good from the bad and find the gems. Sometimes the great photos come from careful cropping to reveal a small story within a crowded and chaotic world. I’ve had days where I came up empty handed and other days where I’ve been rewarded with some amazing stolen moments. I’m always looking forward to the serendipity of my next trip to the streets & alleys of China – as a thief.
Street photography is at one end of the spectrum of photography. It’s fleeting and un-staged. It’s documenting a brief moment of a real-time environment. At the other end of the spectrum is studio photography, which gives the photographer compete control over all of the variables of making an image – lighting, background, framing, composition, etc. I participate at both of the ends of the spectrum, and celebrate the contrasts of the two art forms.
Below are some of my favorite inspirational quotes about street photography:(Their juxtaposition to my photos is in no way meant to compare my work with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa.)
Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.
– Henri Cartier-Bresson
“I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them.” – Bruce Gilden
“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
“Luck – or perhaps serendipity – plays a big role… But you never know what is going to happen. And what is most exciting is when the utterly unexpected happens, and you manage to be there at the right place at the right time – and push the shutter at the right moment. Most of the time it doesn’t work out that way. This kind of photography is 99.9% about failure.” – Alex Webb
“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph” – Andre Kertesz
“… teaching and learning is nothing. It’s living and looking.” - Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Do, or do not – there is no try.” - Yoda
“… a thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen…” Plato – by way of Diane Arbus
“It’s as if you invite someone for dinner and serve wine in a decanter instead of the bottle with the label. People should guess if it’s a good wine. But no, they want to see the label. This is awful. That’s why there shouldn’t be any captions. People should just look. We should awaken our sensitivity. But people don’t. If it’s in a decanter, they won’t dare say it’s a good wine or it’s a bad wine because they haven’t seen the year. They don’t know which chateau. That’s what I resent. I think photographs should have no caption, just location and date. Date is important because things change.” - Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.”- Helen Levitt
The past cannot be captured by the present. And the future also cannot be captured by the present. The present can only be captured in the moment.” – Daido Moriyama
I think that is part of the trick of a wide-angle lens—that it allows you to have more stuff, maybe in the foreground or in the background, whichever way you want to think about it. Even if something is a little but out of focus, it has a tendency to feel as if it was married to the other stuff.” – Lee Friedlander
“Photograph the ugly stuff.” – William Eggleston
“I photograph what I see in front of me, I move in close to see better and use a wide-angle lens to get as much as possible in the frame.” – William Klein
“Great photography is always on the edge of failure.” – Garry Winogrand