I have always been fascinated by cities and the pulsating energy that emerges on the streets of those cities. That, in turn, has lead to a fascination for street photography. Last year I turned that fascination into a new project that I have called Transitions.

It started during a workshop I attended in Rome last May, taught by the devoted and passionate Swedish photographer Martin Bogren. After the workshop, I displayed some of the images from Rome here on the blog. Since then I have photographed for the project in every city I have visited—or at least tried, not always succeeding. Like last year, I had an overlay between flights in Panama City for about 14 hours, which I had planned to use to photograph for the Transitions project. However, a delayed arrival put a spoke in the wheels for that plan.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed photographing for the project wherever I have had a chance. Well, enjoyed as well as dreaded. Because when you go out on the street with a camera, you put yourself on the line. I don’t mean literally risking anything (that is, you can of course). What I purport to is the emotional risk; you own insecurity when facing strangers and wanting to photograph them, the discomfort of imposing yourself on others, or even just stealing a moment of their lives.

One of my ideas behind the project is to capture how we human beings are formed by the culture we live in. For instance, our appearance on the street is different in Calcutta than say in Panama or New York. It’s the way we clothe, but also expressed through attitude and temperament. Of course, in our modern, globalized world these differences fades, but still, on a general level, it’s mesmerizing to notice the kaleidoscope of different forms our appearance take from one place to another.

Generally, cities act as interfaces for human beings. They are places we congregate, but not the least places of transitions. We pass through cities to get from one place to another. While transiting, we continuously encounter other fellow human beings, randomly and only for brief moments. Most of them we will never meet again. Yet, we move through cities with acute awareness about how others will conceive of us. We put up a façade; make a display of what we want our fellow human beings to think of us. Thus, cities also become vehicles for a personal transition, from private to public person.

I just read something that stroked me personally. It was words by David Campany, writer, curator and artist, in a foreword written to the book Easy West that showcases less known images by the photographer Harry Gruyaert. Campany writes: “Observational photographers are often lone figures themselves, never quite sure of their aims, hoping something will happen. Through a kind of empathy, they will photograph people in similarly existential or marginal situations. But to be drawn to this in a town so explicitly dedicated to the pursuit of enjoyment is an act, conscious or not, of distance. Wariness, even.”

Here are some of the images I from my last shoot in Seattle. They were actually captured before Christmas, but only lately have I had time to edit and process them.

55 thoughts on “Transitions

  1. Now and then I try some ‘street’ but I’m so uncomfortable when I do, these are wonderful Otto, I like the way you’ve made the environment dark to highlight the people.

  2. Jag uppskattar verkligen ditt senaste projekt…Transitions…och bilderna talar sitt eget språk. Ett språk som jag tar till mig, ett språk som jag förstår och även försöker förmedla när jag tar mig an “Sreetphoto”. Jag älskar ju djur, men lika fascinerande är det att fota människor i städer…pulsen, tillfälligheterna och det snabba…att fånga ögonblicken, att ta vara på blickar, inte minst.
    Ja du Otto, än en gång…det här gillar jag! Ser fram emot fortsättningen!

  3. I want more! I love this sort of “Candid Camera” approach to street photography. And I’m amazed that you must still fight with your insecurities in approaching and capturing people. But it is also good to recognize that this fear attaches itself to the masters as well as the wannabes. I love Campany’s quote.

  4. I admire that you overcome your trepidation about shooting street. I could not do it, I don’t think. I know how I would feel about someone pointing a camera at me and imagine most feel the same. But you have done well with these captures you have shared. I am wondering how you shoot. A friend wears his camera on his belt so as not to be obvious in what he is doing. Most of your images seem to be aimed upward so I wonder if you do the same or just hold the camera low? Of course my assumption could be mistaken. I like the silvery tone you have managed in your processing.

    1. Well observed, Steve. However, I do not photograph with the camera on my belt, but rather in front of me and thus somewhat low. It’s kind of a trick to not get discovered if you want to capture candy photos. On the other hand, when engaging with people you meet on the street, it often turns into a good exchange between both. Which of course is what you hope for in the first place.

  5. Continuing to be intrigued by your writing/thought processes, Otto. I extrapolate from the message(s) you present and use them as my own ladder to and toward improvement. You encourage to experiment, take chances…don’t be lazy…! You know this, my words repeat…you continue to inspire.

    1. That’s lovely of you to say. Thank you. And you are right in that I always – or as much as possible – try to expand my photographic expression. The key is stepping outside the comfort zone…

  6. Interesting topic.. it makes me think how city and people are intertwined. There are continuous transitions between the two. It is hard to tell which is the cause and which is the effect perhaps both were the answer from the beginning.

    Very nice pictures portraying different emotions of people on the street. It is fascinating to pondering about them, isn’t it.

    1. I do try to capture people in the street that might inspire to ponder about their whereabouts and what’s on their mind. And you are right that cities and people are intertwined. Certainly the former doesn’t exist without the latter.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this article – both the thoughts expressed and the accompanying photos. I once had the privilege of watching an eminent stage director conducting a rehearsal. He used the technique of ‘freeze framing’ the action from time to time and interrogating individual characters about what they were thinking. I frequently use this idea when people watching..

  8. My husband and I have spent the last 10 days or so in Arizona…where it’s been between 70 and 30F depending on where we were. Mostly we were in the north and higher elevations so sometimes we were wearing long underwear and hats and gloves. All of it was nicer than it is in Michigan right now where it’s snowing and in the 20s. We’re flying home this evening so I am making the mental transition to my winter mindset. Not something I’m happy about, but I will enjoy sleeping in my own bed! We had some great photography opportunities on this trip, and that part was sure wonderful!

  9. Your photographs always reflect your respect for people, Otto. You create very interesting street scenes, but more than the juxtaposition of the people and activity, you capture something in the people that draws me in; the people are never props! Your thoughts about making yourself vulnerable and recognizing the reciprocity between the photographer and the person being photographed, really interests me. I like the term “observational photographer,” but I feel you go so far beyond observing, and really enter into a relationship.

    1. Those are heart warming words, Debra. Yes, I try to respect people I photograph and try to establish a relationship if possible. However, it’s not always easy, particularly with candid photos. I still hope I am able to approach each and everyone with respect. Thank you for the lovely comment.

  10. this reminds me of my film years, back then i was much more fearless about street photography… i once raised my pentax k1000 to grab a shot of a man near me …. he was blowing his nose fiercely into a handkerchief… i liked the shot very much, and when i showed my dad he said ‘I KNOW THAT GUY!’ lol and it made me inexplicably happy

  11. The paragraph that begins, “Generally…” is very interesting – I think you described what you’re getting at well. The next paragraph adds to that and the images certainly do – expressing a kind of wary sense of being in transition.

  12. There is something about black and white pictures, that capture a distinctive ‘Je ne sais pas quoi’ it is like leaving color out, to focus more on essence, or character.
    Great pictures Otto. 🙂

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