Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.
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.
As I have written before, the photo workshop I taught in Bolivia in the end of September and the beginning of October was a great experience for all, for the participants and the organizers alike.
Bolivia is a splendid country for a photo workshop. The people are open and hospital, the majority of which live a simple and down-to-earth life, their culture rich and colourful and not the least the nature they are surrounded by, with breathtaking mountain ranges, spectacular valleys and lush forests.
As soon as the participants had acclimatized, they captured amazing images, and better and stronger for each day of the workshop, as could be seen in my post Excellent Photography a couple of weeks ago.
Here are a handful of images I was able to capture myself. They don’t come close to what the participants were able to produce. But that’s how it should be, they were in Bolivia to learn and photography, while I was there to teach and guide. I am only happy they got home each with a strong portfolio of Bolivia photos.
Street photography has always been to close to my heart. Remember, I wrote about the importance of shooting from the heart in a post two weeks ago (From the Heart). What draws me to street photography is the feeling of being alive amongst my fellow human beings, seeing and learning from how they each embrace life—at least by their public appearance.
At first look, street photography indeed seems to be about appearance. But it only becomes truly interesting when a photographer is able to dig under the facade we all put up and capture genuine human behaviour and earnest emotional moments. That is when street photography becomes like a universal porthole to life; when it speaks about experiences that we all may share, even when the appearance is utterly unique or uncommon.
Another part of photographing on the street that I like is the challenge it impose. Because it is a challenge to go out and photograph strangers on the street. It’s like putting in a personal investment and not knowing what will happen. Street photographing forces you out of the box, out of the comfort zone, which is always good for any creative endeavour. It generates that little bit of jittering uncertainty and discomfort that may boost you into something extraordinary. Not all the times, but sometimes—when you are willing to let go and just flow with whatever happens. And when that happens, that is when I feel the most alive.
In May this year, I attended a photo workshop in Rome, taught by the visually proficient photographer Martin Bogren. It was five days of intense and good street shooting. Now I have turned what I started in Rome into a new project. Whenever I visit a city, I will allocate time to photograph its streets as I did in Rome. I also plan to go places only with this project in mind. The last couple of weeks, I have been shooting in Seattle. Over the next couple of weeks, I will continue the project first in Panama City and then in Santa Cruz in Bolivia.
These images here, are from Seattle. If you want to have a look of the images from Rome, you will find them on the posts A Roman Stance and Streets of Rome. By the way the project is called “Cities of delution”.
In the moment of capturing a photo lots of brain processing takes place. Depending on the subject and what goes on, I believe in letting the unconscious mind take control, trusting intuition and instincts. Particularly when you play with many balls in the air and when there is plenty of action going on, such as when you photograph on the street, the more you let go of conscious control, the more likely you are to be able to capture something special and out of the ordinary.
In the same newsletter by David duChemin that I referred to last week when I wrote about composition and what is the most important building block for a photograph, he also talks about trusting intuition during the shooting process—or rather not depend on it. DuChemin keenly support the necessity of being intentional when photographing. According to him, it’s the intentional photograph that will grab viewers’ attention, and not the result of the lazy approach of trusting our instinct.
I don’t disagree with him about the need for intention and always asking the question why we want to capture a certain photo. In fact, we may not disagree at all. However, I do trust—and strongly so—instinct and intuition in my photographic approach. Particularly in fast-moving situations, it’s impossible to depend on the slow reaction of the conscious mind.
One of my favourite quotes is by the renowned and ceased Henri Cartier–Bresson. He has stated that thinking should be done beforehand and afterwards—never while actually taking a photograph.
I live by that imperative. Before doing an assignment for instance, I will reflect upon what it is I want to convey in my photographs and how I can put the story I am working on visually together. Those reflections I will bring along when I start shooting, but only in the back of my head. During the actual shooting, I go on automatic mode or rather let my intuition take control. I stop thinking and open my mind to what may come. It’s a state of sensing and reacting. Then afterwards, when I am back from the assignment, I redeploy my conscious mind in the editing process as well as in learning what worked and what didn’t work in the shoot.
I don’t always manage to leave all conscious thinking behind. The result, then, is rather apt to be contrived and less fluid than images I capture with a more intuitive approach. These photos don’t necessarily have that emotional connection that is so important in any imagery. The danger when the conscious mind is in control during photographing is stagnation and replication. When you use what you already know, you will not be able to break out of the known framework of the conscious mind and thus only photograph what you already have done successfully before. Or most likely.
When I manage to transcend the rational approach and instead enter an unconscious flow it clearly reflects in the final result. It happens when I get more emotionally attached to whatever I am photographing and lose myself in the process. I often compare that to tunnel vision as I lose sight of anything else and my mind is completely locked in on whatever I am photographing. I become what I photograph and nothing else exists. For me this is a much more fulfilling process than a fully controlled approach.
For David duChemin, according to what he writes in his latest newsletter, nothing about photography is instinctive. For him it will be the photographer who masters the tools, the craft and all the building blocks that goes into photography—and use them in service of creating something that is the best expression of the wonder we see before us—that will succeed.
Maybe it comes down to how we define and understand the words intuition and instinct. Are they some kind of a seventh sense that we cannot explain? Or are they results of learning processes and ingrained understanding that we use in processing sensory inputs unconsciously? I don’t know. Maybe both. Or maybe not. What I know is that I use the craft, the visual language, the tools and everything that goes into photography, unconsciously in the moment of shooting. After years of photographing and practicing, it’s all ingrained in my memory muscles. The knowledge and the use of it has moved from my explicit to my implicit part of the brain, which is a known fact about how we learn and get better at things. I use this knowledge, but unconsciously. And I let my intuition—whatever it is—decide how to put it all together in the moment of shooting.
I the end I don’t think duChemin and I necessarily disagree. He states, “An intentional approach to photography is not the opposite of the intuitive approach. It’s the prerequisite.” To that I can only agree.
As I mentioned last week David duChemin has a inspiring and thoughtprovocative blog in which he writes about creativity and the photographic process. You find it on his website David du Chemin.