On being a photographer
I read something that resonated with me recently and I wanted to both share it with anyone that would like to read it, as well as discuss my thoughts on why these couple of paragraphs weighed on my mind for a while. I think that this process of writing some text might help me take the words apart and analyse them for myself, so here we go. This is the short statement that I found on a site that I have been spending a lot of time on recently. I have stated already that an addiction to Japanese photo books is on the way, the site sells a lot of great titles. But this statement was on their main section: "To me, the recent use of the term street photographer is similar to calling oneself artist or art photographer with an intention to add artificial value. I don’t think any respectable practitioner worth their salt would proclaim themselves with this title in this day and age. Nonetheless it appears that it is often banded around, especially on the social interwebs, with an intention to gain credibility or cool the same way teenagers would display branded clothes or gear to gain attention from peers or lowly outsiders.
Photographing strangers in public is neither new, nor does it deserve our increased attention or respect, especially when it is obvious that the photographer has no real interest in the subject except as a means to get the next best 15 seconds of fame and bizarrely unreal looking decisive moment. What Shinya Arimoto is presenting here could not be more different. The photos show that an interaction between photographer and subject must have taken place before and during which the photographs were made. Arimoto does not steal the moment while passing a subject and never shall the two meet again; instead he engages on a fair exchange, respectful and sustainable so that an ensuing photographic encounter would not appear unreasonable to either side."
I have left in the section about the artists they are referring to with the first part of the statement, but it is really the first paragraph and the start of the second that hit home with me. That along with the wonderful images of Shinya Arimoto as well, I encourage you to have a look through the other links out from the page above to get a feel for his work. Quite amazing.
Pretty simple thing that I am going to say about this first, and thats this. Its a kick arse statement. Its a statement that I agree with 100% in every way. Street Photography right now is a weird beast. It was one of those moments where I read the statement and something just clicked with me.
I guess one of the questions that it raised for me, is what even is Street Photography. Its something that people on social media are wanting to label themselves with at the moment. Its the cool thing to be, and the cool thing to say.
"Im a Street Photographer".... Well guess what, no, youre probably not. Not that it really matters anyway...
It would be an interesting, but also time consuming, and likely fruitless exercise to go through all the people that like to call themselves a Street Photographer and ask them to define it. I dont think that you would get one clear statement from people. This is different to asking a group of landscape photographers what landscape photography was, or architecture for that matter... What about portrait photography, yeah no worries, that easy. Street Photography and a definition, hard work.
Maybe this is due to the fact that the people who actually are referred to as the masters of the genre of Street Photography likely wouldnt call themselves Street Photographers at all. Maybe its kind of like a Buddhist enlightenment riddle where in order to become a Street Photographer, you actually need to just be... I dont know, and more to the point, I dont really care.
I help out on a couple of street photography sites online, I have mentioned them before. The work that gets submitted to each of them is very different. Is it all Street Photography, no, probably not. Some of it is clearly landscape work. Some is clearly family photos as well for that matter. But does it matter? This is the hard question. For the purpose of us as admins sitting there and policing what we expect, it likely does. We want consistency to the pool of images that we collect in these groups, but I dont think that I am any more qualified than the next person to tell them whats what. Is it Street, I might not think so, but you know what, someone else might.
Maybe this is the mystery of the whole thing. Maybe people are striving to define something that is not definable. Maybe its actually nothing to do with what others think, but everything to do with what you think. If you think youre a Street Photographer then maybe thats all that matters. But somehow I think there is a little more. But there is one thing that I am very clear on. That is that a good picture is still a good picture. It doesnt matter if its a street image or not. All that matters is that I as the viewer of the picture am able to connect in some way to the photo and the artist through their vision.
So shoot film, shoot digital, shoot iPhone... Who cares, just shoot. Shoot candid, shoot still life, shoot people, shoot dogs... Shoot in urban populated areas, or shoot in the mountains in the middle of know where, just shoot well. Learn about the trade and learn about what makes a good image. Train your eye see new things around you when you are out walking. Learn to appreciate light and shade. Learn to appreciate colour and shape. Learn to edit your work and only show the world the pictures that really show the vision that you had before pressing the shutter.
So I am going to make a bit of a deal with myself. I am going to shoot things that I like shooting, and I am going to make images that I feel like making at that time. I dont care what genre it is that I end up being labeled as, as long as I am happy with the work that I am showing. As long as I am happy with the work that I am making. This is the most important for me. I make pictures as a release from the everyday tasks that I have to undertake at work, tasks that I do enjoy, but tasks that are forced upon me. The is no way that I am going to let anyones preconceived ideas about what images I should be making, based on what is the cool thing to be making images of at the moment, have any impact on the final products that I decide to put out there.
I will finish with one further statement that I heard Martin Parr make in an interview lately. This will be paraphrased as I dont know the exact words.
"In order to make one great picture, you have to take a tonne of rubbish ones"
Martin says he has taken more rubbish ones that anyone!