31 Jan On street photography
These last few weeks have been all about pitching my portfolio to potential clients. It’s grinding hard work, especially since it leaves me with little free time to make new portraits or travel photography. This leaves me with a conundrum: as a professional photographer I need to make photographs in order to keep my portfolio up to date. What to do when I’m buckled down at my desk? The answer arrived in the form of Olympus’s month-long street photography theme on social media (via @olympusuk and MyOlympus – I shoot exclusively with Olympus kit). It got me thinking more critically about some of my older work, and about what street photography means to me.
I think street photography is a vibrant art form. Some of my favourite photographers made or make exceptional street photography, much of which hooked in to their commercial or documentary work. There’s a lot to be said for those rare pictures that expertly capture a revealing moment between people. It’s what hooked me in to street photography while I was living in the Middle East: an excuse to explore the world with a little more attention, and to record something of life’s daily dramas along the way.
When I started out I followed what might be termed the conventional street photography aesthetic: black and white, always on the street, always trying to get as close as possible to my subjects. It’s a style that has worked well for many (but not all) street photographers, but sometimes I worry the convention is limiting. In reviewing my archive I’ve found that I’m actually starting to prefer colour work; that I like compositions where my subjects have room to ‘breathe’; and that cafes, railway stations, beaches and hills are just as fertile as streets for finding the ‘decisive moment’. More than anything, as time has gone on I’ve grown more and more interested in the quality of light in a scene, and in the impact light and shade can have.
I’ve also found it easier to be critical about my earlier work, and to consign a lot of fairly bland strangers-on-streets pictures to the deeper recesses of my archive. I used to try to post daily on Flickr, but now I feel better able to accept that I can’t make a good picture every single day – at least not if I want to feel proud about it years later. I think Ansel Adams put it well: “Twelve significant photographs in one year is a good crop”.
Reviewing my archive has been a useful exercise in helping me define my style, and in considering what I loved about the style that got me into photography in the first place. I might not be out on the streets as often as I used to be, but as I trawl through the files I feel the pull of street photography once again – and it might not be long before I indulge…