street photography and the struggle for ideas

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It’s funny: I never thought that in a place like Seattle would be difficult to find things to photograph. But errands pile up, routines form, photogenic paths either go unnoticed or walked too often. In an attempt to see the same old differently, i’m frantically looking for resources online and in print. This lecture is particularly excellent. It really opened my eyes to just how much compositional skill it takes to be a street photographer. I’ve dismissed street photography as an art reserved for people who look for stories and don’t mind interacting with strangers to get those stories. Having never been good at storytelling, I avoided street photography. My impulse with street photography is usually to photograph homeless people, but unless you’re documenting something about them and highlighting these people’s lives for others to understand ad empathize with, that’s misery tourism and is a despicable thing to do. So I don’t do it. For the most part.

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So, street photography. In my brief experience it’s been about finding a frame and waiting for someone to walk into it. That’s what’s happening here. I saw the wall; there were no cars in the way, just the construction and the guy walking. I really like the tension created by a figure walking out of the frame, so I waited for him to get to a place that about mirrored the position of the support beam, and i took the photo. The motion blur could have been avoided, but I figured i’d give it a go with the low shutter speed i had available at f/2.8 and ISO 1600, which turned out to be 1/13. I like how it tuned out. His blur is a nice contrast to the rest of the very static image. Not to say that it’s anywhere in the same league as the Henri Cartier Bresson, but it sort of has that feel to it. I understand that in his case, the blur was probably a technical limitation, but it works, so until I develop my own way of seeing, i will steal liberally.

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‘SAD LAST DAYS’ was a photo I didn’t want to take, but felt like I had to. As I mentioned earlier, I try to avoid misery tourism, but what’s happening here, made me stop in my tracks. It’s not a great photograph necessarily, so I’ll point out the 2 things that caught my eye: the (i think) high art gallery with the sign that reads ‘SAD LAST DAYS’ and what appears to be a homeless person sleeping (or at least the belongings of one) in the tram station. I just couldn’t help but take a photo of such a sharp contrast between these human experiences. I suppose I should say, ‘make a photo’, but I won’t because I don’t really like this photo as an image.

Here’s the breakdown of the good, the bad, and what could have been done better. The good: I think that I did a pretty okay job framing the blanket and the ‘sad days’ in a way that keeps them central and once you see the blanket, those are the 2 focal points. Here’s the bad: it’s too busy. It’s too busy and none of the lines align with the most important element in the photo: the blanket. It’s a vertical photo of horizontal lines and that just doesn’t work in this case. There’s too much stuff going on above the window and below the platform that does not add to the image. I took a horizontal version, which is a better composition (the second one), but sadly it’s blurry. What could have been done better: in this case Robert Capa’s quote ‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’ is probably the advice to take. I should have probably come closer, and taken the shot in landscape. Oh well. Next time.