Where do I start?
Probably with more sadness. A lot of you know this is a pretty musical house. And, I tell you this is getting old. Very old. Probably one of my favorite Glenn Frey songs goes a little like this…
“There’s trouble on the streets tonight
I can feel it in my bones, I had a premonition
That he should not go alone
I knew the gun was loaded
But I didn’t think he’d kill
Everything exploded, and the blood began to spill
So baby, here’s your ticket
Put the suitcase in your hand, here’s a little money now
Do it just the way we planned
You be cool for twenty hours, and I’ll pay you twenty grand
I’m sorry it went down like this
And someone had to lose, it’s the nature of the business
It’s the smuggler’s blues, smuggler’s blues”
— Smugglers Blues — Glenn Frey & Jack Tempchin
— RIP Glenn Frey
You know where I work. That may be why I like this song. It just wrote to a friend of mine that I work in “sporty” neighborhoods.
I thought I’d talk about portraits. Street portraits. Ones that are made in a few minutes. Ones the depend on a smile, a little photographer’s patter, good situational knowledge, knowing your gear and a lot of luck.
So, let’s start. There’s a lot of talk about street photography these days. Actually, that’s getting a little old too. It started when Fuji, Olympus and Sony started releasing small but high quality cameras. Overnight, seemingly, all sorts people became street photographers. Yes. Of course street photography was around long before that. I could rattle off about 50 names of really good street practitioners. Mostly, they worked with Leicas. Their pictures defined street photography. If they didn’t directly engage their subjects, they made pictures that told a story.
Today? Not so much.
There are pictures floating around all over the internet that claim to be examples of street photography. The pictures have been taken from across the street, from behind the apparent subject, often from the hip.
It appears the people who took the pictures were afraid of their subjects. That’s no good. I’m not sure that the bulk of those pictures mean anything. To anybody. Yeah. Sure, sometimes a picture taken from behind the subject adds to the graphics of the image and tells a story. Sometimes, it’s the light that makes the picture shot across the street. But, that’s rare. As in maybe one out of a thousand. Or more.
So I say, engage your subject. Talk to them. Make a friend. Don’t sneak up behind them. Take a portrait. It’s not the easiest thing to do. I’m sort of shy. At times I can be awfully introverted. Stick a camera in my hand and I’m Superman. I’m not stupid fearless, but my personality changes. I guess I like learning about people. I like seeing them be real in their real place. In their neighborhood. During a quiet moment in a normally chaotic event.
Here’s few things that I like to do.
I try real hard to make an environmental portrait. The person and their place. But, I’m fluid and flexible. Sometime a frame filling face makes the picture. Like the lead picture on this post. Or, the picture I call “Star-Star.” It’s also not the “decisive moment.” That’s different kind of street photography.
The second thing I believe is that you have to know your photo gear. You can’t be fumbling around while you are trying to take a picture of somebody that you just met two minutes ago.
Third. Smile. This is supposed to be fun. You’ll set your subject at ease.
Fourth. Don’t sneak around. Ask. Talk. If your intended subject asks why you are taking the picture, tell them what attracted them to you. See the picture called “It’s all in the signs?” I quickly explained that he was standing in front of a great background. When I was about half-finished I flipped the camera around and showed him the picture on the LCD. Once he saw that, he started using his hands. Yes. He is the proud — I hope — owner of a signed Ray Laskowitz print.
Fifth. This is a huge benefit. You know how I wrote I work in sporty neighborhoods? I’ve made myself known to enough people that I’m fairly safe because of that.
Oh. See that picture called, “New Work?” It’s really new. I made that on Sunday walking back from the second line. I saw the sign. I saw the man. I asked if he minded. He nodded for me to take pictures. I think he’s a ringer. Heh! He kept moving through the light in various poses. He knew what he was doing. Sometimes that happens. That makes me smile.