Street Photography: And The Movies

November 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

I love movies!  In particular, I love movies that are shot on the streets of the city where the story takes place.  Yesterday, I again watched François Truffaut‘s great film, The 400 Blows.   From the first frame it is apparent that street photography is an integral part of the film.

The 400 Blows was shot on the streets of Paris, from La Tour Eiffel to Montmartre and in the 9th Arrondissement, a seedy working-class neighborhood at the time (1959).  Truffaut’s first full-length film, it was a very personal, raw story of a neglected boy barely out of childhood.  Shot with a handheld camera capturing everyday moments, there is a sense of realism, of the grit and magic of Parisian streets for a young boy.  It is an intense viewing experience.

Directed and written by Truffaut (along with Marcel Moussy), photographed by Henri Decaë (well-known cinematographer who also worked with Melville, Malle and Chabrol), it is a gem of a movie and a must-see for anyone interested in street photography and movies.  It was part of the beginning of French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) cinema.  The auteurs had limited budgets and shot on the streets of Paris not only for atmosphere but because it was free.  However, just as important, New Wave films were also a rebellion against the traditional movie narrative.

While watching The 400 Blows I thought of another film I had seen called Little Fugitive.  After a bit of research I found that Truffaut credited “the American director Morris Engel and his film Little Fugitive with helping to start the French New Wave, when he said ‘Our French New Wave would never have come into being, if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel who showed us the way to independent production with (this) fine movie.’”*

Little Fugitive is a 1953 movie that is the truest portrait of Brooklyn that I have ever seen.  That’s saying a lot since I am a native Brooklynite.  The story is simple and straightforward — two little brothers are left to their own devices and they get into trouble.  What makes the movie brilliant are the non-professional actors and the use of a handheld 35mm camera on the streets of Brooklyn and in Coney Island, a Coney Island which disappeared within a decade.

The photography in Coney Island is extraordinary, in particular:  the rain scene, the scene under the Boardwalk with sunlight through the slats, the couple necking, the amusement rides including a pony ride, the crowded beach, and the fairways teeming with people. Coney Island shot at night is top photography.  All of it was enormously magical and frightening from the child’s point of view.  All of it for the viewer is charming and just a little sad.

Fugitive was written, directed and photographed by the team of Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin and Raymond Abrashkin.  Engel and Orkin were both photographers and Abrashkin was a writer.  Both Engel and Abrashkin were born and grew up in Brooklyn; I am sure this highly influenced the very intimate nature of the film.  An absolute visual treasure.

I want to mention one more movie that has an incredible story and great street photography — The French Connection.  Filmed in 1971 it has dynamite photography of dozens of locations in New York City, a city that was then a lot grittier, tougher, and on the verge of bankruptcy.  The electrifying chase scene under the elevated train is one of the all time great movie moments.  Another movie I’ve watched many times.

In all of these films, street photography not only creates an authentic geography, the city itself becomes one of the characters.  Through the visuals of the streets, we see layers of society, history, the culture of that time ~~ as if encapsulated in amber.

Which movies shot on city streets are your favorites?  Look forward to hearing from you.

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*en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_New_Wave

A LESSON IN STREET PHOTOGRAPHY: GRATITUDE

November 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

How lucky can a street photographer get?  She can be in Paris.  She can be surrounded by “Le Crew,” a group of talented photographers.  She can have the privilege of being with them for several night shoots.

One unforgettable, outstanding night is called Nuit Blanche.  From 7:00 o’clock at night until 7 o’clock in the morning, on the first Saturday in October, several Paris arrondissements are magically converted into a fantastic fair of the arts.  This year it was capped off by Fujiko Nakaya’s “Fog Installation” set in Place de la République.

This astonishing creation constantly emitted an artificial fog that adjusted and altered depending upon the light and the presence of people walking through it.  Truly it was magical and strange being lost in the heavy mist.  Silhouettes, sidewalk reflections varied — sometimes stark, sometimes muted.  It was crowded, some moments you could not see but a foot ahead, sound strangely reverberated.  All your senses heightened and muffled at the same time.  A totally disorienting experience as you tried to find a focus for a shot capturing the experience.  Exhilarating and a grand finale to a night of shooting with Le Crew.

Le Crew regularly gets together for night shoots.  I was the newcomer.  Le Maître/Le Cercle Rouge (www.flickr.com/photos/gambetta/) is a friend and we have photographed together both in Paris and New York.  A thousand thanks to him for arranging the evening with this group.  Each member is fun and funny, intelligent, and has the proverbial “joie de vivre.”  It was a very easy camaraderie.  Even though we were in very close proximity there was never an awkward moment.   It was a natural choreography as we wandered the streets capturing Paris at night.

Each one of Le Crew has a very individual vision.  And their manner of shooting is unique to them.  Le Maître circles about like a Ninja tango dancer.  M. Pat  (www.flickr.com/photos/fotopat)  is totally relaxed and quietly goes about getting his shot.  Smoke-head (www.flickr.com/photos/smoke-head) is absolutely fearless about where and whom he aims at!!!   Hablablow shoots following the moment and its feeling (http://guillaume-stricher.eion.me/).

I want to mention one other occasion when le Maître, Smoke-head and I were guided through the 10th Arrondissement by TOF alias Christophe Hue (www.flickr.com/photos/25634696@N06/), an incredible photographer who can just walk up to a scene and shoot as if there he was not there.  Also, his unique angling was a joy to watch.

As we compared our photos and after we posted many of them, I asked Le Crew a single question:

What is the most important aspect to you when shooting street photography?

Here are their answers:

Le Maitre ~~ I would say that for me it’s “The music of chance,” (French,  “La musique du hasard“.) The random aspect of it would be the most important.  The Paul Auster book title, the association of these two words, defines perfectly the mood I’d like to be in.  It’s a mix of wandering and “research”; wandering to the rhythm of music you have in the head, and maybe finding, or not, an unexpected image.

Hablablow ~~ Whether I’m shooting in the street depends of my level of openness at the moment I decide to pull out my phone to catch a scene.  I need to be open and the mood plays an important role first, as a trigger.  I won’t take any shots at certain periods, just because I’m not available.  Environment comes next.  Since the color is very attractive for me, having a clear light is very important.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful light in Paris most of the time.

When we go out shooting as a crew, it’s usually at night.  These hang outs are very much oriented toward exchange and sharing moments with each other and explorations.  Exploring a city at night is a privileged and unique moment with high levels of contrasts between the quiet and the noisy, the light and the dark. Sharing these creative moments with good friends inside a crew is a wonderful experience and it gives you strength.

M. Pat ~~ I love to take pictures of my environment, anywhere I may be.  Living in Paris is a good starting point for “street photography”.  I love common things, banality, and I’m always trying to find the right angle to make them turn interesting.

I love the beautiful light of mornings and evenings, night ambiances, rain, buildings and people above all.  My goal is to be able to sublimate all these elements separately or by mixing them.

Finally and mainly “street photography” is a good reason to do great walks and drink beers with friends (even if it’s also a solitary pleasure).

Smoke-head ~~ It had to happen to me once, and today is the day I’m asked this question:  What makes me shoot a spot in the street?  Actually, the question is quite difficult to answer, as I shoot in the street just because everything, and I mean all things, are an opportunity to shoot.

I grew up in the Parisian suburbs and I now live in Paris.  My first camera came to me accidentally when I was 14/15 and I immediately felt like I had to capture instants, photos are instants that erase the time around.  It became a reflex, an expensive one at that time.  By the way, I’m wondering if being into photography was not an elitist hobby.  Well, either you like shooting or not!

What is the most important thing to me when I shoot in the street?

Finally, nothing particular. I would walk by a place ten times without noticing anything and then suddenly one day, at a very unique moment, this place becomes a photo that I want to catch or that I have dreamt to catch. Be it the light, the situation, a tag, something new that caught my sight.  My eyes, my feeling require this photo.

For several months now, I have been shooting the street by night.  I must confess that I was not ready for that, but I have good friends and teachers.  Le Cercle Rouge (aka the Master), Hablablow, M. Pat and TOF agreed to take me on their night walks where I met her Majesty “Rue la Nuit” (if I may call it like a person), inspiring me more than “Rue le Jour” for its complexity and mystery.  There is a challenge, even a fight between us and I have to work hard to get what I see. To me, “Rue la Nuit” is fierce, wants to be seduced and to know me better before showing off in front of the lens.  The more I shoot it the more I want to shoot.

“Rue la Nuit” is rarely there, except maybe on that October night, during the White Nights organized by the City of Paris. A small group of passionate people, Le Cercle Rouge, Hablablow, M. Pat and I walked by the main spots and secret streets of Paris. Most of my photos were shot randomly, without preparation, without even considering, and the results were unexpectedly superb.  Was “Rue la Nuit” available that day?  It is a mystery, we will never know.

With our cameras, we feel like kings of the street, but her Majesty is not keen on choosing one.

TOF alias Christophe ~~ Light is often decisive for me.  Light gives me the desire to remove the camera from the bag, to play with shadows in spring time, capture winter night ambiances, or the first rays of sun on a cold winter.

Then comes wandering, often long endless walks in common areas, losing myself, trying to make myself one with the city.  Becoming invisible for a few seconds to shoot closer to people, often lonely people who are lost in their thoughts.  From a café terrace, behind a bus window or in the metro, I’m waiting for the right expression, sometimes provoking their look, and then I shoot.

Rather lonesome, I love more and more shooting in a group with friends, their keen eyes, and their quick and instinctive images.  Paris is becoming a playground, the playground of shared pleasures.

THANK YOU LE CREW

To see my work on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/apple_blues/)

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