Street Photography ~~ Quick Tips

January 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

We’re all in a rush all of the time, so this year I am starting Quick Tips as part of my Brooklyn NY Photo Adventures Blog.  Here’s the first one for 2014.

You are photographing in the snow on a sunny day. Here’s a tip:  Take your camera reading.  Then increase your exposure +1 to +2 stops.   The reasoning ~~ most in-camera exposures will automatically go to grey tones.  Increasing exposure will give more detail to the objects and/or people in the image.  Also, this is the perfect time to bracket.

Remember: Early morning or late afternoon sun casts a great light on snow.

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Street Photography: Women Photographers ~~ A View of One’s Own

January 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

In Viginia Woolf’s 1929 landmark essay, A Room of One’s Own (Shakespeare’s sister), she questions what would have happened to Shakespeare’s equally talented sister if she had wanted to act or write in the 1600’s.  It would have been impossible!

Woolf discusses how from time immemorial women simply were not on the map of literature (at least not until the 1800’s).  It wasn’t that women didn’t have the intelligence or ability but that they were politically, economically and socially shackled.  She underscores the need for money plus the physical and mental space to create.  Therefore, she terms it  “a room of one’s own”.

Women’s role in street photography has much the same history as women’s literature.  In the beginning of photography in the mid-1800’s,  it would have been impossible for a “respectable” woman to be on the streets wandering about taking photographs.   Also, most women did not have the money for equipment or a place to train.  However, for women of the upper and bourgeois class, cameras were available.   For them it was a permissible pastime to indulge in family and friends’ portrait photography, along with needlepoint, drawing and music.

Unique in that period of time is Jane Martha St. John (England, 1801-1882).  She was born into a privileged family, which had connections to the pioneers of photography. Late in life, in her forties she married and took up photography.  When she and her husband traveled she captured images of the places they visited.  Outstanding and still in existence are 100 photographs she took in the spring of 1856 while traveling in Italy.  They were street scenes that included hotels, monuments and the waterfront.  The work was well composed and atmospheric.  Even more importantly, it is documented as being done by a woman.

As the 19th century drew to a close the role of women changed as more women started working in professional capacities, particularly in the United States.  At the same time, photographic technology had advanced allowing for much lighter weight cameras, easier exposure/focus and the ability to send film to labs for developing.  Women opened portrait studios, photographed architecture and rural life, and became photojournalists.

Jessie Tarbox Beals (born Canada 1870, moved to United States, died New York 1942) She was pioneer, known as the first woman press photographer and first “known” woman to photograph at night.

In 1902 she was hired as a staff photographer for the Buffalo Inquirer and Buffalo Courier.  Thereafter, her work was seen in diverse newspapers and magazines including Outing, The Craftsman, American Homes and Gardens, Bit and Spur, Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar, The Christian Science Monitor, McClure’s Magazine and The New York Times.   She did a series of photographs of Bohemian Greenwich Village and of New York City slums.

Ms. Beals was adventurous and innovative, even teaching herself how use flash powder to in order make photos at night.  And she was an inspiration to the women who followed her.  Much of her work has disappeared and her later years were a time of poverty.

Alice Austen (United States, 1866-1952) was one of the first women photographers to take seriously the life of the streets, spending several years making portraits of various people at work.   That portfolio, Street Types of New York, was published in 1896.  She photographed whatever her curiosity drew her to ~~ parades, special events and the newly arrived immigrants who lived in the lower part of Manhattan.

It is interesting to note that when she was about 10 years old her uncle gave her a camera.  Early on she learned how to process film and make prints.  Her work has been conserved and the place she grew up in is a museum now  ~~ The Alice Austen House (aliceausten.org/).  Unfortunately, her later years were also filled with poverty.

Mention of must be made of two French women who documented everyday life as well:  Amélie Galup (France, 1856-1943) and Jenny de Vasson (France, 1872-1920).

The 20th Century brought further technological changes in photography.  New lighter weight cameras allowed for easier capture of city scenes.  Not just men but more women began using cameras to document life on the street.  And street photography became a legitimate genre.  At the same time social and economic changes for women were tremendous.  Their photographic work was earning them respect and money in advertising, photojournalism and art.

Dora Maar (France, 1907–1997) was both a commercial and a street photographer in the 1920s and 30s.  She photographed street scenes in Paris, London, and Barcelona.  Deeply involved in the Surrealist movement, that influence is evident in her photography.  Also, obvious is her respect for the people of the street who she photographed.

Berenice Abbott (United States, 1898-1991), an American icon, famous for her black-and-white photography of New York’s architecture in the 1930s.  She was a darkroom assistant to Man Ray in Paris from 1923-1925.  She was instrumental in saving and preserving Eugene Atget’s work.  Her work is known worldwide and included in many museum collections.

Emmy Andriesse (The Netherlands, 1914-1953), best known for her work with the Underground Camera group (De Ondergedoken Camera) during World War II.  Andriesse photographed daily life in Amsterdam during its “winter of hunger” in 1944-45.  As a Jew in hiding she risked her life to capture these street images.

Lisette Model (Austria 1901-1983), famous for her series of rich people lounging on the Promenade des Anglaise in Nice, France on the eve of the Second World War.  Her work is uncompromising, exposing both decadence and vulgarity.  Model’s photography is included in museums and private collections.

Rebecca Lepkoff (United States, born 1916), is well known for her street scenes and images of Jewish immigrants on the lower Eastside of Manhattan in the 1940s.  Then she photographed Hispanic life in the 1950s in the same area and every group of people who have arrived ever since.

* * *

In all the photography courses I took there were only a few women ever mentioned.  I went forward anyway.  But it was a thrill each time I discovered the history of another woman street photographer.  These photographers with “a view of their own” inspire with their courage, creativity and fortitude.

To be continued . . .

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Street Photography: Time

December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Time is the essence of all photography:  time that slips between one’s fingers, time that slips between the eyes, the time of things and the time of people, the time of the light and the time of the emotion . . . time that will never be the same again.”

I cut this quote out ages ago and do not know from whom or where it comes.  However, it became my first mantra.

Time and the seasonal movement of the earth around the sun, the moon around the earth and the light and darkness connected to that movement influences every moment of my street photography.

There is yet another reality of time that has become my mantra and that is what I call “standing on time.”  I started feeling it when I first walked in Paris ~~ seeing and feeling the layers of centuries all around me.  All the history and literature ~~ Balzac, Zola, Proust ~~ I could breathe it, feel it.  I was standing on time.  And the way I perceived was irrevocably changed.

“People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between the past, the present and the future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”    Albert Einstein

 And with that, because this is a rushed time of year, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  See you in 2014!

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Street Photography: Bad Weather Shooting

December 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Rain and snow are opportunities for fabulous street photography.  Reflections and illumination from neon, streetlights and cars provide that Bam! effect.  Lens flare and refraction enhance the slant of the rain or snow.  You get to capture the great motion of people rushing to get out of the bad weather.  All fantastic but there is a downside ~~ you are freezing or soaking if you are not properly prepared.  And what about your expensive equipment?

Here are some tips:

  • I always carry a couple of plastic bags just in case there is an unexpected rain shower.  One bag has a hole cut to the lens size and a rubber band to secure it around the lens.  The other plastic bag is if I want to get down on the sidewalk for a low shot.  Cheap way to protect your equipment.
  • Ran over to B&H to check out some rain equipment.  My guy recommended the Kata line of rain cover equipment.  Not cheap but probably a good investment.   For the time being I opted for Op/Tech USA Rainsleeve.  Two to a package and only $6.  They probably won’t last more than 4 or 5 outings but it’s what I could afford at this moment.  Used one today in the snow and it did protect the camera – a bit awkward at first use.
  • Weather proof camera bag –This is street photography not trekking through a rain forest or jumping into the ocean to swim ashore to land.  There are camera bags from several different companies that cover those needs with a wide price range.  For street photography, a bag that is weather proof with an all weather cover included should be sufficient.  If you already have a camera bag that you like, there are all weather covers that you can purchase.
  • Keep one of those little Silica gel packets in your camera bag.  They are meant to absorb moisture.
  • If you plan to be shooting in the rain, carry a small lightweight umbrella to protect your camera as you shoot.  Find dry spots from which to shoot — doorways or under awnings.
  • Carry paper towels just in case your camera gets wet.  ASAP dry your camera. Use that lens cleaning cloth.  Leave the camera out overnight when you get home.  This also goes for when you are shooting in very cold or snowy weather.  Put it in a cool place and leave it out overnight.  The same goes for your camera bag if it gets wet –- let it dry out overnight before putting your camera back in it.

The most precious equipment you have is you!    So dress right:

  • Rain ponchos with hoods are great for bad weather.
  • Hand warmers in your pockets for cold weather aside from gloves/mittens and all the other requisite winter clothing.
  • Moisture proof boots are a must.
  • Baby wipes in a sandwich bag – we street photographers tend to get our hands dirty.
  • Stay out of thunderstorms.
  • Check the weather predictions.

Many years ago, I looked out the window and saw it was snowing.  I immediately called a fellow photographer and said, “Let’s go to Coney Island and shoot.  It’ll be great.”  By the time we got there it was coming down so heavily that you couldn’t see but a foot or two in front.  As we trekked along for just a couple of blocks, I noticed the snow was covering up to my knees.  “Jeez,” I said, “These drifts are high.”  Frozen, we sought shelter and warmth at Nathan’s.  When we got back I turned on the TV and heard the news that the storm was dumping 26 inches of snow.  Luckily we had got one of the last trains out from Coney Island.

Happy and safe shooting!

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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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Street Photography — Falling in Love Again

June 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sometimes no matter how much you love your work, you can burn out, lose your inspiration.  But then you go out, expecting nothing and you fall in love all over again.

So there I am in Coney Island early in the day.  It’s all overcast and peaceful, the ocean misted silver green.  Somewhere in the distance a ship’s foghorn gives its mournful call.  I breathe in that special saltwater smell mixed with Nathan’s first French fries of the day.

I wander – construction workers are everywhere building, rebuilding.  Inside a new glass pavilion, the totally refurbished Carousell turns round with the Coney Island-style carved horses snorting and straining.  Colors popping.  I am a child again on the merry-go-round. 

A couple of old timers chat on a boardwalk bench, classic Salsa music fills in the pauses in their conversation.  Men work on the parachute installing 8,000 LED lights.  New rides, new restaurants, new walkways, a renovated pier.  Super Storm Sandy adios!

All the rawness and gutsy verve of Coney is still there.  I was in love again  ~~ shooting, trying to capture all that wonder.  Que viva street photography! ImageImageImage