By Stephen Rosenblum
I have long admired and been a collector of candid photographs taken on the street. I also love to travel. Peter Turnley leads street photography workshops at wonderful locations around the world. I have wanted to take one of his workshops for many years. This May the stars aligned—I had the time available, Peter was offering a workshop in Paris, and my lovely wife and I were looking for a place to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary...et, voila! Why not spend a week in Paris during the Spring? On May 12 we boarded an Air France flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and a truly wonderful adventure began.
What can I say about visiting Paris in May that has not already been said in so many poems, songs, and novels? It was absolutely marvelous when we were there. The legendary Parisian light was gorgeous. The place is a feast for the eyes, heart, and soul. A perfect place to wander about learning how to "see." Also, a perfect place to bring a spouse or friend. My wife was delighted to spend the days that I was involved in the workshop wandering the streets of Paris on her own, reuniting with me each evening for long walks and incredible food. Did I mention the food?
The workshop started at 2 p.m. on Sunday and ran through noon the following Saturday. It consisted of individual daily shoots in whatever locations we wished, didactic lectures/group discussions, photo critique/review sessions, and guest lectures/discussions/field trips. The discussions took place at Peter's apartment, which is located in the lovely Marais neighborhood. His apartment is quite comfortable and worked out well for this purpose. In addition, there were group dinners on the second and last nights at a local brasserie. Our travel companions were welcome to attend the dinners and any other sessions of interest.
There were twelve participants in my workshop. I found that I received plenty of individual attention from Peter and that the interaction with the other students added a great deal to my experience. I was very impressed with my fellow students. Their ages ranged from the early 30s to 70 or so; four were women. Our group was made up of eleven Americans and one Canadian. They were a varied and interesting lot. All were passionate amateur photographers dedicated to getting the most out of our week together. The group really bonded and have remained in email contact since the end of the workshop.
The technical aspects of the workshop were mercifully brief: 1. Shoot wide—Peter asked that we use a single focal length wide angle lens in the range of 28–35mm field of view (FOV) either by using a prime or fast wide zoom. If using a zoom, he asked us to actually tape the zoom at that one focal length. 2. Get close. 3. Shoot in shutter-priorty mode at a shutter speed sufficient to freeze action on the street (typically 125th or 250th of a second) and adjust ISO so that the resulting aperture is small enough to provide sufficient depth of field. 4. Try to capture the subjects within their context. 5. Watch your frame lines. 6. No flash. That's it! We didn't discuss gear, RAW vs. JPEG, photo editing software or techniques, or any of that. This is a workshop about content, context, sharing, telling a story, and connecting with the world around us and with the humanistic traditions of the photography that preceded us.
Both film and digital cameras were allowed, though only one person shot with film. Participants used cameras ranging from high-end digicams to DSLRs. In my opinion, the kind of camera each person used had no relation to the quality of the work they produced. We had to commit to one approach for the entire workshop. Four folks shot B&W and the rest shot color. All approaches produced good results.
Shooting on the streets of Paris each day was both a great pleasure and a great challenge for me. Everywhere I looked I could see potential photographs—no problem there. I really struggled psychologically with applying the technique that Peter asked us to use—shoot wide, in close. It is contrary to all of my built-in inhibitions about respecting other people's privacy and space. Peter spent time during the first few days of the course encouraging us to get over these feelings by pushing ourselves to make lots of photographs so that we would see that most people don't seem to mind—and for those that do we can always give an apologetic shrug and wander on to the next opportunity. Acting confident and smiling goes over a lot better with people than lurking around suspiciously. I did my best to follow his suggestions. The first day I asked everyone for permission, and my photographs were pretty awful. From then on I tried my best to capture candid moments, but I was not as successful at overcoming my own psychological barriers as some of the other students, and I think that their images were better for it.
(Continued in Part II)
(My friend Steve Rosenblum is a cardiologist and healthcare IT consultant who enjoys flyfishing and photography. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Breckenridge, Colorado. —MJ)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by MM: "So Steve Rosenblum is a Cardiologist and Healthcare IT Consultant who enjoys flyfishing and photography?
Is there any commercial market for the fish (let alone the satisfaction) you get from flyfishing? No? And yet people still bother to do it?
Seriously, I don't know why, but I found this writeup somehow comforting, in the sense of being reminded that important things continue to thrive: things like the beauty of Paris and street-photography-as-each-is-free-to-define-it and photographers from far afield gathering over good food and wine to talk about life and photography. If those things don't constitute good living, I'm not sure what does."