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Wednesday, 10 July 2019


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I think that approach is very valid and advantageous for street portraits, but not necessarily street photography in general. It's unfortunate that they're grouped together in a lot of people's minds because they are wildly different types of photography. Would we have great work from Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson if they stopped to engage everyone first?

Yes yes yes! I am so - more than tired, frustrated, disgusted, even - with 'Street Photographers' talking about how they hide the fact they are taking someone's picture. 'Taking' a photograph is the right word here, you are taking something. When you take things from people, you ask.

I love the fuji instant printer for this kinda thing - you talk with someone, take a picture, and then give them a copy right there. I used to use an SX-70, but time's moved on - but the joke we used to make that 'if you have a polaroid you have a friend' holds true - sharing something with a stranger makes them less of one.

I think you are right on target, and I think it shows in the pictures.
Sort of the difference between pictures Taken, and pictures Given, or Earned. The latter is so much better when possible.

I also realize that it is not always possible, we are out, we see a picture, we take it. Nor am I talking about reportage, But as we get closer and the pictures are more intimate there seems to be a line that gets crossed.

I've never been comfortable with 'in your face' confrontational photography. The folks with "I have a right. I know the law, it's a public place" at the ready, seem a bit uncivil to me.
Now I know lots of folks do it, some became famous for it so all I am really saying is that it is not something I am comfortable with.

Peter's approach seems to result in more than just good pictures, it can be personally enriching for all involved.

Robert Capa said: If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.

What does this really mean? If you are standing still at arms length, you can actually interact with the subject—what a novel idea.

It really depends on what kind of photograph you're taking. If you're trying to capture one of life's serendipitous events that just gels together in that one "decisive moment," then you literally don't have the time to ask, and even if you did, it would destroy the whole scenario as is- photo gone.

If you're trying to create a portrait, one of a more intimate nature, perhaps with direct eye contact- then by all means ask, and establish a rapport.

Neither promise success, they simply provide the best opportunity under the circumstances.

Thanks for Peter’s original post, and this post with Peter’s additional input. I’ve found myself in similar situations and my struggle is remembering to ask to take a picture. I get engrossed in the conversation and then after the person leaves I realize cr@p I should have asked and taken a picture!

Your observations are so true, and so deep. A different universe entirely from the aggressive and antagonistic style of some New York street shooters, "24mm lens, get very close, take a record of their surprised and (preferably angry) faces". Perhaps even add a flashlight to intimidate the subject!

Here, by contrast, the approach is deeply, deeply human, gentle, humble, appreciative, and the result is so much more revealing of the true nature of both the subject itself and the photographer's interaction with the subject. You have to be have a real sense of human fellowship to be able to do this. I am truly and deeply impressed.

So much wisdom, and such good photography! Makes you proud and humbled to be a fellow human being; makes you excited to be a photographer. Inspiring.

I love Peter and have taken two of his workshops. I've learned a great deal from him and love his way of working. It's important to note, though, that it is not the only way to do street photography. So many photographers that you've written about do just the opposite -- Cartier-Bresson for example. People like Martin Parr and Constantine Manos do just the opposite -- in most of their street photographs individuals are not even looking at them.

Peter Turnley's images are beautiful, but so are other photographers who work very differently.

Fundamentally, though, doesn't all of this come down to knowing in advance the type of photo you want to take and then taking it?

If you want a posed portrait, take a posed portrait (and judging by this photo, Peter's fully engaged approach works very well.)

But if you want a candid photo of a person as they go about their daily life, unaware of you and your camera, then set aside Peter's approach and take that photo instead.

IMO, there are no right or wrong approaches here, only those that succeed or fail to achieve the photographer's desired result(s).

Since there's no "like" button here...

I'll just post "like" :) A fine column Michael.

I live in an area with a lot of Amish. In the case of the Amish around here, it is against their religion to be photographed. I've had people ask why I don't shoot a lot of photos of the Amish. My answer is that while I legally can, I generally respect their wishes. They are not going to agree just because I am upfront and polite in my request. It is a matter of religion. I don't know if Mennonites are as strict (Mennonites are less strict versions of the Anabaptist culture) but if they say 'no' I would abide by their wishes. The only time I have photographed Amish was on top of Whiteface Mt. A family had ridden up the Veterans Memorial Highway with an 'English' friend and there was a group of Amish girls with their backs to me and looking out across the vista. It was so unexpected that I couldn't resist.

A Woman Without a Country and Street Portraits were great reminders that we should look for the story as a news beat writer would, then go for the photos. Unlike news photographers, most of us have time to interact with our subjects. Many news photographers would absolutely love to have enough time to get to know the subject because it usually results in much better photos. So, why don't (some of us) amateurs do that?

Diane Arbus was famous for making personal connections with her portrait subjects. Sometimes she cultivated friendships for years before taking the photograph she wanted. (The "Jewish Giant" and his parents is one example.) And sometimes her relationships got a little too personal, as her most recent retrospective graphically revealed. Street photographers like Garry Winogrand worked quite differently. I think the lesson is that good photographs can result from different working methods.

There it is, the difference between Street Portrait and Street Photography. Your reader's reactions just nailed it.

It does also prove, as if there was a need to, how excellent is your blog. A generous and fruitful conversation forum.

As someone who makes prints from film, an approach I am trying is to carry little business cards (so they can contact me), and then offer people a print or two for their trouble. They get to be in control (if they don't contact me then fine and they are not giving me their details), they get something reasonably unique and unusual out of it if they want, I get to make prints without them sitting in boxes. A print isn't free to make even discounting the time spent (I think paper is between £1 and £2 a sheet in the sizes I would normally send (so, not 20x24 as only narcissists or people with vast houses – perhaps the same people – want prints that big, of them, on their walls)), but it's worth the good will and it makes me feel good about it.

Most recently we got invited to the wedding of someone we know slightly, and I offered to take a couple of 5x4 pictures of them. I did, with a lens I don't trust the shutter of (ancient ektar) and with no experience at all of 5x4 portraiture. Two sides of a darkslide and one is lovely. So they get a really unusual wedding photo and I get to learn how to do portraits on 5x4. And as a bonus the real photographer was not only fine about it but also it turns out used to work with the person who runs the darkroom I print in.

I've had other good experiences as well: the approach is working very well so far.

Although I get Mennonites and Amish confused and generally don't ask which they are, James Bullard is largely right. But it gets more complicated than that.

Each pastor (not sure if my terminology is correct) fine tunes all the rules for his flock. For example, one group could actually own and drive cars, but they had to be Saabs (back in the 1960s) and they had to painted black, including all the chrome trim. Some could have tires on their tractors and others had to have steel wheels only.

So you really need to talk to the people and get their consent. I remember I one time had a number of these folk in one of my pictures. They let their kids be in the photograph with their steam traction engine (the reason for the photograph) but in the B&W proof print I accidentally included a couple of adults. They saw it and were mad (at themselves not me I think) I explained that they would be cropped out of the final photographs, I hope that helped. Since I was shooting with a Cirkut camera it was very hard for people to know where the photograph would end.

The funny thing was when they saw themselves they didn't think I could hear them and I thought they said something like "Oh, Shit!" But I can't be sure.

Thats a good post, but I think we're talking two things, street photography vs. street portraiture. As Stan B mentioned the 'decisive moment' can be lost to hesitation, but the principle of good portraiture, human engagement first, applies wether in the street or the studio.

Different goals, different pictures.

If those are the kind of street portraits one wants to make. But humans are too diverse to take one approach, and with some people a different way is necessary. The most obvious example may be the 1933 portrait of Joseph Goebbels by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Street Portraits strike me as something very very broad in conception.

Your subject goes through stages, at least these stages, in the moments around that first contact:

1. Oblivious.
2. Just noticed the camera, face generally closes.
3. Initial reaction to the camera, could be anything.
4. Finally, a more settled reaction.

Someone might be open, singing to themselves, eyes closed. They notice the camera and instantly go neutral (this is something Arbus was very interested in.) An instant later they offer up an initial reaction to the camera (Bruce Gilden works here). After a little longer, they settle on a final reaction (which might be the same as their first impulse, or not).

After that, there comes maybe some personal contact. A word, a look, a wink, and maybe a human interaction occurs of a moment or an hour, and in THAT time anything can unfold, but at this point I think it becomes something of "a portrait taken on a street" rather than a genre-specific thing? Not that I want to quibble over definitions.

Anyways, in those first instants I find the variation in when/what photographers elect to shoot, and to show us, very interesting.

I do think "street portraiture" and whatever the other thing is (being called "street photography", this is probably a specific subset of the general use of that term though) are significantly different things.

But what really got my attention is Bruce Bordner's point that social media (or our habits of using it, anyway) have trained people to pose, and to pose in specific ways, when they know they're being photographed. I'll go on to say that this is partly because most cell phone cameras are so slow—they can only reliably take posed pictures, and everybody has learned to work with that. This does in fact make many sorts of candid shots harder to take today.

Yes, what Sean Murphy said, above. Street / environmental portraiture is not necessarily the same undertaking as street photography.

A while back I watched video of Albert Maysles photographing people on the street. He would walk up to people and say “you have s nice face, may I take your picture?”. Seemed to be working pretty well .
As a tv news guy I approach people all the time. It pays to go slow, be respectful and know when to gracefully take no for an answer. I have about a 50% success rate.
One tip I give the new kids is to either lose your sunglasses or put them up on your forehead before approaching people. This seems particularly helpful when dealing with authority figures.

The trust element is key to "street portraits" such as here, but it is equally relevant in "reportage".

Sebastiao Salgado once explained what happens when he enters into a new social environment, say photographing the workers in a shipyard. He said he starts off with a longer lens, keeping his distance. As he gains trust, he moves to a wider-angle lens and gets closer to his subjects. Then, as the project reaches its conclusion, he naturally reverts back to a longer lens and some distance re-establishes itself.

Sadly I cannot find this interview, and I probably mis-remember the details, but I always found this account very moving.

I find so many things about this problematic. Let's start with the idea that connecting with people verbally is somehow more authentic than connecting with people non-verbally. If you think about this for more than a second you will see that language can just as easily - and is more likely to - obfuscate the truth of any situation. Some of it is a defense mechanism on the part of the subject, but it can just as often be projection on the part of the photographer. There are many interaction points where this may be happening in the Turnley photo - and I'll just leave it at that.

To me a street portrait shouldn't pretend to know more about the subject then it can possible know. It should leave a little mystery that the subject can take with them when they exit the frame. That is the experience of the street, which is actually more democratic than the moment presented in the traditional portrait, where the photographer is sovereign.

The results of Turnley's approach are admirable, but compassion has its limits in portraying the full range of the human experience. Eisenstaedt is a good example of a different approach, as are Winogrand and Cartier-Bresson.

Some people are interested in the human story, but not all images stand on their own without it.

I admit to preferring ones which make me ask for the context, or inspire me to imaging one, rather than being handed it on a plate.

So I am a more candid type of photographer. I do not hide what I do, but I don't advertise or engage before the event because I wan't to catch people in their own bubble. I would not sell or exploit the without their permission, but that part of the engagement - for me - comes after, not before, I press the shutter.

That doesn't mean I don't chat to people I meet on the street, or even end up having a coffee or a beer with them occasionally. It just isn't my normal precursor to the photograph itself.

Not that I don't respect Mr Turnley enormously. It's a different approach which surely works, and from the human interest side is probably a lot more effective, but how would the image stack up without it if you just saw it hanging in a gallery?

This is the kind of "street photography" that I can do because I already do everything else except taking the photograph. I have always naturally reached out to engage the people I meet and it has led to many wonderful moments and a few more long term friendships. I think I will start asking for a photograph in these situations. I have participated in two of Peter's street photography workshops and he has tried to teach me to confidently walk up to people and take their photograph like he dies, with confidence and a smile on his face. I find my natural reticence usually prevents me from doing that, despite watching him do it all day long without conflicts.

Street photography is easy these days. Everybody has their face in their phone, and they don't even notice you.

Here is a selection of stories about portraits and of course the portraits.

I have had the good fortune of having a "fan" on my flickr account who is very encouraging of my casual and "street" portraits. He says I'm very good at it, and should focus on that, almost to the point of giving up other types of photography.

I, too, have been shy with a tendency to hang back. But 90% of the really good photos of people I have made have been from engagement - Peter is absolutely correct and noticing his approach as evidenced in the stories that accompany his work has had a big impact on me.

I also find that an interesting camera,. as opposed to a big honking DSLR or smart phone, can elicit curiosity and conversation. An older film camera or digital rangefinder is much less intimidating and more inviting. When I was last in Paris I took my Rolleiflex as well as the Fuji X100F. The Rollei sparked many conversations and invitations to connect.

Living in Rochester, the Rollei very often sparks interaction when I'm out. At my favourite café one person commented "and it's a FLEX, not a CORD!" Recently when I took the Fuji, another patron almost jumped at me and said "Is that a Leica M3!!!?" Far more people around here have familiarity with camera brands, their history and photographic culture. It makes things more interesting.

to make a human connection first, and then, if a good photograph happens to come out of it, that's the bonus.
This is exactly my approach! Although I wouldn't really call myself a photographer; I just take photos as a hobby. In fact I'm mainly interested in human connections, but sometimes if I feel like it I'll ask to take a photo. I'm all the more relaxed about photo-taking because my photos often turn out to be forgettable, but I remember the encounters. I posted about one such encounter here – that time I did take a photo.

Reading through the many comments accompanying your post Mike, I am delighted that there can be a discussion regarding making photographs that goes beyond camera brands, f-stops, and shutter speeds. I’d like to indicate a few things. My motivation for sharing the photograph of Luna and our interaction and story was simply to share a poignant human story that crossed my path. For me photography is first and foremost about sharing. Second, I would always encourage anyone and everyone to embrace an approach and style of photography that works best for them in communicating what it is they would like to share. Beyond that, I also often in my own photographic expression embrace a decisive moment approach to photography and in that spirit try to respond as spontaneously possible to a moment or story that I see which does not always involve initially the subjects being aware of my presence. Sometimes, often, this approach turns into a second type of situation where people are aware they are being photographed, and then it has always been helpful to me to be calm, look people in the eye, and calmly and kindly interact with people. I think often people very much appreciate being genuinely considered and honored. It’s always helped me to have a deep, profound, sense of purpose. I truly believe photographs are a wonderful thing and help us know more about ourselves, our world, and are an important document of the human story of our times. And, most often, if someone ultimately doesn’t want to be photographed, I respect their wishes. At the end of the day, while I love photography, and it is an important part of my existence, it is a love and respect for life that interests me most. Finally, we are all different, and it is our differences, and our personal approaches to visual storytelling that makes photographic expression such a wonderful thing. It is a blessing that we all see the world in our own way, and differently. There are no rules, or formulas, and if there were rules, they are made to be broken. As with life itself, every situation, is different, and each of us, along with life, is evolving. Perfection doesn’t exist, and probably isn’t very interesting. Trying the best we can, whatever that implies for each of us, with our hearts, does seem interesting and important. Thank you very much Mike, for all you do, each day, to help bring together so many people, each with their own eyes, feelings, differences, and life experience, to help share in the passion of visual storytelling.

Good article, although I think I already knew your conclusion, that "it's actually harder to take a picture when you're more timid"....!

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