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Tuesday, 24 August 2021


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In the wise words of Harry Callahan, "Man's got to know his limitations."

"So anyway: who am I kidding? I'm never going to be a street photographer..."

Sometimes, its liberating to know this and you can just have fun.

Watch kids play sandlot ball for fun. It's a kid's game and it exists for the fun of it. Then watch people at a near pro level and see the fun is gone when your paycheck and status are married to the performance that you generate. That kid-like fun is suddenly grown up and serious.

I stopped trying to be Elliot Erwitt or Alfred Eisenstaedt (my early influences) but I still go out and try to get that one shot that makes me happy. On-paper, I'm a street photographer, but it's just for me. For fun.

"A man's got to know his limitations."
-- "Harry Callahan" (Clint Eastwood)

"Bystander" is, indeed, an outstanding reference to the genre and your best book pick ever. It's unlikely to be re-created ever.

I was in the streets last Friday but have none of that work online. Here's an August 4th scene from a project I've been working recently. (Sorry, I cannot post images directly here any more.)

"Someday" may never come, but as aging forces me to slow down I am no longer rushing ahead in an effort to reach it. I am spending more time and attention (and reaping greater rewards) in today. Now in my 70s I'm finding the passage of life to be a bit like an extremely wide-range zoom lens. At the outset, with the lens zoomed to a super-wide angle, the horizon was infinitely broad and hugely exciting but also infinitely far away, unreachable, and not in very sharp focus. Every decade the lens has progressed farther into the telephoto range — the width of the horizon is steadily diminishing, but I now see a world of previously hidden details … better lit and with sharper focus than I could once have imagined possible.

My eyesight may be dimming, but my vision is clearer than ever.

Age is unrelated to photography except for inexperience at one end and infirmity at the other. More important are the social status that allows you to even have a camera (tennis!), creativity, discipline, focus, desire. So what if you don’t have the “personality” for street photography? Do what you like.

What do teen boys talk about now - probably Xbox vs ps4/5 and all the games they play on those consoles.

I think pigeon-holing stuff into photographic genres is a fruitless task. And really, is there any point in it? I appreciated Kenneth's take on it yesterday, but like others I disagreed. It was a personal definition that works for him. I felt that it placed too much emphasis on the individual photograph, and didn't leave enough room for what I look for - which is personal expression.

I often see and take photographs that trigger something in my brain, but at the time I would not be able to say what it was. And in actual fact the realities of the image may be obscure and indecipherable to others. It's more a case of 'this is what I saw'. With time, possibly a coherent vision emerges.

I like candid photography that gradually exposes itself as consistent self expression, which you can often recognize, but not immediately understand. Maybe Winogramd is an example.

So to get to your main point, age is probably a factor because of how it influences your reaction to the world? Maybe you get jaded (seen it) or cynical (what's the point?). However it doesn't need to be like that. I like to try and engage the curiosity of my child-brain. Althoug it can't be forced of course. It means trying to shed the experience of a lifetime (I'm your age)

Anyway - enough rambling

Like you I had hopes of being a good, or great, street photographer but decided I didn't have the personality for it. I took a go at it every now and then and I managed to take 2, maybe 3, street photos that I liked over a period of 50 years or so.

I started having another go at it last December, 3 months after my 73rd birthday, and I've got 2 or 3 shots I like since then. The nervousness that bothered me previously hasn't gone completely but it no longer bothers me. It's fun just being out somewhere, walking around, observing people and things, and taking a photo when something really interests me. I think it was Alex Webb who said that street photography is 99.9% failure so it's not something you want to do if you're serious about succeeding. You do it because doing it is enjoyable or fascinating or challenging or a bit of all those things and those are all good reasons for doing something, even in old age. The successes, the good photos, are the icing on a cake that's good in itself.

Any day is street photography day, every day is if you want it to be but I don't seem to want that. Just pick up a camera and take a walk somewhere with people and see what happens. Enjoy yourself and press the shutter every now and then. If you're enjoying yourself when you press the shutter you will get good results every now and then, and 0.01% good results is what good results every now and then looks like. Is that a problem if you're enjoying life while you do it?

I truly resonated with your post today as I am 69 (older than you) and have realized the same thing. The clock is ticking, I don’t know when the alarm is set for but my sense of my time left is acute. I now assemble mental bucket lists with things like what places I may yet visit or things I may do while still healthy enough to do so and, like you, have a strong sense of where my abilities lie.

However, I will say that there is a lot of research that shows that one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stave off senility is to force yourself to learn new skills that stretch your brain out of its comfort zone. Of late I have started a coding course on Coursera with no goal except learning a new skill and I think I will finally give into my wife’s decades long entreaties to take up Bridge with her despite the fact that I never have been good at card games. Gotta keep these old neurons firing somehow!

Dear Mike
Spend a hundred days, non stop fourteen or fifteen hours every single day, continually taking photos and then maybe only then one can decide if one has the talent to be a street photographer.


You are so right about having the right personality for street photography. One can read and learn only so much, but the difference between an average street photographer and a good one is in the personality.

One needs an occupation one is good at and avocations one enjoys. Hopefully there is some overlap. In an occupation, good is defined by others. With avocations, good is defined by one’s self. The approval of others, comparison to others, or being better than others may or may not be important.

Acceptance can be an advantage of aging, but can also be limiting. I struggle with the difference between accepting reality and being in a rut. Hopefully age comes with the wisdom to know the difference.

I think it's equally important to know what gives you pleasure, even if you will never be anywhere near expert at it. I'll include all kinds of hobbies, from instruments, to photography. Within those hobbies I will include the genres, like street photography. There are people who just like to engage in the act, but know they will never be that good. They know they will never put in the time, and even if they did, there's a good chance they still would not be that good. Yet they have fun, and they appreciate the masters. Perhaps pool playing is that way for you?

I'm used to say: in your twenties you're busy thinking at who you will become; in your thirties you start thinking at who you are, in your forties you get slightly worried about what you lost and what you will never be, in your fifties you understand it doesn't matter, and you just manage whatever happens and try to enjoy any opportunity you get. In your fifties I don't know yet, but I'm getting close...

To this topic, I like to add a quote from the movie 'True Detective'
Statement: "Life is barely long enough to get good at one thing" - "If that long"
Response: "You better be careful at what you get good at"
Well, I don't know why this quote struck me as significant at the time, but I kept it on a piece of paper...

Mike, you have had a full career in photography, so me thinks you are successful living the dream.

I bought a box of white peaches today and thought of you. See what an effective writer you are!

I learned at an early age that regardless of the field of human endeavour that my talent would be inferior to that of many others. The only question is whether it was a consideration that my endeavours required me to prevail in any way amongst that pool - if so, then I agree with Knack Mac - time to stop (e.g. pro' sports career within insufficient talent would not cut it, or the price would be so high so as not to be worth it). Otherwise, so long as I have sufficient talent meaningfully to participate - or simply don't care because it is personal to me - press on.

I too was going to have that Ferrari AND the Lamborghini. Now, a bit wiser I actually just strive for another Mazda Miata. Photography was always a hobby, so whether I become great at a genre doesn’t matter. Whether I enjoy it, is paramount. At any age.

There's this great quote from The Wonder Years that I come back to time and again:

"When you are a little kid, you are a bit of everything — artist, scientist, athlete, scholar. Sometimes it seems life is like a process of giving those things up, one by one."

I remember my father telling me he wished he had the time to personally pursue some of the things I was also interested in. I remember thinking that was strange—If you want to do something, do it, I thought. It's only as I became a husband and then a father and my responsibilities at work grew that I began to really understood what he was saying.

Nice musing on aging, Mike. I agree about that. I like street photography, but it is amongst the hardest of the photography "disciplines" to do well. I'm not good at spontaneous interactions with strangers either. But I do like to try it. In my youth we called it "candid" photography. Now apparently it has to be done on the "street". Another sign of times changing.

Oh no - another book shelf shrinker - but with the link to Book Depository, I save abot 30 dollars, compared to Amazon. Thanks! :-)

For those of us getting older, and more specifically, those of us of a specific age, I would ask to turn your attention to an already well known name- none other than Lee Friedlander. At an age where most would tend to wind things down on an already formidable career, he seems to have launched into overdrive with a swan song that would stagger at any age and in any art form.

His output and creativity (switched to square format) has been nothing short of phenomenal- personally, I think it includes a lot of his best work. He has continued to challenge his visual limitations, as if challenging life itself to prevent him from doing what he was meant to do. At his age, he has become a force of nature.

Interesting how the personality thing is a huge factor. I absolutely love that little buzz of anxiety that comes with street photography. Those moments of silent visual connection with someone that silently grants you the space and permission to make a picture - all in a split second. Or the shot that happens so fast that you didn't event really know what you got until you examined the image more deeply after the fact. That unknown piece - the surprises while editing - is also another huge draw for me. I have great examples for the two scenarios above that happened within an hour of eachother last week - if I could only figure out how to attach! Instagram below - https://www.instagram.com/john.gillooly/ - top scenario represented in the image of the young man with the girl on his shoulder. The second scenario in the image with the guy in the cowboy hat walking towards me. Both from Saturday at the New York State Fair.

I have a total different take of life. It is a short life. Just experience it, even if it just can sit down after a major operation, or mindfulness, or watching the 8x10 camera view (without even care to take photos or not). It is none about success. A bit Taoist I guess. And my motto is (not the grape view please, I meant it) or my memorised version is a different from the actual creed btw:

The most important thing in the Games is not about winning but just have a chance to be in and take part, just as the most important thing in life is not about success, but the struggle.

The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

If have our daily bread, let us enjoy life and do not hurt others except we’ll beat them up in a game.

“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

-Winston Churchill

Here is what a street photographer friend of mine does, he goes to NYC for a weekend with his cousin. They walk the streets from when they arrive until they stop at the hotel late at night. During the day they stop on occasion and see art. For luggage, they carry a change of underwear. The next day, they get up early and hit the streets again for another day of shooting and sightseeing. Then head home. This is how he creates his body of work. A weekend a year in NYC. I am currently doing landscape work, but, to me, this sounds like a blast.

As the great Billy Joel sang: "a young man is the king of every kingdom that he sees"

Indeed, sport it is.
I have a friend who enjoys playing cricket for a local team.
When he turned 40, he solemnly informed his friends that he had decided to make himself unavailable to the Selectors for the Australian cricket team.
Of course, he was never in any danger of being in contention. ;~)

He had also studied ancient history at university, but realised he was never going to sufficiently grasp the languages needed, so sought employment outside of academia.

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