It's time to write sad lines, like the one about a blanket of sky punctured by stars dying a millennia ago but whose absence touches us tomorrow. We look for them in daylight, but they are lost, and we stop, no longer the same. I will remember it/her/them/you forever but that's wrong. These structures complicate us, the shape of emptiness, the finitude of loss. Silence being still and certainty tenuous, at twilight, luminous insects light our path.
Photo and Words by Star Rush
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed,” Susan Sontag, from On Photography
Street photography is a kind of improvisation, not unlike jazz. It’s got beats, rhythms, spontaneity — attention to speed and a kind of “pre-visualization” of a final photography, a story, a revelation or insight.
I’ve been asked about some of my candid street portraits and the seemingly intense eye-contact that’s evident in some of them. I’ve been warned about the “soul stealing” that I’m engaging in as one who photographs people I do not know in candid moments without their awareness. These are ethical issues; these are moral concerns of a high order. There appears this apparent connection that surfaces, as though I and the subject are standing face-to-face, eye-to-eye, an intimacy that emerges, a vulnerability that can leave us unsettled.
Seconds go by as I walk by people on the sidewalk. I don’t stand on corners or lean against poles watching people pass. I don’t wait. I am seldom still. I walk, usually at a good pace, with my iPhone in in my right hand down at my side. The candid portraits are taken straight-on: me facing them and they me. We encounter one another, I raise my iPhone slightly, snap, lower it again, and walk on. All this happens in maybe 2 seconds. We then walk in opposite directions on the same sidewalk, neither slowing the pace much. I take one photo—that’s it. If it comes out, then great. If it doesn’t, I delete. I’m not an editor, and I don’t want a stream of photographs, all just slightly different from the next. One is good enough, or it is not. Well before I and the subject meet, I’ve already composed the final photo in mind’s eye, already saw them inside a frame, and so the photograph takes shape about 1 minute before the steps I’ve described above.
But what about that eye-contact? Surely it is suspicion with or concern about the camera that’s being represented in those glances. I don’t think so. I don’t think that at all. I’ve started to look at people I don’t know in the eye when I’m out in public, without my camera. It’s actually harder to do than it seems. About two-thirds of the time, people don’t look back. Eyes get lowered or turn away. The others, they look back. We make eye-contact. There’s no camera—just our selves, locked for a split second. No words, no other gestures but a mutual recognition. It feels intense, this locking, this seeing. It’s emotional for me when it happens. There’s a kind of electricity, a surge of feelings, a rush of a kind of knowing or an insight, and then, just as fast, it’s all gone when we pass at the shoulder, each heading to separate directions.
Maybe it’s not only the presences of this “stealing” camera that posses us, that has us violating each other in ways that are irretrievable. Perhaps it is a kind of meaningful observation that the camera records, a kind of “seeing,” a seeing of one another in our depths, our inner selves for a second. We meet in glance, and in this glance is a pulling away from the mundane. This is who I am. There is vulnerability in revealing, even in a second: “This is who I am. I see you.”
What I like about jazz and the blues is the same thing I like about my experiences of candid photography; they tell stories, they express feelings about daily activities in life. Every line tells a story, expresses feelings or meaning—an authentic poetry that speaks to how people are, who they are, the most personal aspects of one’s humanity expressed in a public context.
It’s kind of like telling secrets, these candid portraits, showing what passes unnoticed most of the time as we hurry by. Certainly, there's more is happening. Images lie and, well, they don’t. In the photographs, I share not just the subject’s but my eye, my sensibilities, my vulnerability, too. When I look at the photographs, I see my secrets surface, too.
Originally written for Mobile Photo Group and shared October 28, 2011
"It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see." — Anais Nin
For me in practice, this translates to finding ways to re-vision (to see again) so as to defamiliarize myself with what's around me and even "me" in the end. It's not easy, to unknow a place, things, or people. When I photograph, I find corners of myself that I hadn't been to in awhile, or spots I may not know had existed. When I look back on completed images, I am surprised by what and why I choose to look at on that day, in those seconds. Wonder. As a viewer, I enjoy images that push me to see differently, to fall into the image's less familiar zones and find me there, too.
This dream has tendrilsA dazzle and razzleTo wrangle and strangleThis dream has rhythmBoom and bass and beatsWithout retreat, just receiptsThis dream has muscleTo rumble and pummelHustle and tackleThis dream floatsLike a butterfly, stings like votesLike Bird plays notesLike Hurston wroteThis dream climbs rhymeLike hope shinesLike justice blindsLike freedom chimesLike promises mark time
Looking to purchase your own print of one of my iPhone-based "On Wheels" photos? You can! Some of my photography may be purchased in Europe via the catalog available from la galerie smART Mobile Camera Club, located in Paris, France. Contact the gallery via its website.
Congratulations to winners and finalists of Dodho Magazine's 1st Edition Black & White Photography prizes. I was pleased to have been invited to be among the judging panel for the prizes and have the opportunity to review such inpsiring work from photographers across the globe. Thank you to all who submitted and particpated.
This spring, I've been shooting and converting much of my iPhone 6+ photographs with MPro a dedicated BW iPhone app, and Filmborn, which is developed by Mastin Labs here in Seattle, Wash. Kirk Mastin is the Founder and Ceo; he's a lover of photography and film, and you can feel and see his passion. Head over to its webpage or read though the Apple App Store reviews to get a sense of what the Filmborn app can do. I love the customization and its fidelity to film emulation via choices with Fuji, Ilford and Kodak. You won't find blown out highlights, crazy grunge effects, or highly stylized tones/colors/hues--just clean, beautiful simulaiton of film. What's here is the look and feel of film that works. I'm a stickler for a particular black and white look, which is contrasty and inky. I love the Fuji bw choices. Check both these apps out and let me know what you think. Here's another sample on my flickr stream.
Photo credit: Star Rush with iPhone 6+ and Filmborn in Astoria, Oregon, in 2017
A double-exposure test using my go-to Ricoh GXR 50mm, which can be challenging to do without a flip lcd or a viewfinder, but I managed.
Magpies wild and reckless
Big sky stretches wide
Dark falls, shooting stars
Needles threading sky
I am caught in a
Phosphorescent tangle of
Clinging to helping verbs
So much filler here and there
Killing the poem
The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don't belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.