street photography

  • Eye-To-Eye

    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

  • Slow photography & a (re)new perspective

    Slow photography & a (re)new perspective

    Photo credit: Cannon Beach, Oregon, on May 2, 2015 with Fuji X-Pro1 + Minolta Rokkor 58mm 1.2

    I've acquired a new camera and with it a new perspective. Instead of using a digital lens, I've also committed myself to using old manual film era lens. In this shot, I've used the wonderful Rokkor 58mm 1.2, which is sharp and fast. With the X-Pro1's focus peaking and magnificaiton, the job of manual focus isn't just straightforward--it's a pleasure. I'm taken with this set up and enjoy the slow photography they bring: mindful comtemplation, compositon, and presence. I feel right at home.

  • Mirror


    Sometimes what comes back to me startles. It shakes me from deep within. Upends assumptions. Corrupts my absolutes. Shatters.

    I find sometimes the images I make are ones that might best conform to what I expect to encounter, what I anticipate seeing or what will be come (within a frame) a photograph. How do I see what I expect not to see? How do I begin to peel back the layers of my own influence upon the subject. What is possible and what is not possible? There is as much erasing in a photograph as preserving, a disappearing, perhaps of independence or autonomy. Maybe it’s ego that the photograph reveals — my own that is. Maybe that’s the shaking I feel when I look for the first time at what I thought I saw, grappling to recognize the forces within this exchange of looking and being looked at.

    As the image attracts, it does so, in the end, by attracting us to ourselves in a kind of mirror, our own not-quite-accurate reflection of ourselves that the photographic image projects and to which we reach, which pulls us. Maybe it’s a revelation that shatters, like the mythical Narcissus falling into the reflective pool of his own self-importance. We can, collapse–devastatingly–into what is, in the end, not reality or beauty or truth but an image.

  • Do As I See: How Others Photos Help Our Own

    Often, we can improve our photography by paying even closer attention to how we see the images of others.

    The kinds of photos I like to take, the subject as well as the concepts or style, are heavily influenced by the kinds of photos I like to look at. As a consumer of images, my eye have grown accustomed to seeing in certain ways, recognizing subjects as more or less familiar or unfamiliar, translating the language of visual culture into a personal a syntax of meaning that resonates when I turn to produce images of my own.

    For example, I am use to seeing street photography in black and white, as a lot of people are. So street photography that is black and white is at once familiar and immediately recognizable in a way that color work in the genre is less so. This isn’t because one is superior to the other; it’s because one has been my in visual vocabulary longer than the other. Hence, I’m more fluent.

    I find myself deeply challenged shooting in color, trying to prioritize the weight of certain elements and their relationships in the frame. Clothing, for one, is something more pronounced to me  in color than in monochrome, unless the fabric displays distinct form, contrasts or patterns. So much stimuli overwhelms me when coupled with the rest of the composition, including framing and mood.

    So to inject new approahces or find fresh inspiration, the first thing I do is find photographers to study who shoot photographs I’m not use to seeing, subjects that I’m unfamiliar with, styles that appear strange enough to unsettle by habits of seeing, disrupt easy comprehension. I study their images, I read  their biographies, and then, if I’m still interested in learning, I will try to temporarily adopt the style, try it on like a new pair of clothes, to see how things may fit.

    I think this is why, if you browse my shared images on-line, you can see shifts in subject, in focus and attention to certain ideas or concepts, and regularly slips between monochrome and color. I take leave of street or urban photography fairly regularly, too, to try on other genres. These are moments of learning, studying, and fun.

    I tend to venture back to my own style soon enough, but the journey into the unfamiliar, new, indecipherable leaves a mark on both my intellect and my creative process. Sometimes those marks surface later, when I least expect them to appear.

    What I'm looking at now:

    Stephen Shore's conceptual work
    Jaffa by Amit Ben Nun in Positive Magazine
    Titusville Steel by Chris Crisman in Blueeyes
    On My Own by Maria Dal Secco in ZoneZero

  • Street Photography

    Street Photography

    I am attracted to the improvisational aspects of street photography. I find different aspects rewarding,  not because of some false notion of preservation or accuracy, but because it makes so clear the subjectivity of the photographer toward her subject, the relationship between seeing and being seen, and the prominence of storytelling. This is true of found urban still life as well. If a camera is operated by a human being, then the camera (and the images it produces) are not, can not, be objective. As I’ve said before, the documentary photographer isn’t necessarily preserving her subjects; she’s preserving her perspective. She’s preserving herself.

    In my writing life, I compose poems and personal essays. This is also how I experience my photographic life: to collect stimuli in observation and compose some meaning to what assembles within the frame.  I like to work with few instruments (such as light, props, etc), and more with what I find (light, circumstances, weather, challenges).

    At its simpliest, street photography is about collecting observed, candid information (as detail) in public settings and composing them in a frame to communicate with others. Street photography is improvisational photography and reminds me a lot of jazz, particularly bebop. It’s finding a photo amongst the mundane moments and details of public life and making it come alive via composition and framing, and less, if any, post-editing and processing.

    My aim in exploring this genre is to practice relinquishing control. I have few elements other than myself and my camera. Light, space, even subjects: these are uncontrollable. Street photography is about problem solving, about figuring out what I’m going to do with what I find. It is also about human judgement and decision-making.

    At its core, street photography is about deciding when to take a photograph and when not to. It is about the spaces we find between who we are when we know others are looking, and who we are when we think no one is. It is about the pauses between action. It’s about the shadow the light casts as much as the light itself. It’s about mistakes that reveal insights. It’s about the beats of human life lived in public and the degree with which we are and are not in synch with one another. It is also about the backbeat, the off beat. If “all life is but a stage,” then perhaps street photography is about trying to find those moments when stage lights are dim.

    I do not necessarily think that fidelity of the image is the only or most important element in a fantastic street photograph. I am for expressionism, vision, mood, and emergence of energy between seer and seen that is mutually respectful, and hopefully, insightful. I am equally drawn to aesthetic value in the image. For me, the value and philosophy of what constitutes “beautiful” is both wide and deep, rather than narrow and prescriptive.

    No one is made more noble because of any candid photo I take of them; however, I can certainly make them less so with my  decisions, which are moral and ethical, as well as mechanical or aesthetic ones. Everything is not meant to be photographed. Some things must be left out of the frame for what is in the frame to make any impact at all. Details without a frame and composition? That’s life. And a photograph is not life.

    It’s for these reasons that I subscribe to the position that “truth” is subjective, multi-facited, complex, and unstable. A photograph’s meaning is dependent upon its context and its viewer (and his/her context). A multiplicity of subjectivity is likely to get me to closer to some sense of “truth” rather than a flawed certainty of “objectivity.” One’s use of “truth” can be a short-hand for other elements or values: accuracy, authenticity, meaningfulness. When, as a viewer, I say a photograph rings “true” to me, what do I mean? Do I recognize it is an accurate depiction? Do I mean the photographer has presented the scene with a degree of authenticity? Do I mean that I with the photograph established some degree of meaningfulness? I’m not trying to present a truth. I’m taking a photograph. Other judgements? Those are left to viewers.

    I love the poetry of street photography.

    Photo: "The Man with the Black Balloons," Seattle 2013, iPhone 5