Tag Archives: Street

Everybody Street… a new documentary about street photography



Documentary released for Film Festival.

Released at the “Hot Docs International Film Festival”, Everybody Street is about the street photography art of New York. Focusing on a range of street photogs it opens up the everyday reality of street photography.

The trailer for the documentary has been released and provides an insight to what may be in the documentary. It shows some stunning shots and some powerful insights. However, it also takes a rather voyeuristic and antagonistic view of street photography. While I personally don’t aspire to that approach there are others that do.

I believe that to act as an antagonist on the street is both dangerous and unnecessary. Personally I believe in respect, contact and participation in the street scene. But I do acknowledge that there are some people that take a different view.

I think it is worth seeing this documentary and I hope that one day it will be widely available. For now I leave you with the trailer. See what you think. The video is just over two minutes.


Everybody Street Trailer from ALLDAYEVERYDAY on Vimeo.

Visit the website for the documentary at: http://everybodystreet.com/  External link - opens new tab/page

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

The street photographer who showed no pictures

Vivian Maier - Outstanding street photographer

Vivian Maier – Outstanding street photographer 1926-2009

A new documentary reveals Vivian Maier.

A new documentary has been shown on British television. It tells the tale of Vivian Maier. A lonely nanny, she spent most of her career photographically documenting the streets of Chicago in her spare time. She was unsung as a photographer, unknown to almost everyone, unrecognised as an artist. She died as a virtual pauper in 2009.

Within a short time of her death the most astonishing hoard of photographs was revealed. Her belongings had been sold off at an auction. The chance find by a keen photographer revealed the work and fortunately made the find public. With the most detailed care and exquisite vision she pictured her subjects with both passion and journalistic fervour. She pictured some of the most painful poverty and opulent richness of Chicago in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well other places in her travels.

Now her photographs are selling for thousands of dollars a piece. This new BBC documentary showcases her insight and some of the more interesting photographs from her fascinating body of work. It also tries to get an in side look at her life – a secretive and largely unknown story which few people were involved in.

With over one hundred thousand photographs in the collection it is an incredible find. Almost a complete record of her work is available. She showed her work to very few people. Most of the shots were never printed.

The enigma that Vivian Maier represented is almost the same clichéd story of the pauper artist of previous centuries. Unrecognised until long decades after their deaths these artists often represented important interpretations of their eras. And so it has proven to be with the work of Vivian Maier.

She had little family, very few friends and only the contacts made through the jobs she held as a nanny. She was largely unschooled and a European immigrant to the USA. Yet with extraordinary wit and dedication she taught herself English apparently through going to the movies and the theatre and mixing with people. She also appears to have taught herself photography – there is no record of a photographic education.

The amazing thing about Vivian Maier was her dedication to the task. The BBC documentary chronicles her life – what’s known of it. But it also raises a lot of questions about what motivated her. Clearly she was a lonely person. Obviously she loved photography and the streets of Chicago where she spent most of her life. Beyond that we know little.

She had the most incisive skill with a camera and great insight as an observer of people. She went everywhere with her equipment, obsessively capturing everything in which she saw meaning. Her main interest was in the people she met – her qualifications for undertaking the work were non-existent. Yet over the period of fourty years she proved herself to be a great artist.

Hit rate

Many of todays digital photographers don’t realise what really lies behind a body of work. According to the academics examining Maier’s work she had an excellent hit rate. One very famous photographer once said…

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.

Ansel Adams

…yet Vivian Maier apparently managed many, many thousands of high quality pictures on her large format Rolliflex  External link - opens new tab/page camera.

There is something interesting about Maiers hit rate, dedication to photography and the detail of her work. It says a lot about her as an artist. Artists spend years learning, experimenting and often apprenticed to other artists before their work begins to mature. But their dedication is by necessity, absolute. And, their progress and interests can be charted by the type of work they produce and how it varies and changes focus during their careers.

The character of an amateur body of work

Amateurs by contrast to professional artists have much more spotty bodies of work. They do not have time to dedicate to devoted study and development. Years of experimentation and concentration on particular aspects of their work is not possible. Family life, work, the simple needs of normal life reduce the amount of work a typical amateur can put into developing as an artist. Typically amateurs tend to be more erratic in their interests, or they concentrate most of their work on one focal interest.

Vivian Maier apparently dedicated pretty much all her personal time and a good proportion of her work time as a nanny to her photography. As a result her achievement is similar to a professional artist. Her work is of a similar standard too. Her work appears to exhibit a gradual and focused experimentation and development much like a professional artist.

Dedication and concentration

A large proportion of Vivian Maiers work is still unprinted. Most of it is still unseen by the public at large. We clearly have a lot more to see and to learn about her. Most of her life is a mystery, much of her story untold.

One thing is clear. For someone who was clearly a very talented street photographer she had a lot to teach photography learners about concentrated dedication to the things that interest us. If we really want to get to the bottom of what interests us as artists, we photographers need to be pretty single minded.

Have fun with your photography, but remember, the way to reveal real truths, like street photography, requires some pretty deep interpretation.

How to see the documentary

For those of you who have access to the BBC iPlayer you can still see the full Vivian Maier documentary for the next few weeks from the Home page for the “imagine” series of arts documentaries  External link - opens new tab/page (posted 05/07/2013).
Update: This documentary has now been taken down from the BBC site. However the link above now goes to the “Imagine” series website so you can see what is coming up and some past episodes are sometimes available on BBC iPlayer.

Other useful Vivian Maier resources

Here is a link to the BBC website where there are two clips about this documentary…
Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures? Clips and other information.  External link - opens new tab/page

Want more on Vivian Maiers work on video? Here’s a Google search for YouTube videos about her…
Search YouTube for Vivian Maier Videos  External link - opens new tab/page

Vivian Maier on Wikipedia  External link - opens new tab/page
Vivian Maier – Her Discovered Work  External link - opens new tab/page

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Three street photography tips – a moment of history

Moment out of time - a thread of history - Bring out the historical context of street photography

• Moment out of time – a thread of history •
There’s so much history on the streets. Yet, we walk past it apparently oblivious. Bring out the historical context of street photography to add interest to your shots.
Click image to view large
• Moment out of time – a thread of history • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Sometimes you just have to shoot.

It is what street photography is about. Getting out on the street, watching the street scene and capturing the moment. Sometimes it doesn’t happen the way you want. I went to Abingdon, UK, to collect some photography equipment. As the town centre is steeped in history I thought I’d capture some street scenes while there.

Three tips for capturing the moment – consider the historical context of street photography

While in Abingdon, I had several important insights…
1. It is not just about the moment: In the historic town centre of Abingdon on a very hot weekday lunchtime not much happens. It occurred to me that there is an important principle about street photography… everything is part of the environment. If you cut out your human subjects in Photoshop you would lose the essence of the street scene. An important component of the scene is in the environment itself. Think of the historical context of street photography when you consider your scene.

Don’t lose sight of the environment. A shot is interesting because of the people… and it’s interesting because of where they are. There is an inextricable link between a street moment and the street itself. Abingdon town centre has some wonderful historic buildings. The character of the history brings out the moments as effectively as the hustle and bustle in the down-town area of a big city. When Englishmen venture out in the mid-day sun, there is not much to smile about – but it makes for a scene in a historical context. View image above large.

2. An important part of the moment: Capturing expressions is essential. It speaks character and mood. It is a general point about street scenes and something to seek out in your pictures. However, not all street photographers are forgiving about all expressions.

I know of one street photographer that will tell you…

Make sure people aren’t smiling. Otherwise you end up with a snapshot
Martin Parr – Documentary Photographer

Hmmm! Maybe Martin Parr is right. But not always. Years ago in France I saw two elderly guys playing dominoes in an old town square. They were having a whale of a time – they did not stop laughing the whole time I was there. They laughed more when I photographed their mirth.

For me it was a defining moment. My shot, taken on an old Pentax (back in the days of film), became my first really successful street scene. It spurred me on. I was young, and I can’t even find that picture now. Actually the moment was so vivid in my mind I remember its detail many years later. The lesson? Capture the moment in all its glory, not just the moment you think is right. Martin Parr would have missed a great moment in a street game. I was the lucky one! I got a great set of expressions in the wonderful, historical context of street photography. That old French square came alive with that laughter.

3. The environment and historical context of street photography Street photography is about the people you meet, but never let a moment of interest slip away. Here is a picture of an old stone gateway into the market square in Abingdon…

Hidden Human History Revealed - the historical context of street photography

• Hidden Human History Revealed •
The damage on the columns of the gate reveal the historical context of street photography.
• Click image to view large •
Stone arch by Neven Guy.

The essence of street photography is about the character of the people you see. But here is a unique moment in human history that is so much a part of the street scene. Look at the deep gouges and scratches in the sides of the gate columns. Those marks have been made over centuries of use. Carts, trucks and all sorts of other objects and implements have banged off those stone columns and left an historical imprint.

I felt privileged to walk around those columns feeling the stonework and letting the history wash over me. As I did so I could see in my minds eye the busy street scene of a market square bustling with peasants and farmers of three or four hundred years ago.

Street photography is not just about pictures, its about you too

The moment you get out and into the street you are revealing yourself and discovering your boundaries. I did not engage with the people of Abingdon as I had hoped. But I did engage with their history. The historical context of street photography helped me gain some important insights into the history of the town. I also had some interesting thoughts about street photography. A powerful day of learning! It has made me want to go back and witness a busy Saturday market there. Those pockmarked columns would be a great backdrop to a busy street scene.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Five simple tips for making street portraits

• The Lady •

• The Lady •
Classic Rembrandt Lighting in a modern street portrait
Click image to view large
• The Lady • by Netkonnexion, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

There is a beauty in simplicity.

I love to make street portraits, simple characterisations of people in their real lives. The street photographer thrives on the capture of the moment in someone’s life that just says a little about who they are… a moment in the life of a person you will never know. In this post I am going to look at how best to capture a street portrait.

1. Eye to eye

Out there on the street you a part of the scene – creating a momentary rapport with your street subjects. People like to communicate. And, they like to see communication. When you take a street portrait try to get your subject looking at you. If they are, they are communicating with you. The viewer of your photograph will be a part of that correspondence too. It will pull them in. Work at the eye level of your subject. Explore their faces through their eyes. Your capture will have much more power. If you are able to capture them looking in your direction, make sure the eyes are in focus too. This is good advice for any photograph, but it is critical for portraits. If the eyes are out of focus any appearance of communication will be lost.

2. Understanding the background

Every subject exists in some sort of environment. However, street portraits don’t allow much control over the background. Sometimes that can ruin your shot. A street portrait is about your subject. If there is too much going on around your subject then it can be a distraction. It takes the viewers attention away from the person you are showing them. When you are doing street portraits you can control the background in two ways – capitalise on it or get rid of it. If it is interesting, not too distracting, and puts your shot in context, then go for a deep depth of field (say, f11). That way you show your subject in the full light of the city environment. On the other hand if the background is complicated, distracting, or just uninteresting – go for a wide aperture and shallow depth of field. If your subject is away from the background your subject will stand out leaving the background out of focus.

3. The other people round about

If your subject is a part of a group then include the group. However, if they are not in a group portrait the other people round about can add to the shot or create a distraction. Try to make your shot pick out your subject or the group they are in. If you are trying to do a street portrait then your concentration should be on the subject you are trying to show. If you are more interested in your subject with their group then the relationship is important. Fix on that and bring it out.

The point of street photography is to show something coherent. If what you show is simply the chaos of a street scene, most of the time the impact will be lost in the chaos. When there is more than one person in your scene you need to bring out relationships, coherence or some sort of point that makes the shot interesting. There is nothing wrong with capturing a group of people as long as the capture has a point. Tell a story, bring out the meaning.

• Paper hats •

• Paper hats •
Pulling a group portrait together requires a coherence, collective story or central interest to the shot.
Click image to view large
• Paper hats • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

4. In the best possible light

The character of the light is one of the most important aspects of the shot. There is no single rule for lighting but it certainly helps to have an idea about the basics. In the photo above, “The Lady”, you will notice the triangular patch of light on her left cheek. This is a portrait lighting situation called “the Rembrandt” after the famous renaissance painter who pioneered this lighting. The form of the light/shadow helps show off the shape of the face and highlights the cheeks beautifully. In this case her eyelashes cast an interesting shadow and add character to the shot too.

When you are taking street portraits it helps to know about basic portrait lighting. The light and shadow on your subjects face is important. The wrong light can affect the form and shape of your subjects face, be unflattering or even create odd contrasts or miss-shape the face. It can certainly create a distraction if it is wrong. If you want to know more about how to light the face for portraits then check “Simple positions for classic portrait work”. It is the face that gives the most character to your subject. A beautifully photographed face is the foundation to a great shot.

5. Shoot many shots

No one should just be machine-gunning shots. Look for great shots and take them with care and consideration. On the other hand, you really want to make your trip worthwhile. Concentrate on bringing out some of the points above, but make sure you take lots of shots. Street photography is an uncontrolled situation. To ensure you get the best out of the subjects you see you will need to follow up on as many interesting points as you can. Things change fast – you may not get a second chance. Look, study, consider, frame, shoot – a working sequence of steps for a great shot. If you keep spotting interesting things… do your best to capture them.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Street photography insights by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson – (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004)
The father of modern street photography and photojournalism

Street photography… like using your eyes as radar.

Cartier-Bresson sought the detail of peoples lives in an instant of time. His legacy lies in understanding the moment of capture – the instant when the power of photography is expressed.

Cartier-Bresson insights

Cartier-Bresson’ insights are so different to the modern photographer. Today we spend endless conversational moments discussing the importance of the latest camera body, the best lens, the latest electronic photo-gizmo… Cartier-Bresson was an early adopter of the old film format 35mm SLR. After World War II he travelled the world, particularly India and the Far East, and saw some of the most momentous political upheavals of our time. The world he saw was raw, harsh and yet vital and dynamic. In those times of upheaval what he saw was not hardship and loss like so much modern photojournalism. He saw vital but ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

The essence of the Cartier-Bresson style was about the “decisive moment”. He saw geometry, pattern and structure through the viewfinder. In doing so he also saw chains of events, micro moments, adding together and creating a moment where the aesthetics and the story were expressed in the shot. He knows that moment is the only moment that the photograph would be right.

The power of his insight as a street photographer lies in his ability to see meaning and aesthetics in the moments when he took each shot. He did not spend hours on consideration of his equipment. He spent hours on the philosophy of the “instant” about which each photographic moment was pivotal. He saw into the “seeing of the moment”. It is that moment, if captured just right, that a picture is transformed into an image in the viewers mind. Capture any other moment and the picture remains only a vestige of an unseen event, it does not create the image.

The vitality and sheer energy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’ photography and insights is amazing. It is about the essence of his photography, not about the act of “doing photography”. Modern photographers spend too much time “doing photography” and too little time understanding the implications of what we show our viewers.

Some interesting comments

Quotes by Cartier-Bresson beautifully sum up his thinking.

To interest people on far away places… to shock them, to delight them… it’s not too difficult. It’s on your own country – you know too much when its on your own block. It’s such a routine, going to the butcher, it’s quite difficult in places I am in all the time, I know too much and not enough. To be lucid about it is most difficult… But your mind must be open. Open-aware. Aware.

(Photography:) It’s like having a search light, a radar… And that’s why to anybody who has done ten good photographs in his life it’s interesting (photography) because its a consistency. Its always re-examining things where you are freer and go deeper.

A camera is a weapon, you can’t prove anything. But at the same time it is a weapon. Not a propaganda means – photography, not at all. But er.. its a way of shouting what you feel.

The camera can be a machine gun… a psycho-analytical couch… it can be a warm kiss… It can be a sketch book, the camera.

…That’s strictly my way of feeling, I enjoy shooting a picture, being present, its like saying “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “Yes!”… Photography is like that, its “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “Yes!”. There’s no maybes. All the maybes should go to the trash. It’s an instant, it’s a presence. Its a moment. It’s there. Its the respect of it, the enjoyment of it. Yes! Its an affirmation. Yes!

Various quotes
Henri Cartier-Bresson
(August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004)

The decisive moment

What Cartier-Bresson did for photography was realise the imperative and aesthetics of the moment. This is something modern photographers often forget. We get so caught up in the equipment and the action of the moment. What we forget is that there is something beautiful in every tiny event. Cartier-Bresson spent his life bringing that out.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.