After reading the part on street photography in the reader I have been looking at the work of numerous street photographers and spent hours online, checking out their websites, read interviews and be inspired. A few of them stood out most, mainly because of their distinct style, innovative techniques and subject matter. Looking then at my own work I feel that there is so much that I can explore and practice, especially when it comes to using different photographic techniques and post processing.
I started my search on 10 Most Influential Active Street Photographers and ended up checking the work of the photographers mentioned there. The site defines ‘influential’ in terms of the amount of followers in social media, their distinctive style and innovative approach. First thing I noticed was that there are only men on the list and I wonder why. Are there less female street photographers in general and is that because of safety issues or just that they feel more drawn to other types of photography? Or is it that their work is not well represented in the photography community in the first place? Anyway, food for an other post!
John Free is well known for his philosophical views on street photography and his online courses on Youtube. His photographs have strong contrast, are BW and have surrealist influences. There’s a strong influence of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, sometimes almost exact copies of their photographs, which put me off a bit. The images have no captions and mainly focus on the connections between the visual elements in the frame. Separate subjects form a whole because of the interplay between time and place. Compositionally his work is very strong, but again, I find that he has let himself measure up against other photographers and therefor maybe has lost his own style and personality in the images.
I watched a few films on Bruce Gilden’s website in which we see him at work in the streets and talking about how he photographs, what drives him and the subjects he is looking for. Gilden has a very distinguished style; direct, close and in the face. He uses flash and a short focal range, which produce very unforgiving, detailed images of the people he meets. ‘The viewer will always feel he’s a participant because I’m working so close‘ and ‘Flash helps me to visualise my feelings of the city, the stress, the anxiety that you find here … I look for characters, things that make an impression on me, not the average person.’
Gilden doesn’t care about ethics while he is working. He searches for the periphery, he feels good with the people he photographs. It takes a lot of guts to photograph the way he does. First of all, for bluntly photographing people with a flash in public and running the risk of them getting really angry with them, second for showing humanity in its most extreme. I don’t think I could photograph like this, because I just feel it’s not respectful, which blocks me. But I do wonder if I should force myself to just do it sometime, not be hindered by ethics, what is right or wrong, but photograph everything that catches my eye? It might turn out to be a freeing experience that might expand my own work as well.
Lee Jeffries on the contrary, ‘gives people’s likeness a greater meaning and imbues them with the iconic soul of humanity‘. Jeffries doesn’t want to exploit or steal photographs, but capture ‘real emotion’. He calls his work spiritual iconography and brings an almost otherworldly atmosphere to his portraits. Part of the proceeds of Jeffries’ photographs go to funds for the homeless. Jeffries’ work reminded me a bit of Avedon’s portraits; we don’t see the surroundings the people have been photographed in, he focuses mainly on their features with a very distinct personal style. I actually think it’s his style that gives the images the iconic sensation and not so much the people themselves. Is this a case of telling a beautiful story around a certain technique, or really wanting to show the people for who they are? If so, when and how do we actually do that in the first place? If he had used the same techniques with people who are not homeless, would the images have looked similar, would the viewer experience the same emotions?
Whatever it may be, I do think his portraits are very beautiful, Jeffries is able to bring out striking features through shallow depth of field and high contrast. His focus on the eyes give a direct emotional connection and sense of awe that I find very touching. I would like to practice using the same techniques in my portraits.
Boogie also photographs the periphery of society, but takes it to the extreme. Looking at his images in a chronological order, I notice that in his earlier work he goes out looking for subjects who are most of the time invisible in society, spends time with them and photographs them. Most photographs of the gang member are quite staged, the people show their coolness, their violent facade and stress the preconceived ideas of danger and anarchy that most viewers already have of them. Boogie photographs drug addicts in their homes, while they are using drugs. There are many close up shots of the addicts injecting themselves. Contrary to the gang photos, it seems almost that they are not aware that they are being photographed, we see kids being neglected, and the photographer wandering from one place to the other, without being directed by the subjects themselves.
Even though I have a lot of respect for the fact that Boogie is able to connect with these people, the dangers he faces and braveness of photographing what he wants, I do find his images a bit stereotypical; they confirm our ideas of gangs, their violence and behavior, the confirm society’s judgement of addicts not caring about anything but themselves, neglecting their kids and living in filth, women in Thailand are prostitutes. It would have been interesting to see more of the human side, so that a viewer can rise above its preconceived ideas, gain understanding and make an emotional connection.
A photographer that I had not looked at before that really surprised me, is Charampalos Kydonakis, aka Dirty Harrry. His surrealistic, weird photography is surprising and very refreshing. Kydonakis shows an unending creativity, using of different techniques in his photography, blurs, long shutter speed, use of flash and post processing. In his interviews, Kydonakis is very matter of factly and doesn’t delve into his motives, philosophies or ideas behind his work. He doesn’t hold on to one particular style, is innovative and very matter of factly. In his bio he states that ‘the more I shoot, the more I realize what I want from photography and at the same time the more I get confused about what I want …’ This sounds very familiar! I find it quite freeing to see people at work with so many different styles and ways of photographing. It shows that there don’t have to be boundaries to the way I photograph and develop my own work. It is an ever ongoing process without a destination, which is just fine to me.