15 October 2005

Street photography 1

When I was younger and had time to spare – like on a weekend – I’d pick up my camera and just head out on the streets, taking photos of whatever caught my fancy. I’d shoot buildings (I have a fascination for old architecture), hoardings with interesting messages, trees and people.

Of all my subjects, people were the most difficult to photograph, and I was always afraid of photographing them. They hardly ever remained stationary long enough for me to get them in the frame and click the shutter. And, even if they didn’t move too much, by the time I’d get close enough to get a good shot, they’d get up and walk away. So much was my disappointment at this that I had decided to give up street photography altogether.

In fact, I didn’t even know that my sojourn on the streets with my camera was considered a genre of photography called ‘street photography’. Then, a couple of days ago, I read an article called ‘The Indecisive Moment’ by Gerry Badger on ‘stream-of-consciousness’ photography, from Issue 9 of the Harvard journal ‘Fantastic’. And, while reading about Robert Frank, William Klein and Garry Winogrand, my passion for street photography was re-kindled.

From an article on Garry Winogrand by Peter Marshall from the portal About.com, I discovered that (and I quote from the article):

“Winogrand was the photographer who more or less invented and defined the genre we know as ‘street photography’; from his first photography until his death he photographed mainly on the streets – and his best work is on the streets of New York. Of course others had photographed on the street before, in particular Europeans such as [Andre] Kertesz and many of the New York photographers associated with the Photo League, but their work was largely concerned with character and anecdote; with Winogrand the view was wider and could be considered environmental. He photographed people, but his focus was on the street and the person (or people) in it rather than simply on the person.”

But, what really moved me was a quote from Winogrand, reproduced at the end of the Harvard ‘Fantastic’ article by Gerry Badger:

“I look at the pictures I have done up to now, and they make me feel that who we are and what is to become of us just doesn’t matter. Our aspirations and successes have been cheap and petty. I read the newspapers, the columnists, some books. I look at the magazines (our press). They all deal in illusions and fantasies. I can only conclude that we have lost ourselves, and that the bomb may finish the job permanently, and it just doesn’t matter, we have not loved life.”

[Garry Winogrand, quoted in John Szarkowski, Winogrand: Figments from the Real World, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1988, p 34.]

You can see Garry Winogrand’s pioneering work here.

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