Archive for the ‘street photography’ Category

I’ve noticed what wins street photography contests: Weirdo photos.

4-29-2019 1-24-30 PM

2018 winners in StreetFoto

Oddball pictures.

Have you seen this?

The photos at the right are the 2018 winners in StreetFoto.

To my eye, none of them look like the classics by Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson, who I’m betting are masters that these street photographers look up to.

The Winogrands and Bressons, the Friedlanders and Davidsons made pictures of real moments, not just oddities, freaks and crazy scenes.

I would suspect that none of their photographs would even place in street photography competitions today.  They look more like documentary photographs than photographs with a gimmick or a hook, grabbing the viewer’s attention.

Their photographs documented the human condition and I don’t see that as being terribly valued in today’s street photography, at least by what I see that wins awards.

What else wins awards?  Busy streets with lots of people filling in different areas of the frame.  That’s a big winner.   Add in faces of foreigners, you’ll win first place.

Visual puns–they’re also a favorite of contest judges.  See for yourself in the second place photo.  Nothing against them, but I believe that’s what’s in.  More gimmick/grab, less human condition.

Deep shadows, with something in a spot of light.  Strong graphic elements.  Those are winners, too. See the Honorable Mention to see what I mean.

Perhaps it’s because in this digital age, everything is quicker, and we have no attention span, so a photo without a hook isn’t going to be seen.  No one has time to look at a photo that doesn’t shout its meaning.

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Garry Winogrand’s Hollywood & Vine scene.  What is that, social commentary?  Next!

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Henri Cartier-Bresson’s shoreside picnic — seems rather usual, who cares, pass.

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Garry Winogrand’s sailor photo — Would this photo place anywhere today?  Doubtful.

Here’s one of mine.  I think it’s a tremendous look at a part of Las Vegas that isn’t the glitz and glamour of that city, made on a Sunday morning just off the strip when most of it was closed.  I bet these are locals who work in the area.

Las Vegas Blvd, just off the strip, Sunday morning, June 29, 2018

That’s not getting entered into any street festival award contests.  It’s real people, it’s documentary, but there’s no crazy element.  Here, see it big–does it give you any sense of what these people’s lives are like, even without the crazy?

Same with this one.  To me, it’s a fun photograph of a boy telling his mom what he saw a fisherman catch.  Not enough of a hook to win anything.  Here it is big.  With a famous name on it, everyone would be praising it, and it would hang 20×24″ in a gallery.  Without a name, it’ll never be seen.

A boy and the fishermen on the Santa Monica Pier, July 4, 2018.

Or this, of a celebrity stalked by paparazzi.  I wanted to make a photo featuring the photographers.  Not going to win any prizes.  Here’s a bigger version.  It’s a storytelling photograph of celebrity life in the early 20-teens in Studio City, California.  The celebrity is Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars.  I’m glad I don’t have her face.

Paparazzi on a Studio City CA sidewalk, July 5, 2018.

I know what it’s like when I’m out shooting street photos–I’m looking for the oddities, too.  That’s what grabs my attention.  I’ve been conditioned just like everyone else.

Here’s my street life photo gallery, you’ll see obviously I’m seeking a hook at times, too.  Because that’s what street photography is now.  Not a documentary photograph.

And that’s unfortunate.

I prefer the storytelling images of human nature, and people living today.

Unless they can see the difference.

Many people cannot see the difference.

So, many people don’t care what camera you use.

The camera doesn’t define you, or make your work.  You do!

You define your work.  Here’s proof.  This photographer shot 100 different cameras, and yet the work all looks similar.  Because it’s not the camera.  It’s the vision.  It’s the person behind the camera.

Photographers tell us as much about themselves as they do the subject they are showing.  For essentially they are saying, “This is what I photographed, this is what I made.  This is what I like, what I value.”

Look at the photos, ideally on a big monitor and hit full screen at lower right.  It’s such a great display.

When I show my street photographs, they are a reflection of what I see and think are storytelling images.  To you, they may mean something entirely different or nothing at all, based on your life experiences, what you like and what you relate with.

We all get to finish the art for ourselves.

At a talk about a book, someone commented to the author their take on what the book meant to them, and the author corrected them, saying that’s not correct.  The person commenting protested, “Who are you to say what it means just because you wrote it?”

Another good collection of photographs is by Jason Lee, who I recently found out about online.  I knew him as an actor from My Name is Earl, but not as a photographer.  He shoots several types of film, from 35mm up to large Polaroids.

 

From the work I see, I’d suggest he’s a romantic, into nostalgia, and maybe a bit of a historian.  He likes things that are incongruous.  The work certainly has a theme.  Many of the images share a similar look–do you agree?

I see a big difference in the look of film versus the look of digital.  And I get lulled at times to just use the Nikon DSLR and a 20mm–I feel I can do anything with that, it’s quick and easy.  It’s always ready to make an image.

Except it can’t make film images.

And what I make–that also defines me.  And you.

This spring, I will be shooting more film than I have been this winter.  Both 120 and 4×5. Because that’s what I like.  That’s something about me.  And you’ll be able to notice that about me in the work.

Or maybe you won’t.  But I will.  And some will.   Regardless, it all comes down to the story I’m telling–what is it I did with that film medium.  Photography is a vehicle to take someone somewhere.

We have to take them somewhere interesting, while revealing a bit about ourselves.

I have a secret.  I’m going to share it with just you.  Okay?

If you want to get inspired to make photographs (or to write, or to paint, etc.) there’s one trick that you must know.  One little trick that is so mind-blowingly amazing, it’ll change your creative life.

Once you know it, you’ll have the key to inspiration forever.  It’s something you cannot forget.  It’s simply unforgettable.  But it is truly the key.

So, this is the secret.  It’s a very elusive thing, something that most people don’t know, so don’t share it, unless you want to let them in on it like I’m doing for you.

Just you.

This is it.  Are you ready?  D’you have something to write with?  You might want to write this down.

It’s so simple, that must be the reason that so many creatives miss it.  It’s sooooo simple.

Here it is.  The secret.  Two words.  I’ll print them lightly, so as if to whisper them.  It is a secret after all, the secret you were seeking.

[Show up.]

That’s it.  Have a good day.  Now go to it.

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Wait, let me expound on that.  Give you a little about what I mean.

I was listening to an interview with Bob Dylan, and he was asked how he wrote some of his early famous songs, and he said he didn’t know, they just came to him.

They just came to him. 

But he had to be there.  Ready for them to come.  He showed up and was ready to receive the song and create it.  He was sitting at his typewriter and had his guitar or piano and he was in the process of working to write songs.  That was his sandbox and he was sitting in it, sand up to his knees.

Related imageThe photograph above is me working at my typewriter.  I write as well as make photographs and some writing I do on a typewriter, in this case, a very lovely Olivetti Lettera 32, which by the way Dylan also wrote with.  So, I wanted to make a photograph of me at the typewriter because I wanted to experiment with some new strobe lights and portable lighting setups.

To do it, I had to show up.

I had to assemble the lights.  Set up the light stands.  Power the lights.  I had to place them and set the exposure.  Get the camera on the tripod.  Once I had them all set up, the playground was there.  The sandbox was ready for me.  All I had to do was anything I wanted.  Now it was time to play.  So, I made several photographs.

Here’s a silly one–I was channeling my best Cindy Sherman, a very famous artist known for casting herself in her portraits.  But again, it’s me at my place, working away, feeling like having a laugh.  I was thinking about how I often crack myself up.  (Do you ever do that?)  Once the lights were set, it was a chance to play.

That never would have happened if I didn’t get the lights out, the camera set.  You see?

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To make these photographs, I had to set up the lights and their remote triggers–it’s all wireless these days.  I like the look.  The lighting.  That was a fun shoot, and it got me to see how much I could do with my own space, it gave me the chance to work with smaller lighting fixtures, and it was a creative outlet.  I usually use large AC-powered soft-boxes and this was a new tool, these small battery-powered strobes, in my lighting arsenal.

Plus, there are these photographs to show for it.  Fun photographs, well-lit, the look I was going for, and I got to play.

So, I can rephrase the secret: If you want to be inspired, go play.  Take your tools.  For a writer it can be a laptop, a typewriter or a pen and paper and go sit outside at a park under a tree, or a coffeeshop or a pub, wherever you can go to stay in the playground.  For a photographer, set up the lights where you are or grab the camera and go.

Whatever it takes.  The muse will deliver the inspiration when you have the game set up, but often not before.  She’s funny that way–she doesn’t always come around before we show up.  But once we’re there, get ready to write your own Blowin’ in the Wind.

We. Just. Have. To. Show. Up!

I get a lot more street photographs when I go to town and walk the pavement than when I sit at home thinking about what to shoot.  To shoot street, you have to go to the street.  A couple hours at a time.  Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s no such thing as “thinking about it”.  There’s nothing happening when we say we’re not quite ready, we’re still pondering the idea.  That does nothing.  We haven’t arrived to play.

So, there’s the secret.  Wanna write a song?  Grab a notebook and pencil and your instrument and start.  Show up, see what comes from it.

The inspiration comes after you arrive.  Not before.  You can go with no ideas, and they’ll come then.  When you’re ready.

Really.  Go with no ideas.  Go uninspired.  It’s fine.  Just go.

Wanna make photographs?  What do you need to get started?  Lighting?  Go pull out the stands and start setting them up.  As you are doing that, the ideas will come.  At first, try anything.  That something will lead to another thing.  That’s the muse at work!

Large format?  Go load the film holders and put them in your camera bag and warm up the car–you’re going shooting.  Go out and look for a subject.  Maybe the weather looks like it’s not perfect, so what, go anyway–maybe you’ll find it’s exactly right where you go, when you get there.  But you’ve gotta show up.

Now you know, that’s all you have to do.  So simple.  Just two words.  The muse is waiting to work with you.  The creativity happens when we’re in the playground.  Not before.  Not when we’re “thinking” about it, while feeling un-creative.  She arrives when we are ready to be creative.

She waits until we’re up to our knees in sand!  So, go.

Show up!  The muse is waiting.

How could that possibly be a good thing, having your work rejected, you ask.  Well, let me tell you about myself.  I’ve both won awards as a photojournalist and haven’t won awards as a photographer.

Why is that?  Timing.  Placement.  What the curators want.

I have my brand of photography–documentary photography, photojournalistic storytelling, street life photography.  I believe in myself and know I have my own view.  It’s not copying anyone.  It’s uniquely me.

Knowing that, I pursue it and keep working at it.

And I get rejected all the time in contests and competitions.

So.  [Shrugs]

It means that my work isn’t what they’re looking for.  What are they looking for?  Maybe what they envision the art to look like.  Like it’s always looked like.  The regular kind.

Not straight, perhaps.  Little weird, maybe.  “That’d be cool for the show,” they might think.  “Like a cow wearing roller skates.  That’s way rad!”  If that’s what they want, I have nothing to offer them.

Animal With Sneakers

It doesn’t matter the reason.  Maybe they just didn’t like it.  What is their experience with photography, and what do they like?   Where is their history, what defines them?  What is their agenda for what they want their show to look like?

What is it about them liking it or not liking it that makes me okay with it?  To me, it’s not about the acceptance.  It’s about the placement.  I guess if my work isn’t accepted, it’s not right for them in this show.  My work wouldn’t have fit so it’s better to not be included.  And misfit.

They must have a different kind of work in mind.  Okay.  Do I stop doing what I do and change up to try and please them?  No, of course not.  That’s impossible.  We can only create our vision.  Our view.  And we must be true to it.   (Mine doesn’t include cows and roller skates!)

No one can create what we can the way we can.  That’s our vision, our brand.  We must work at building it.  And one day, when they are looking for something different, something unlike what they thought they wanted to find, but instead discovered something else, something you make, your work will be incredible to them.  And you’ll be included in their show.  And they’ll love it.

And they’ll wonder why you didn’t submit sooner.

But that’s not every show.  Every competition.  Every contest.

Every show isn’t ready for our vision.  But we don’t dare stray from our truth.  Our art.

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If you’re an actor and you go into a casting session for a role, and you’re 5’6″ tall and they want someone 5’9″, they have a preconceived notion of what they want and you will never get the part.  You can nail the audition, you can bring the casting director to tears, you still won’t get it, you never had a chance.  Because you don’t fit the size they want.

Same if you have red hair and they want a brunette.  You can’t play where you never had a chance to play.  But you can only be you, all 5’6″ and redheaded as you are.

What’s your work?  What do you believe in?  Make that.  Make only that.  Create your truth, your point of view.  You have something uniquely to say.

I see my work as a constant creation.  I add photo stories to the RoyStryker.com documentary photo project three times a week (sometimes with other photographers, and you can contribute, too.)  I create portraits on film.  I shoot street life photographs–these will be a huge hit in 30 years, because time makes them valuable!

Someday, my work will be featured.  My work will be chosen.  But not every time, not every contest.  Not today, as I just got a “We regret to inform you…” email.

Even when I won press awards back at the newspaper I worked at, I often said, “Change the judges and you get all different results.”  It’s true.  Plus, there were photographers who weren’t very good photojournalists who were often the award-winners.  It doesn’t always mean an award-winning photographer is necessarily a great photographer.  It even makes me question the value of my win–“Yeah, but you also like THAT?”

Competitions are about what fits what they want.  Where does your work fit?  Keep making it and they’ll find you.  Your work will get discovered, when they’re ready for it.

So, maybe we don’t fit today.  Maybe this show isn’t for us.  Ok, good to know.  Move on.  Keep working.

We’re making our vision.  They’ll come to see it one day.

I live in Colorado, and while nature is pretty and mountains are beautiful, I’m not drawn to photographing trees, lakes and landscapes.

I like people.  It’s because I’ve been a photojournalist my whole life, and for me it’s much more exciting to photograph a spirited interaction between a couple, a kiss, a funny face, a human storytelling moment, than it is to catch an eagle in flight.  Both take lightning quick reflexes, but for me, the street offers one-of-a-kind photographs that can’t be planned or predicted.

It’s wild life, not wildlife.

And it’s full of so many expressions and stories,  For me, life in the street is where I like to go.  Plus, I get exercise while trekking down the sidewalks, working the street (which is why good shoes are one of a street photographer’s greatest piece of gear).  Sure, you get exercise hiking into a location, but to me, the ever-changing scene, the unknown around the next corner, the human story that might be unfolding, that is what fuels me to keep going out.

Not to the summit.  But the next block.

Like a barefoot woman running across 10th Street in Boulder.

01.01.2019 – All those ones!  Beginnings!

It’s a new year, 365 possibilities lie ahead.  What will we do with them?  What will we create?

For me creation is the source, the inspiration, that gives me so much that is my reason for being.  I live to create photographs, stories, and even time spent with family and friends, that’s creative too, as we share stories.

In the new year, I plan to create even more photographs and stories, plus continue to teach others what I know about making photographs.  I believe we can never have too much to offer, we can never give away too much that it threatens what we are.  No one is going to ever replace us–we each have a unique vision and sharing what we know is important, so that others have the tools to create their own works.

So, share what you know with everyone who asks.  Put it to others how you do what you do, fearlessly.  Because people are eager to learn, and there are no secrets.

There’s only creation, including getting others the inspiration and tools to create their own.

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A study in contrasts, Lyric Theater, Fort Collins, CO.

If you are making photographs, find a gallery or office lobby or coffeeshop that hangs local art and have a show.  Get your work in front of others and showcase your vision.  You have something to say that I can never say.  Because you are you, and see in your unique way.

If you are thinking about gear, either get it, or forget it.  And get shooting.  Photographers make photographs.  Most cameras these days are quite capable. Put them in the hands of a pro, and you’ll see it’s not the camera.  So, you be the pro.  Get out there and shoot.  Learn from your successes and don’t show the photographs that don’t work.  That don’t tell a unique story.

Great editors make great photographers.  Edit your work tightly.  The less you show, the better the collection is.  Don’t show two of the same thing–you’re the storyteller, why are you repeating yourself?  You’re the artist, which one do you like–show that one.  It’s not the viewer’s job to make the choice.

That way, the viewer knows they’re in good hands, of a competent storyteller.

You can shoot by pounding the pavement–it’s great exercise, bring comfortable shoes–or on your way to work out the car window.  Whatever works.

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Photograph made out the car window, Rochester NY.

But make art.  Be the visionary.  Give the world your view.  Because we need it and no one can give it your way but you!

Happy New Year, 2019!  Here’s to great light!

Hey, street photographers.  I have a new series for you.  So get outside and get shooting!  But first, take a look at my videos–new episode every Saturday.  You are encouraged to participate, too!

YouTube – Kenneth Wajda’s Street Photography Channel

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