Posts Tagged ‘street photography’

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.

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.

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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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I am both a Nikon and Leica shooter.  I shoot film and digital with both brands and the other day I sat down at my Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter–that’s where I do my best thinking on paper–and I wrote out what each camera type is good for.

For shooting street photography, Leica may be classic, but my Nikon with a 20mm, auto-focus and aperture priority beats it every time.

Every. Single. Time.

Because there’s no fuss, I have the Nikons–F100 for film, D610 for digital–set for back-button focus and -0.7 dialed for exposure compensation on the digital, so I make sure I don’t blow any highlights, or +0.7 set for film, to make sure I get a dense negative, and I can shoot out my car window and guarantee a shot.

I can’t do that with my Leicas.  I’m using an M9 for digital, which does have aperture-priority, and an M2 for film. They need attention, finessing.  It’s great for contemplative work.  But not for lightning quick.  At least not for me.

Yes, I use hyperfocal/zone focusing with the Leicas.

These three photographs were all made out my car window with the Nikon as I was passing these scenes at some rate of speed.  I can’t get these with the Leica.

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Businessmen waiting on a corner in Rochester NY.

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A vintage car driving at dusk on I-70W.

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The real people of Las Vegas on a street corner just off the strip on a Sunday morning.

The first two were shot with a 20mm f2.8, the first AF 20mm Nikon made.   The last with a 50mm f1.2 AIS manual focus lens.  They show what I saw, real life, captured in split second.

Even this one, while I was attending an Italian festival in Denver, I stopped to talk to another photographer after I noticed his Sony camera and some behemoth of a lens.  But while I was talking to him, the sausage man appeared and with the Nikon and 20mm, I could turn, focus and shoot in one fluid motion, nail the shot, then it was back to my conversation.

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A man carries his sausage, his winnings, at an Italian festival in Denver.

At the end of the day, story comes first, and it’s all about the photo.  I do love the way the Leica looks and feels, and its small size, it’s just not a street shooter for me.  That’s the conclusion I came to when I was typing out my thoughts.

As a further test, I went out to downtown Denver this past weekend to shoot street photographs with another photographer.  The shoot went so well, I came back with several photos that I’ve included in my updated street photography gallery, ColoradoFaces.com.   Photos #4-13 all came from that Saturday afternoon, all shot with the Nikon and the 20mm.

So enthralled with the results, I went back down the next day with the Leica M9 and M2 and a 21mm Elmarit.  I thought, wow, if I could do that with a Leica and a 21mm, it’s so small and light, it would make a great kit for daily use.  Guess I hadn’t used the M9 recently enough, as I ended up putting battery after battery in it, four in total, and they all quit within a few shots.  I still had the film Leica, so I could keep shooting, but I certainly shoot more conservatively with film.

I wished I had brought the Nikon.

By the way, my Nikon has five bars on its battery readout, and it can be down to two bars, and I can still get a whole afternoon of shooting with it.  Nikon batteries rock for lasting and not petering out.

So, what’s my point.  For me, it’s Nikon film and digital for shooting documentary photographs, they’re quicker and I feel more confident I’ll get the shot with them.  And I do.

Leica is a great camera for portraits and documentary coverage where you’re going to be working the scene.  The build quality is incredible, as you know.  I love documenting my friends with it.  Posing them and creating photographs.  And it’s a treat to use.

But just like a Rolleiflex and a Hasselblad are both portrait cameras in my hands, a Leica is a special camera for portraits or a day of deliberate shooting.  Not grabbing life on the street.

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A portrait with the Leica, HP5, a beautiful negative and the magic of film.

When it’s speed I need, I go with the Nikon with the 20mm.  Or the 50mm.   The viewer feels like they’re in the shot.

And I get it every time.   That’s my story.   And story is king.

I really believe people at all levels should share everything they know with everyone.  Nothing is to be kept secret–there are no secrets when it comes to knowledge.  Teach everyone everything.  When we share what we know, we empower others while maintaining our place as a fearless professional.

And you have to be fearless to take on the photography profession these days.  But for the people who do it for love, even better, and I share with them all I can.

Last week I taught a day-long Street Photography workshop.  Wow, was that amazingly fun.  My student was in Colorado for a conference, visiting from Tampa, Florida.

She said she had photographed street but she wasn’t comfortable photographing people and capturing their faces.  Well, that changed on that day–maybe it was the class setting, but she did great and took on the subject head on, literally.  She was shooting a Nikon with a 50mm.   And I was shooting a Nikon with a 20mm.

There were some things that one lens worked better at than the other.  That’s just the way it goes when you have no focal length zoom and have to work with what you have.  There were some subjects that we both photographed, and hers worked out better and vice versa.

But overall, I was so pleased to spend the day pounding the pavement, seeing what we could find and finding plenty of subjects.

The first time I taught photography, I was 18 and was teaching at a night school for a high school program for adults.  When I walked in, the students looked at me like, “What’s he doing up there?”  Then they found out I was the teacher.

I remember back then thinking I hope I have enough material to fill each class, and we ended up not having enough time to finish, what with questions from the students filling in time.

This workshop went well, too.  We met at a coffeeshop to look at some of my street photos, talk about approaches and our backgrounds, then went out and worked up and down the 16th Street Mall in Denver.  We took a lunch break at Union Station where we input our photos into our laptops to see which ones were immediate possible selects.  Then we worked the afternoon and finished up at another coffeeshop where we input the rest of our shoot and discussed the day.

She was well on her way to many great storytelling photos in her future–she has a good eye and sense for finding her subject.  And had some winners from the day’s shoot.  I was very impressed.

I look forward to teaching more.  There’s something about watching another photographer light up, excited about photographs.  I know that feeling well, myself.

Any day photographing is a good day.

Here are some of my selects from the day.

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