30 Dec 2012

we're all Londoners now

Editing my work for the new website reminded me of the excitement of finding something new in pictures that I'd thought had nothing more to offer. It got me thinking of taking that process up again in book form which, as after publishing Ambiguous, I'd been taking a break from. Indeed, as well as selecting images, the process of sequencing, of shuffling, pairing and juxtaposing, was one I've really enjoyed and found to be another rewarding way of looking at my photographs. 
My initial idea is to develop the Londoners theme. Seems obvious in retrospect but I suppose I've always considered the character of the city itself as significant an element in my images as the people themselves. Focusing, literally, onto individuals is a challenge to me. It's not "my style". However for me making books has become an opportunity to question just that. I love the constraint of working to a particular format, to a particular image size and shape. I'm attracted to print on demand services as I can experiment with these ideas at low cost. Consequently I choose another economy style, a little bigger than The Distance Between Us. As with that book it makes me think hard about one of my absolute articles of faith FULL FRAME, NO CROPPING. However whether by accident or by design - hey, another one of my catchphrases - this decision becomes a lot easier as the narrow, portrait format lends itself very well to the Londoners idea. The consequent crop gives the figures centre stage. Significantly some of the minor players, those with bit parts in the original, now come to the fore thanks to the indiscriminate scythe of the crop tool.
Initially the book takes on a claustrophobic mood. Images full bleed over the edge of the page, facing each other on left and right pages. I cannot seem to avoid the influence - although I'm certainly not in the company - of two of my favourite books, Invisible City by Ken Schles and Michael Ackerman's Fiction.
However I realise that the subject of the book is now the city itself, not the individuals as I'd proposed.  As a statement of intent I re-name the book Londoner. I step the images away from the page edge. I give them each their own page of white space opposite. Two simple acts but transformative. The pace of the book slows. The energy of the images is not diluted but accentuated. The individual figures become just that, no longer competitors in an Olympian 100 metre dash, but characters in a marathon performance of Shakespearian comedies and tragedies. 
link to Londoner book

30 Nov 2012

ways of walking stands up

It's like seeing a child grow up but I've had to accept my Waysofwalking website now has to stand on its own feet. The old design was wilfully "artistic" and not particularly intuitive to use. Definitely a case of style over content. The new design turns that around.
link to Sean's new website
My priority for the new site - bearing in mind it's taken five years to update it - was to future proof it as best I could. Consequently this one is what's called responsive which means the layout adjusts if you're looking at it on a tablet or smart phone. You can drag the window around on your computer and see what I mean.
link to Sean's new website

I admit the design feels a little basic but it'll be interesting to watch if visitors stay longer on the site as there is now more pictures to see more easily. The process of editing them for that purpose was fun.
As well as the established collections, like The Distance Between Us I've published as books, I've brought together images in new ways as well. Sign Language is, I hope, self explanatory, however I confess Touched, Wonder and Londoners seem more arbitrary but, for me at least, hold together. This is as close as I'll get to "labelling" my pictures, advocate as I am of the ambiguous!

25 Oct 2012

who's calling the shots?

Purely by chance - is there another way? - I find myself thinking about the implications of another piece of new technology that's caught my attention. 
Life logging has had a couple of recent shots in the arm with news of upcoming launches of Autographer, "the world's first intelligent wearable camera" and Memoto "the world's smallest wearable camera". The notion of recording my daily life in pictures in an arbitrary way i.e. with no choice in especially what I'm taking has a certain attraction to my wayward sense of purpose.
What would a journey down Oxford Street look like, a image every 30 seconds or whenever the camera fancies? How do we value an automatic street photograph, created with no conscious decision by the autog-rapher/me-moton to take it? For that matter can we even begin to absorb such an individual's output of up to 2,000 images a day? Will we see, like kinetic photography, a community of practitioners dedicated to developing techniques to literally put their own spin on the images? Could we see synchronised flash mobs, creating tapestries of stop motion style images? Jousts between rival crews on bikes careering towards each other? Citizens acting as mobile cctv vigilantes?
Or, more likely than my dystopian fantasies, are we entering an age where simple images of common humanity are as distant as daguerreotypes and need to be produced through a Hipstamatic filter to satisfy our richer appetites?
Here's the interesting consequence of this latest wave of innovation for me. The removal of any authorship of imagery, only ownership by virtue of simply being, quite literally, in the right place at the right time, is ironic. The resulting images are certainly unique but I wonder if our criteria for selection will become less about the content, more about both the metadata - the objective information about when and where the picture was made - and the tag, the subjective way we choose to describe and categorise that image at the time it was made. They become pure records of fact, in our ever expanding digitally documented lives. The Descriptive Camera follows the former its logical conclusion. The latter ambiguity plays to a favourite theme of mine.
Will that age of analogue photography, with its associated canon of great photographers, come to be regarded as we do now the Dutch masters? A darkened room in a dusty museum. Perhaps it's already happening.
Photography has by its nature been defined by technology. However this is an age where image making and distribution is in the hands of effectively everyone. That's powerful stuff as we've all witnessed in different places around the world. Consequently the impact of any new camera, mobile app, photo-sharing service is far greater than before. Understanding who's calling the shots is going to be interesting.

21 Sept 2012

decisive moments

The decisive moment is a phrase I've often questioned. It's a neat strapline serving to communicate the essence of street photography. It leaves no doubt what constitutes a great, or even good, street photograph.
In my own work I've played with the notion of decisive. In my world the precise moment is left to the trinity of my partners Fate, Chance and Serendipity. The results can be interpreted as lucky shots. I'd argue that my approach takes just as much presence of mind, channelling the spirit of John McEnroe as well as Eugen Herrigel.
This debate has for me been refreshed by two recent, well in the last year but time for me is a little elastic, events.
I'm not a great follower of new cameras but I couldn't ignore the buzz around a new Nikon. Let me hand over to the experts... 
Smart Photo Selector (SPS) captures the perfect moment in any scene; shooting 20 full-resolution images in the time it takes you to snap a photo: you just press the shutter once and, utilising the pre and post capture technology, the camera starts to take the pictures before you’ve even fully depressed the button. Your ‘best’ five shots are saved based on facial expression, composition and focus and the ‘perfect’ shot is presented to you. Never again will you miss the very second a dog catches a ball or the joy on your child’s face while they are on a swing. 
Well fancy that. Not one but 5 decisive moments. Now I'm not so old as not to know about motor drives but the concept of "pre-capture" is fascinating. Are we now about to see bodies of work of pre-decisive moments, full of nearly men and wannabe women?
Well guess what. With no suggestion that any pre-capture technology was employed a new - OK six month old - book by Paul Graham reveals sets of sequential pictures from a fixed point of view, a cascade of decisive moments each as valid as the one before...or the one after.
link to Rockefeller Center, 23rd April 2010, Paul Graham
Rockefeller Center, 23rd April 2010, Paul Graham  
The Present neatly denounces the first article of faith of street photography by referencing the stock elements of the genre: New York City sidewalks, late afternoon sunlight, office workers and panhandlers, visual puns and ironic juxtaposition. Each served up and hit to all corners of the court. It's a tour de force but executed so clinically it's more an exhibition match than championship final. Decisive moments are ten a penny here, but nonetheless still precious, their value quality not quantity.
For me the spirit of this particular deconstruction of street photography is one of renewal. It describes a way forward to a place where street photography can still be fresh, relevant and of today. Not just a homage to a golden age nor replacing the bow with a Tommy gun to make damn sure you get your shots.
This is a place where moments are still sought and celebrated but it's not 30s Paris or 60s New York. Any decision of our times is a best guess.
It's still some way in the distance for me but I think I'm on the road at least!

21 Aug 2012

for the grace of god

Memories of New York in the 80s recently hit me watching a film about Bill Cunningham, a chronicler of Manhattan street and society fashion. His way of working can be characterised by a comment he makes to someone concerned he's missed dinner at a charity event he's photographing. "I eat with my eyes" he informs her. And so he does, not just eating but living and breathing it too, out on the street with a degree of fanaticism and "in your faceness" that reminded me of Bruce Gilden but, significantly, without the aggression or latent hostility. Bill Cunningham is more a butterfly catcher than a hit man, pinning the exotic, the ephemeral to a page in the New York Times for dissection and classification.
His technique of riding a bike, eyes more on the sidewalk than in front of him, affords him the ability to anticipate opportunities that a foot-bound mortal would miss. I'd love to know how many of his 27, and counting, stolen bikes were sacrificed for the prize of a picture of a pair of Manolo Blahniks.

The overwhelming emotion I felt was of the capricious nature of street photography. Its promise of the perfect picture, always just around the corner; the nobility of the endeavour, chasing rainbows not the Dollar; its intrinsically subversive behaviour, breaking conventions of a polite society. Falling into temptation is to embrace an alternate state of body and mind. Intoxicating. Liberating. Addictive.
I confess to have fallen from grace several times. Certainly not to the heights of Bill Cunningham but the streets, of New York in particular, called me and I was a willing follower.

26 Jul 2012

give my regards to broadway

I'm really pleased to see the Museum of London's survey of London street photography has now transferred to the Museum of New York City. For me it's the return leg of a journey that started back in the 80s when I began to take pictures in Manhattan in a style that I only later understood was street photography.
Since then my theatre of operations has been pretty much London, with the occasional tour to continental Europe and beyond, but the the city has reverted to what it was before I lived there a long time ago...a constant influence through music, film and literature but also not so much a physical place, dare I say it, more a New York state of mind.
link to my Museum of London street photography show selection

So my images in the show feel like a homage in two ways. One to the birthplace of a style of photography that portrays the individual in a city in a struggling to assert their identity. The other a postcard, "Wish I was there"!

11 Jul 2012

you'll never walk alone

First of all I feel humbled to have had a responsibility for the work that all contributors have put into my Street Photography Now Community instruction. I appreciate it was dangerously close to parody and not very helpful in a practical way. Nevertheless you've created a great body of work that I'm proud to have an association with. They've certainly made an impact. I've been carrying them around in my head for the last couple of weeks.

There are some real standouts, displays of intuition and reflex worthy of a ninja. There are also some slow burners, some growers, whose worth is revealed over time. This is a bit of a theme of my own work and also an opportunity to apologise for not making this post on Flickr. Its instant nature has been a barrier to me. Indeed I'd have struggled to respond to my own instruction in the timescale!

Working with film, as I do, splits the making of an image into two moments. One the act of taking it. The other, the flipside, the moment of seeing it come back to life on a contact sheet, maybe months later. This had lead me to the notion that, for me at least, the essence of street photography is about savouring that initial moment of seeing the shot, of sharing the moment. Whether I got it or not is a separate experience to be enjoyed in its own way later.
Aha you'll say, sounds like a lame excuse from someone too slow to make the grade. Well youngsters, maybe getting a little older does have something to do with it, but perhaps it's more an appreciation that our calling as street photographers is a privileged one. To stop and stare is a precious responsibility, one built on the shoulders of our predecessors.

Anyway less talk, more action. It's been tortuous but here's my selection: Christos Biniaris, James Guppy, Helene Mashkova, Kuba Paczkowski and Mark Russell.
It's a well worn observation but this process of "exposing" my way of working to you all has certainly made me stop and reflect on my own motivations.
Seeing and reading all your responses is a new experience for me and not one I had the opportunity of when I started out back in the day. Finding them now when I've been working pretty much independently is significant. Thank you. You walk with me still.

8 Jun 2012

welcome to my world

If you've stumbled across me courtesy of the Street Photography Now Community then I'm very pleased to meet you. The brief I've set is very much open to your individual interpretation. If you're interested in understanding where I'm coming from with it then please read on. If not, then just get out on the street now!
I'd toyed with a more directive instruction. There's certainly been some great ones already in the series. My first instinct was to reflect my own approach

"Take a picture without looking"

However when I thought about it a little longer it didn't feel particularly inspirational for anyone to follow so I tried

"Let the picture find you"

That felt stronger.

Then it struck me that successful street photography for me is about moments. Not just decisive ones where all elements of an image meet each other in a happy accident to create something substantially more than the sum of their parts, but those instances when I connect to the flow of life around me, where I feel both inside of it yet outside too, like a musician finding a perfect riff out of thin air.

Helpful? Even more confused? Don't worry! No pressure!

"Be of the moment. Let the picture find you"

16 May 2012

one chapter closes, another opens

Ambiguous is now available to buy on Blurb! I've attempted to keep it as affordable as possible - hence using Bookify and a small format - but there are plenty of ways of upgrading it with finer paper and covers. I actually enjoy the pocket-size feel of it: it's more of a travelling companion than a coffee table ornament. I really think it's stayed faithful to the original idea too. Hope you agree!

So, what next? Well I'd like to introduce you to a new project. No, not Ambiguous 2, with twice the budget and half the ideas, but something a little more ambitious and no it's not Ambiguous 3D!

The principles of this new project are familiar. Images from your archive, hard drive, shoe box, what you will. A re-viewing of them, putting to one side the original intention behind taking them. Some words too.This time I'd like you to pick out a bystander, someone with nothing to do with the original subject of the photograph. I'm not talking photobombing here. Just a face in the crowd, the back of a head, a reflection, a shadow,  Still with me? Good. Now the hard part.

Have you ever played a childrens' game of story-telling, making the plot up as you go, one line at a time? Well that's the simple idea behind this project. This time, instead of drawing on a personal memory based on fact, I'm appealing to your fictional flair! I'd like us to tell a story of that character in the picture - adding one or two lines at a time - threaded together by our images.
For example, here are some candidates of mine in mind to kickstart the project.
link to Incidental
It could be the woman to the left closing her eyes, because of the sun perhaps, or the man seated scratching his nose, maybe it's itchy, to the right.
This won't be everyone's cup of tea I know. However I'm not anticipating Shakespeare. It's about seeing how far we can stretch reality and explore the truth of any photograph. Kids' stuff.

Interested? Willing to give it a shot? Of course you are!

To join the book project - no obligation, no fee, a small chance of immortality - please send an email with the subject line "Me too!" to sean@waysofwalking.net

I'll then be back in contact when I have a picture for you to respond to.

Oh one more thing. The name of this project?
Naturally, it's Incidental.

7 Apr 2012

eyes on the street

I try and mix my reading between fact and fiction. Much like my life really. Two books I've recently enjoyed, Ground Control by Anna Minton and The Man of the Crowd by Edgar Allan Poe, have given me some great insight into my street photography.

I've always been conscious, and used to my advantage, the aversion of most people on the street to actively looking around. This self absorption is a natural defence mechanism to unwanted eye contact. However the act of looking can be interpreted as an act of social responsibility. Drawing on Jane Jacobs's portrait of New York neighbourhoods of the fifties, their rhythms of daily life observed by a cast of characters from a Helen Levitt street scene, Minton contrasts that particular form of natural surveillance, mutually acknowledged by strangers for the common good, with our modern experience. 

Granted it's a jump, perhaps not so great, to the anonymous, unsyncopated churn of London's west end of today but what struck me was her description of this activity as the "eyes on the street". Who now occupies this role? Who is sensitive to the hour of the day, to the random acts of strangers?

link to image

This notion of eyes on the street, of a self-anointed guardian angel, sprang to life when I then read Poe's short story. In The Man of the Crowd I'm dragged through the streets of Victorian London in pursuit of an anonymous figure, an odd man out, a consequence of the author's surreptitious survey of the passing scene.

The wild effects of the light enchained me to an examination of individual faces; and although the rapidity with which the world of light flitted before the window prevented me from casting more than a glance upon each visage, still it seemed that, in my then peculiar mental state, I could frequently read, even in that brief interval of a glance, the history of long years.
Published in 1840, neatly coinciding with the pioneering work of Fox Talbot, Poe foreshadows a street photography routine, one in fact taken up superbly by Sophie Calle's Suite VĂ©nitienne.
On reflection these two sources give me a real sense of the significance of street photographers today, just in the simple act of doing what we do: stopping, looking, stopping, following. Minding other people's busi-ness.

14 Mar 2012

Land, ho!

Captain's log, March 14th 2012...
I'm proud to announce the safe arrival of the good ship Ambiguous. Passage has taken just over 12 months and taken in a number of ports around the globe. Progress had been constant, only becalmed around the turn of the year. The crew are a disparate bunch but all shown great endeavour in our enterprise.
Yes I imagine many of you believed this mission had proven the world really is flat, and fallen off it, but you are mistaken! I had little idea this project would take the time it has but I'm still incredibly pleased.
Looking at all the images submitted since last March is a walk through a family album of sorts. In the same way a snap of a childhood day at the beach prompts reflection beyond the frame on the circumstances of the event, each participant in the Ambiguous Book Project has not only given up an image but also some real insight into their lives. For me the ideas I've harboured around the meaning of images and the interpretations they are open to has been wonderful to explore.
Now we enter the Book part of the project. I've been working on layout ideas and will be shortly contacting all the participants with details.
Prepare for landing!

20 Feb 2012

portrait of a street photograph, part 2

Well I've made an edit of the images from Barcelona which, on a cold, dark day in London, is a welcome tonic! One of the consequences of the gestation of my work is an appreciation not only of the passage of time but of season in particular. The scraps of sunshine in the winter city are both a promise of days to come and a reminder of the capriciousness I'm at the mercy of.
I'm really happy the potential mise-en-scene of the contact sheet I was particularly occupied by has been realised. This is a first for me! I've left out the don't go back ingredient of my own recipe for street photography. Before now my experience has been that I can never beat that initial, gut response to a possible picture. Any second attempts become 3T: too thought through
link to Barcelona image
On this occasion I managed to keep the spontaneity of the first contact and, by turning the dance of the street to my advantage, come away with two images that both stand alone and together.

link to Barcelona contact sheet
Hope the London saying about waiting for a bus for a long time and then two come along together will be true for me. Twenty years will be a long time to wait for another such opportunity!

See more sunshine here.

12 Jan 2012

Evelyn Hofer, a great photographer

I was fortunate over the holidays to drop in to my favourite second hand book shop. A while back I came across an original catalogue for the Family of Man exhibition so I always cross its threshold with a lovely sense of possibility, often dissipated. On this occasion however I found real treasure. Not a great rarity but a book whose cover had really made an impression on me when I saw it first time around, a monograph of Evelyn Hofer

With the luxury of looking at it at home and not furtively in a shop I was really absorbed by her images of Dublin in the sixties. A place and time with resonance in my own life. Despite appearances to the contrary I do enjoy colour photography. The particular light evoked in those images so integral to their representation of time and place I can only stand and stare. The portraits anonymous, for the most part, but complicit. Subjects soulful.
Girl with Bicycle, Dublin 1966, Evelyn Hofer
Girl with Bicycle, Dublin 1966, Evelyn Hofer
Her work is so wonderful and so largely unknown that, not for the first time, I wonder how quickly we rush to form a view on the Canon of Great Photographers. It's human nature of course. We all need our Top Ten songs, film stars...paint names [no? maybe that's just me].
There's the occasional Vivian Maier to upset the status quo but there is so much great work to discover and enjoy. Not every photograph that can be taken has been taken! Or at least found.
In the meantime I'll keep riffling through the shelves of pre-loved books, open for persuasion.