On street photography

Discovered Robert Frank’s photography today – would really love to learn more about different photographers and their work. Robert Frank’s collection of photographs The Americans revealed a side, or perhaps the reality, of an America that was not living the American Dream, at a time when it was most glorified.

Words that come to my mind when I look at his pictures – emotive, raw, honest, grit, invisible, poignant. 

As a photographer, I can identify deeply with his photographs because of the way they are shot – he chose to remain invisible, capturing the moments he saw quickly and then moving on.

I know there are ethical and philosophical debates about street photography and the role of the photographer. Some choose to make a story from their pictures by interacting with and seeking to understand their subjects, dispelling certain assumptions that we would make of an image or moment at first glance.

Others, however, choose to remain a fly on the wall, simply observing and sieving out the beauty and humanity in honest, everyday moments.

I belong to the latter camp, mainly because I am an introvert and the act of taking in and connecting with my environment takes me into the zone and sometimes even overwhelms me. When I walk around with my camera I feel it becoming an extension of my existence.

While I understand the social impact that interacting with photography subjects and telling their stories can make, I also have this strong inkling that the mystery and poignancy of certain photographers’ work would dissipate if they tried to break that barrier of unspoken connection between them and the moment.

Robert Frank is one of them.

Haven’t been struck by photography in this way for such a long time. Leaving this post with my favourite photos from him, and a quote that inspired me from an NPR interview:

“Like a boxer trains for a fight,” Frank says, a photographer needs to practice by getting out and taking pictures every day. “It doesn’t matter how many he takes or if he takes any at all. It gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of or what is the right thing to do and when.”

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While perhaps less purposeful than photojournalism and documentary photography, street photography also plays a part for social justice in its own way. By capturing the humanity and emotions found in ordinary moments that we share with millions of strangers across the globe, it makes us realise that we aren’t that distant or vastly different after all.

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