Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Early Days on the Streets

I did not know what exactly led me to dig deep into an older hard disk storage, where I unintentionally stumbled into old stash of photographs, taken in first half of 2010, which was about two years ago. I think I must have been looking for an old song which was on the same storage space, what intended to be a quick search ended up becoming hours of browsing through my older photographs. It was the first few attempts on street photography, when I was still fresh, experimenting and exploring out there, with my previous camera, Olympus E-520. The hours passed gave me a big smile on my face, because those photographs reminded me of so many things, of who I was, how I got to where I am today, and what paved my passion and strong interest in street photography.

The reason why I picked up street photography back then was quite simple: to get away from being overly obsessed with the technicalities of the camera. There was a phase where I was extremely crazy about macro photography: insect photography to be exact, and everything was purely technical. I did not see myself growing as an artist, and I did not develop any good artistic vision as a photographer. Therefore, I decided to try out an entirely different game altogether, and I got pulled into the world of street photography. On the streets, it did not matter if you get your photographs sharp, carefully lit, or beautifully composed, but there are so many other important elements that are crucial to make street photographs work. Those elements require a lot more than just technical perfection and camera know-how: you need to have courage, you need to be alert at all times, and more importantly, you need to have the "photographer's eye" to look for good subject contents: not just ordinary subjects, but subjects that have emotional connections, and tell stories.

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and various Zuiko Digital lenses, in January to June 2010. 


Outside a Fence



Pigeons Pavement

Legs

Five Foot Way

Mother's eye

Shoe Racks

Religious Country

Suggestive Gesture

Communication



Boy, did I know what I was doing on my first few rounds on the streets? Not really, I was as clueless as a child. In my first ever street walk, I came home with only 20 shots, and out of that 20 shots, nothing came out useful. I tried again, and again. Each and every time I came home I asked myself what I could have done better, or how my photographs could have been be better. About a few months later, I had an epiphany: it was not about how I shoot, it was WHAT I shoot on the street that truly matters. I started to be more alert, and pay attention to smaller details, seeing things a little differently, and soon enough, I saw more and more potential street subjects to photograph. Some would say that those early shots were utterly rubbish, and unusable, which I would agree. I think it took me almost a year to get to a place where I was comfortable with my images, and started to believe: "aaaahhh that is how it is supposed to work". Confidence, and assurance grew over time. I did not have all the answers, I don't think I have more uncertainties and doubts as I was shooting each and everytime, but that did not stop me from moving on. Was I blind to just shoot and shoot without proper guidance and rules to follow? Not really, I somehow instinctively know what I wanted to accomplish, I do see the goal, but getting there is the difficult part. I did not expect to become an expert in street photography over-night. Heck I do not know how long it would take for me to make it there, but that does not really matter to me. All I care about is now, that I am able to shoot, and enjoy shooting each and everytime I am out there. The journey may be long and never-ending, but hey, sometimes it is all about the journey itself, that truly matters.

Being a self-taught photographer was not easy. I did a lot of mistakes. And I repeated the mistakes more often that I would have liked. However making the mistakes allowed me to understand myself better, and know how to overcome my own weaknesses and improve from there onward. I am a very practical person, being an engineer, I believe in hands-on experience. You have just got to do it yourself to understand it. You can learn all you can about driving a car, read all the books, memorize the guidelines, go through all the written tutorials, but if you have not driven a car in real life, how can you tell and convince others that you can drive a car? Similarly applied to photography. Photography is a very practical art: it involves the photographer to be active in shooting, in making images happen. That is the process of photography: to make photographs. Reading and being over-analytical on principles, philosophies and all those famous sayings that older generation (mostly of which were already dead) photographers (insert your favourite photographer here) will only get you so far, but you will never have those "greater understandings" materialize if you never make that shutter button click. 

Decay


Stools

Holy Read

Paper Thin

Giant Umbrella

Burden

Steel Stairs

Falling

Mending Shoes


Were those photographs in this entry good street photographs? No, I do not think so. Why do I show them here? Why not just hide them? Well, because I shot those photographs, they were mine, and I was happy with them. Yes, they were far from being perfect, with too many flaws, but I was not ashamed to admit those flaws. If I started to list down the mistakes and what could have been better, I think there is no end to it. I often did not watch my shutter speed, having unintended motion blur in the early photographs. I was not courageous enough to get close, instead I shot mostly from a far distance with a tele-photo zoom lens. I only learned to get closer, and shoot straight into the eye of the street people much later. My composition was too straightforward and simple, and I do believe the photographs appear too simple and plain. Those mistakes were made, those weaknesses were recorded in the photographs, so that I could see them, and learn to overcome them. So that I will strive to do better, bit by bit, in my future attempts. If I were to close my eyes and hide those photographs, I would have ignored the flaws and would I have improved? It is important to study your photographs, and learn about yourself, your photography work. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, and find ways to become better and stronger. I have never deleted a single photograph that I took on the street, so you might be shocked on how much storage I have for my street photographs over the past few years, shooting consistently every week. By not throwing away those photographs, taking a good, long, hard look, I learn, and I improve. No matter how small the steps are, I move on, step by step, bit by bit. 

I think the most important thing about photography, any photography practice at all, is being happy with yourself, and what you are doing. Your emotions and your connection with your photographs will show in your photography work: is your passion really there? Is your heart in the right place? Are you trying to be someone you are not? Are you hiding something? When people look at your photograph enough, people will see your identity. Your identity is your strongest weapon, hence he yourself, and be happy being yourself. 


9 comments:

  1. Robin, I have a Masters in English Literature from Cambridge, so I don't do "Wow!, OMG!, fantastic" or any of the other overworked superlatives. But your work makes me (almost) believe I know KL, the real one, not the tourist one.

    I feel close to the real Malaysians when I see your very human portraits.

    You are to Malaysia what HCB was to Paris, and I don't say that lightly

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    1. Donald W Leitzel5/09/2012 02:42:00 AM

      Robin, its obvious that the quality of your street photography has nothing to do with equipment. You really have an eye for the image.

      Keep up the good work.

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    2. Hello Ron,
      Thanks for the overly kind compliments !!! Oh dear, I do not deserve such honor, still far from HCB's level.

      Hello Donald,
      Thanks for the kind words, and yes, photography equipment is secondary when it comes to photography.

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  2. Dear robin, i've been following your blog since I got my first real camera (Pen E-PL1), seeing your street picture make me say to myself, 'I wanna be like Robin' yet, i'm still far from reaching your level.. And now i'm still learning the photography just by looking at your blog and some other site. You blow us, readers, with your way of telling story. Bravo!!!

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    1. Hello Amir,
      Thanks for the encouragement. The reason I can connect to many readers, is because I am one of you, and we are all learning photographers, having common goals: to improve and be better in our photography game. I too, have my struggles, hesitation and doubts, and I too, have stories to tell in my process of learning, which is never ending. Hence I do what I can to write and share those stories.

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  3. Hi Robin.
    Great shots even from your early days in street photography. Thanks for sharing those real life images.
    During my first street, i just managed to shoot one image in one afternoon with a Theme: "Child on the shoulder", I should have chosen an easier theme. That was also part of my photography training in 'Learn how to see.'
    I used to follow Thomas Leuthard and Eric Kim's blog on street photography but now I will definitely follow your blog too as you are really one of those street photography sifu.
    Good news for me as my wife said I can roam the KL street this coming Saturday after accompany her to fetch her 'thing' at BB.
    Thank you,
    John Ari Ragai

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    1. Hello John,
      Thanks for your generous words, but I am not qualified to be a sifu !!
      My work is nowhere near those professionals such as Thomas Teuthard and Eric Kim, but hey, I do think that we all have different styles and preferences that we adopt for our street photography. There really is no right and wrong, it all comes down to what you want to tell through your photographs and how you present them as a whole.
      Glad to know that you will be roaming the streets !

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  4. The picture with the artificial leg really is a beautifully sad image while the humor in the cat picture reminds me of my own pet. Thanks for always sharing.

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    1. Thanks Tom Z !!
      My pleasure to share.

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