Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Street Photography: Fiction or Truth?

I was shooting on the streets with a dear visitor friend from India, Mithun Kumar on last Sunday. He was busy testing his newly purchased MMF-3 adapter that allows him to use the gorgeous Zuiko 70-300mm F4-5.6 lens on the much revered OM-D. He claimed that the focusing of the 70-300mm + OM-D + MMF-3 combo was noticably faster and more reliable in shooting than his previous use of the 70-300mm on Olympus DSLR E-620. I believe Mithun, and I think this has something to do with the optimization of Contrast Detect AF system, which the 70-300mm lens is compatible with. Good discovery indeed. 

While shooting on the streets in this particular session, something came across my mind as I was framing my subjects on the streets. Photographers are often assumed to be documenting real life events, or shooting what is already there. For most case of photography this is proven true: a photograph of a cat is a photograph of a cat, no more or no less. Similarly goes to a portrait of a beautiful young lady, or a sweeping landscape of the ocean on a sunset. The responsibility of photographers telling the truth as he captures the details presented to him is even more significant when it comes to documentary purposes, such as reportage and journalism uses. However, the more I look into the world of street photography, the more I realize that street photography may be lacking the credibility when it comes to telling the truth, because I see more work of fiction. 

Is street photography an honest representation of the world, or simply telling you strictly in limitation to what the street photographer wants to tell you? That is the question I want to explore in this blog entry. 

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens. 

Overwhelmed 



Against a Guard Rail

A ride to the Market

I have heard this saying somewhere, and that saying suddenly came back to me as I was sorting out my thoughts: 

A photograph is simply a piece or a part of truth that the photographer chooses to tell you. 

This means, the photographer may be hiding something, or not telling the whole truth. By doing so, we can also conclude that the photographer is deliberately lying to his audience, whether intentionally, or without knowing that he has hidden part of crucial information. This probably has no consequence or will not affect general audience in any manner, if the photography genre is harmless and purely for viewing pleasure. Ethical codes and the repercussions of not observing them will be destructive if such events were to occur for news or more mainstream media channels. Where does this leave street photography?

In strict traditional definition of street photography (which I do not exactly adhere to, in case you have not noticed), a street photograph should be completely unstaged, and the photographer should just shoot the scene as is, with no intervention or meddling in any way. If the image was purely unstaged, only then it can truly represent what the real life situation is, telling the truth, without the photographer's input or interruptions to contaminate the photograph. For example, a mother may be rocking a baby while sitting by the road side, and she has the sad, worn-out, weary and dreadful look on her face as she was comforting her child, and that powerful emotion is what will make that photograph tick, subsequently being the important truth that the street photograph was trying to speak: the suffering and difficulties of the mother and child. The photograph is real, and truth stays in tact, as long as the photographer did not "pollute" the situation. Supposing the photographer chose to walk into the personal space of the mother and child, stand about less than a meter away from them, pointed the wide angle lens (35mm is pretty wide) and snapped a photograph, do you still think the original truth being so overwhelming powerful in the first place still exists in the later approach? The mother would notice the photographer's presence, and him being too close, will impose a message of "threat", and the invasion of personal space will yield some sort of discomfort. The scene changed, and in this case, I do not think the photographer was telling the truth anymore. Even if he did capture that bit of information, it was only the part that he has orchestrated, or decided worthy for his own "criteria" of good photograph. 

No, there is nothing wrong in creating fiction out of photography. You can choose to tell your own stories, and create your own world in your photographs. However, it is completely wrong to lie to your audience, and tell them that what you shoot is the truth, knowing that what you have shot was already manipulated in a way that it suited your own agenda and goals in your so called "street photography". All over the internet now you will notice many modern street photographers, calling themselves "showing you the world that you have not seen before", displaying their photographs that contain questionable truths. They work on projects, and by projects, it means selecting only the photographs which are relevant to the "theme" of the project and discard everything else that the photographer thought would not qualify to fit into the whole presentation. Yes, if you have not realized this, a lot of those so called street photographers chose to omit many truths and just show you the part of truth that they want to show you. They bend and break the photographs to fit their own image of how their world is supposed to look like. Yet, when they show you their photography work, they proudly claim that those are the work of art that have strong leverage of what is real out there. 

Is there really any way to tell if the photographer is lying? Unfortunately there really isn't considering all the elaborate thoughts and tight process of "editing" (choosing the selective "few" images out of a pile) which only fits the truth (or shall I say lie, now) that the photographer intended to project. 

Street Paper

Mobile Generation

Who do you think you are?

Street portraits are more honest than what most modern photographers would call street photography. For street portrait shooting, all you have to do is get close, ask for permission (either verbally or with some sort of advanced body language and killer smile) and you shoot just what was there: the portrait of a person on the street. How well the photograph is executed depends solely on the photographer, will you be able to engage the stranger in a good connection that it shows in your photograph? Whichever way the portrait was captured, there was no way the photographer can lie, the portrait is a portrait. End of story. 

I cannot say the same with many kinds of street photography (which defines itself apart from street portrait, because you cannot ask permission or intrude the scene) in general. One of the most popularly practiced method (which I also shamelessly admit I do) is to find an interesting background, and wait for an interesting subject to walk into that background, completing the image. The background may be a large painting, a life-size poster or advertisement, or formed of interestingly shaped geometrical patterns or lines. If the whole image was already pre-visualized and so carefully planned from the beginning, having the perfect composition in mind, knowing exactly what the outcome would be, how then can you claim the photograph to be unstaged? I dare say that most street photographers, one time or another, some more often than others would use this method of finding a nice background and wait for that "decisive moment" to occur. That was not exactly a decisive moment if you ask me, it was a moment that the photographer deliberately created and made happen. It was a DECIDED moment. And in that decided moment, it was no longer the truth that the photographer shot, it was a work of fiction. Because everything has been decided. The stage, the background, and the choice of subject that comes into the frame. There is no truth in this kind of image if you ask me, yet the photographer in the end of his final display of the image will tell you all sorts of wondrous descriptions on the "misery or depression or emotional conflict" and all kinds of drama that he was capturing in the photograph. Shockingly, that was all there was, the things that only what the photographer wanted you to believe and see, nothing more. Fiction, is the truth being bent out of shape, to serve the photographers "artistic vision". 

There is an emerging group of photographers that have become increasingly daring to attack the strangers on the street. Attack, because they walk in incredibly close to the strangers and whack the photograph out of them. Such technique, is popularized by Bruce Gilden (though not originated from him) and have received more and more attention lately. They want to capture the expression of "shock and awe" and they believe being caught off guard, humans show their true self even for that just one brief moment. Of course, such technique has received many critical response, and I can say most of them were not pleasant or positive. I see this method of getting scarily close to the subjects as "staging your own photography opportunity", rather than waiting for photography opportunity to present themselves, see with our artistic eye and capture it (which most photographers do anyway). How much can you tell of a person when you caught them off guard? 80% of the reaction is probably defensive, since you are posing a threat going so close, and 20% would be annoyance or agitation. Such negative emotion are being recorded, and strangely those modern photographers claim to enjoy seeing the negativity in their photograph. They somehow "twisted" those negativity to work for them, claiming that they have photographed the "darker" side of the city or people. Another beautiful work of fiction, no less. Those photographs were nothing more than images of people being in the state of shock, trying to get away from the camera, or asking you not to shoot them, and in the street photographer's world, those truths have been manipulated to the society being self-conscious, scared of being found out, having secrets, and not comfortable being themselves in public space. I am not sure about you but I sure do not like this kind of fiction. Lies rarely cause anything good to come out in the end, and I strongly believe this applies to photography as well. 

Waiting for the door to open

Mithun Kumar, with his awesome 70-300mm lens on OM-D

Looking at what I am currently shooting, my own style as I do my shutter therapy on the streets (not sure if it was qualified to be a style), I may not fit into the mold of most modern street photographers. I am not sure why but I do not find the interest or motivation to produce fiction. I find truth to be a lot more compelling and interesting than fiction, and I have always did my best to show my photographs as real as possible, being direct and straightforward, minus all the dramas. I think most people who have viewed my photographs for a while know that I have done my best to present them as honest as I can. 

Sometimes, we do question ourselves and what we do, whether we are on the right track, or if we are doing something wrong. I get comments and feedback from you beautiful readers all the time, and that have helped me to grow and improve as a photographer. Recently one comment actually moved me, and I shall publish it here because that comment really got me thinking not only about my own shooting but also how much I have differed from the mainstream street photography style:

"I know that in a way these are just test shots but you are also a great photographer. My wife, who has never been a big fan of street photography, has been forced to re-evaluate her position. In the past her complaint was that street photography seemed only gritty and mostly depressing. She has been looking at your work for a while now and is beginning to wonder if she can ever consistently take pictures as uplifting, respectful and beautiful as yours.

She is so stubborn that I have to give you the highest marks for changing her mind!"


Posted by Lorenzo Valenzuela on my 75mm F1.8 review blog entry (click).

What struck me most in that comment has nothing to do with the positive compliments (ok I lied my ego got inflated out of proportions for a while there, come on, who would not?) but truthfully, it was the obvious statement on how different my images are from the usual street photography genre. I am not sure if diverging from the norm will be such a great thing, but seriously, it was not exactly a conscious choice to make, When I shoot on the streets, I concentrated on the things that caught my mind. I shoot what attracted my attention, may it be a kid riding on a bicycle, an old man reading a news paper, or a lonely flower blooming by the road. I believe it has a lot to do with the way I see things, and I shoot them as truthfully as I can. No work of fiction. Just plainly what I saw, and I translated that into my photographs. 

I chose truth over fiction. 

So what say you, and what is your take on street photography? Truth or fiction?

26 comments:

  1. Since I came back for a visit and noticed for myself what photos I am taking as well as what you, Scott and Luke are taking, I am also questioning the real meaning behind the term "street photography" - right now it is like a fad word - to let the upper class intellectuals slum it in the grungy streets.

    And there several young men and women who want to monetize it by creating income generating prints, exhibitions, activities.

    They are grasping the straws and quoting Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Gilden etc... on what defines the spirit. They wanna be the new Magnum photographers.

    However, really photography for me is about seeing the world, whether it is street grunge, street art, portraits posed, portaits staged or impromptu. They might be even abstracts a la Ahmad Jaa or documentaries a la Rippi or getting neo classic and looking for visual puns a la Luke Ding or revisiting my youth.

    Once you understand that street is an amorphous cloudy definition, there is no need to force an advocate debate on what is truth or what is fiction.

    Yes, I don't particularly like "attacking" a person. But that's me.

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    1. Thanks Ananda for the feedback and comments. while I fully agree with you that there really is no need for fully defining what street photography is, since everyone has their own style and preferences to shoot, but the matter of truth and fiction is an entirely different thing. To me there is just fundamentally not right about telling lies, or making something up, out of nothing that was actually there. Of course, others may disagree and choose to spread fiction all they want. But is this really what it has come to? Street photography, where people will do anything just to get what they want?
      Just some thoughts, I am sure many would have things to say too.

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  2. Hi Robin

    Congratulations on perhaps one of your best writings (that I have read) in your blog. I do agree with what you are saying here about the street photography and yes, even recently while in Malaysia, I did once stage (for want of better descriptions) a scene. In my post at http://footlessfish.com/2012/07/08/a-few-random-photos-around-kuala-lumpur the very first photo titled "passport photo" could be in some regards classified as not telling the entire truth. I was on the other side of the road at the time of seeing people walking past the shop and thought that it would make a great photo if I could frame someone in light coloured clothing walking pass the darker doorway with the sign "passport photo" written above. Consequently I stopped, changed lenses and waited until the right subject walked past. Would this be a creative or artistic approach to photography - I am sure it would be. Would it be true street photography as you have outlined above - No! I do want to tell the truth in my street photos and I try to do this in the best possible way I can. I also find the raw honesty and truth in photos to be the thing that appeals ost to me when I am looking at so called "street photography". If I am on the streets of Vietnam I want those at home to see what it is like. Likewise if I am on the streets of Brisbane I want to have an accurate reprensentation of what I see and what interests me. I do not want to be an in your face type of person and stage the scenes by obtrusively sticking a huge camera and lens only inches from a persons face (especially if a flash is connected). I want the scene to stay in tact as much as possible. I also do not want to wait forever in one position waiting for that perfect photo (even though I have recently been guilty of that). I am glad that you wrote this post and I hope that more street photographers consider this.

    Cheers
    Shaun

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    1. Thanks Shaun for your kind comments and sharing your thoughts on this matter. It is perfectly fine to shoot fiction, and tell the stories from our own perspective which may not be the truth, but we must have the responsibility to let our audience know that those are not the truth and we have staged the photographs. Claiming those staged photographs to be representative of the real world makes us no better than liars and thieves. I think truthful photographs are more compelling too, and showing what is real can prove to work better in many situations.
      It just saddens me to see many street photographers deliberately planned their shots, selectively edited their work just so that those photographs tell their own version of stories. Bending the truth to fit your personal agenda is not something I can accept as street photography.

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    2. agreed - and again a very timely post. Well Done!

      Cheers
      Shaun

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  3. I shoot a lot of street these days, maybe something similar to your "shutter therapy", it didn't start that way though but it sort of ended up there. Anyways, I can only speak for myself and about what I shoot...

    I come from a traditional art background (and a non-traditional one as well) which seem to be rather uncommon among street-shooters, so for me it isn't about telling some objective truth or about sociological studies through photography, it's about art and expressing myself, about my thoughts and views. I'm not a documentarian or a portrait photographer. On the other hand I've never claimed to tell any truths or that I show the world as it really is. I show things as I see them. And what I call street photography is probably not the standard definition either. I have many shots with no people in them that I classify as street for instance, because, to me, they speak on the human condition. Just as an example.

    I have had some internal debates about street photography though, one of them concerning the in-your-face style vs. the slightly creepier telephoto. On the one hand I prefer the telephoto (I very rarely use one though) just because you have no influence over your subject(s), you sort of capture them as is, compared to the in-your-face where you get noticed and get a response. I've got nothing against the in-your-face deal, I do it as well sometimes and you can get some great shots; it's all about what type of pictures you're after. I am more inclined to non-closeups though, shots that show a little more environment, which is more interesting to me. But as I said, that's just me. There are no rights or wrongs. But claiming you do something that you're not isn't really a good look. In anything.

    Peace,
    O

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    1. Hello Owl,
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, I really appreciate honest and open feedback such as yours.
      By doing shutter therapy, it is completely different from street shooting. Shutter therapy should be just about you and what you want to do, hence your take on expressing yourself through art in your shooting is just perfect, because you do exactly what you want to do, and nothing more.
      Of course I did not mean that one must tell the truth in his photographs. As you have very kindly put, you treat your photographs as self-expression, that being said, people would not assume things that are not there, or are not true. I was referring to many photographers that claim their photographs to tell stories, sort of documentation or journalism worthy to a certain extent, exposing certain issues and "truths" that they find and capture on camera. Again, you have put it very appropriately "claiming you do something that you are not is not really a good look".

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  4. Some great writing there. I have to congratulate you on the ideas you have put on there. They are things I have pondered myself but were never to afraid to ask about it. I think street photography to me is a bit of both. a mixture of truth and Lies. I feel like different things at different times. Some times I just want to document what is happening and sometimes I see the dark street which reminds me of certain Movie and I will try to MAKE a photo of what I want.. I don't know what is street photography really, I like works of Eric Kim and Good old Mad Bruce.. but their work is just not my style and I would be very uncomfortable try to imitate their style. I do prefer the works of the older masters like Bresson and Vivian Maier but no matter how you look at street photography it always a slight altered truth of the world because you pour in your emotion, you pick the shutter speed, you chose that angle and you press the button at that moment you want to record down what you feel toward this world. just like a movie director..... at the end.. Just stay true to yourself is enough I say. : ) Thanks again for a Insightful essay....

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    1. Hello MikeLawPhotography,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and also taking time to share your opinion, I really appreciate it.
      I think you really have something going on there when you mentioned that there always will be slight altered truth because of the photographer's input. How true that is! It is either we shoot what is actually there, or we MAKE a photo out of what we have in mind, the paper thin line to separate those two can be difficult to define.
      You were right, and it is crucial to keep in mind to stay true to ourselves.

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  5. Hmmm....interesting.

    The term of street photography has been discussed argued over and years and still there is no single proper definition to date. To take the view of street photography is "simply a street photograph should be completely unstaged, and the photographer should just shoot the scene as is, with no intervention or meddling in any way" s to take a too simplistic view of the so called genre. There are much, much more factors to consider.

    The balance between truth and honesty when it comes to photography lies on a thread. I read somewhere that a photograph is and always will be an interpretation of the truth. I wholly agree with this as I believe that a photograph is an interpretation of what the photographer sees. That in itself is as close to the truth as possible because we are capturing what is seen by us. It really doesnt matter whether the scene itself is staged or unstaged, decisive or decided. The whole so called truth may never be known by the persons viewing the photograph. In a sense, yes, the photographer will only let the viewer see what he chooses the viewer to see. That, in itself has already distorted the truth as we all interprate each image differently.

    The techniques used by different photographers are as varied as sand on a beach. Every one is unique. And we should as open minded people accept that while a particular technique may not be agreeable by us, it should be said that it may suit that particular person using it. If for example we were presented with a photograph that was compelling, emotional with great underlying stories, we would consider it a good photograph. It does not matter the techniques used to create said image. It would still be a good photograph. Say we know of the techniques used to created such a image, would we deem that said image rubbish? Why should the techniques used to create an image influence our judgement on a photograph being good or not? Not all techniques are agreeable to our own personality, well..to each their own I say...and that being said we need to seriously look within ourselves and see what suits us and what techniques suits us best.

    In my opinion, and this what I strive for in my photos, that a photograph must have an emotional aspect and the connection between photographer and subject to it (although I have failed in most circumstances :)..) To me since a photograph will always be an interpretation of the truth, it really doesnt matter the techniques used to capture said emotion. At the end of the day, if we have an open mind, and shoot with our hearts, then it more than enough. The best way is not to conform to any definitions and to develop our own vision and improve on our seeing. Anything after that are only distractions.

    I think I am babbling....:)

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    1. Hey Luke,
      No babbling at all. In fact, I am happy to find you blurting out your thoughts, and you should be doing so more often on your own blog !! Those are the things that will make your photographs and identity as a street photographer a lot more interesting.

      I was not exactly questioning the definition of street photography. Perhaps the simplistic generalization was not an appropriate one, but I had to make a reference to somewhere in order to based my argument upon. I recognize the wide variation of acceptable definitions of street photography, and indeed there is no right and wrong.

      I also acknowledge the different techniques that may be used by each photographer to obtain his shots. Again, as long as the objectives of the photographer is accomplished, it did not matter how he got it in the first place. The end would justify the means, like some would put it that way.

      The main question I was driving in my blog was whether street photographers are creating work of fiction. I boldly claim that it was perfectly fine to create fiction, or tell lies, if there was no consequences or any negative repercussions caused. Most of the time, we do not get anything more that would happen after we view the photographs, because they were just purely for viewing purposes only. However, my main argument centered on some photographers who deliberately chose to lie through their photographs, either purposefully hiding part of the truth, or making up something that was not even there. Twisting the truth and lying to your audience may seem like a method effective to gain your audience's awe and praise, but would that not be better done in an alternative manner, which is more respectable, being more open, honest and direct?

      Yes, judging and seeing how good or bad a photograph is, would be completely ambiguous and subjective in so many levels. We are not here to judge. I rarely talk down on any photographs, or photographers. Nonetheless, it is disturbing to see the trait of some photographers, where the lean more towards the work of fiction, yet they proclaim their work is the true representation of something that was actually not there. If the viewers choose to believe the photographer, I hope no harm is being done. What if the photographer is condemning a foreign culture and tradition, and making strong statements and claims about the negative aspects, would you think that is fair to the people being targeted? It is easy to just make up stories, but the victims are the one who will suffer, not the photographer.

      Being a good photographer also comes with responsibilities of what you are showing the world. Your vision may not be all the time clear and just, but using twisted meanings and playing around with lies and deceit wont take you far either. Just my own thoughts.

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    2. I tend to agree that manipulating one's photograph to show an alternate reality may not be the best way to showcase your photos. But in essence, presenting a series of photographs in a particular theme, is just a presentation of the photographers point of view. This of course does not and will not come be acceptable if you are a photojournalist or a documentary photographer where is it their duty and job to portray a scene as truthful as possible.

      with amateurs/hobbyist like the rest of us, what we wish to show the world is what we see...individually. There are no truths or lies. Its just what we see. Maybe I am being too straight and naive...

      :)

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    3. How we choose to see the world around us will at certain extent affect the outcome of our photography work. The images are after all the product of our vision, and how we saw them will be translated as the end result.
      It is the individuality that caused unlimited variation between photographers, and that uniqueness will create the identity in the photographer's work. I agree, the line between truth and lie may be paper-thin, it is hard to tell most of the times.
      As long as we do not have ill intentions or negative harmful thoughts while creating the photographs, it should be just fine. The key word like many have said before, is being yourself.

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    4. being yourself and staying true to yourself....

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  6. Great article! This redefined my thoughts on street photography and photography itself... i often do a lot of cropping and selecting before sharing my photos with friends and family on facebook so as to present the nicest and most artistic ones. I have to agree that my photos do not show the bare reality and so should I say they are just pure fiction! I just want to have the perfect shot with perfect focus, perfect exposure or even the perfect smile. Well, that leaves me to rethink about my photography style and ask myself what I really want to show on my pictures. I'm new to photography and I've done street photography only twice and I find it so hard to just shoot strangers on the streets... any advice Robin?

    Johan Chan from Mauritius

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    1. Hey Johan,
      Thanks for the kind words. I think developing style would take time, and a lot of experimentation on techniques, as well as improving our artistic vision. No rush on that, and it is crucial to question ourselves from time to time on our work, and how we can improve it further. Only by doing so can we become better photographers.
      On the tips on shooting strangers on the street, please read my older article:
      http://robinwong.blogspot.com/2012/03/approaching-strangers.html

      Hope you find that useful.

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  7. This is a very interesting question, and one that I don't think has a clearcut answer (like any good question!). There are many shades to telling the 'truth' with a photograph. One aspect is whether you affected the scene. Embedded photographers are an interesting example - how can you not affect the scene or people being photographed if they know you are there, especially if they actually know you?

    Another point is that by taking the photo you must compose it, and the context changes by what you choose to leave in the frame or not. A shot of a man with a knife makes him look agressive, but stepping back to show the five men with guns suddenly changes him to be the victim or oppressed.

    Thirdly, the photographer may not have the whole story. Our dog appeared in the newspaper (barking on the rood of our garage) during a local forest fire. It showed how crazy things were. Little did the photographer know she was always sitting on the roof!

    Finally, even the caption can wildly change our response to an image...

    I think there is little truth to a photograph!

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    1. Hey Brad,
      You got me thinking there about composition too, like if I choose to compose in a way leaving out the knife from the man, people might not even know he had a knife. Very interesting thought indeed. How much truth or fiction shown in the photograph is dependent on the photographer's intention and decision while shooting.
      Thanks for sharing your insight !

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    2. Here is the original incident that is behind my 'knife' comments: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/06/08/reuters-fake-photos-ihh-gaza-blockade-commandos/

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    3. Brad addressed a pet peeve of mine, captions. While we each have our own approaches, a photo actually happened regardless of how. Captions give an insight as to what the photographer was thinking was going on, and in many cases are just untrue. Captions should be pertinent information, not punch lines or editorial opinions.

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  8. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing another interesting photography thought which keep my mind working overtime since you posted this blog.
    First of all, I am an infant in street photography since I only knew these term in August 2011. Before that I called it candid shot in the street. My weekly shooting started on March 3rd, 2012, the day Eric roamed the KL street.
    In the beginnig most of my shots were feeding my viewers demand or my Flickr group qualification with little truth and more lies. As months passed by, more truth revealed as my shots get personal and emotion attached.

    By the way your blog move me faster in that truth direction. I thank you for that.

    Now I shot for fun and make friends in the street in the process. They gave me their friendship and I reveal their life to the world as not many people know the real stories of those in the street.
    Another fiction? Maybe but for me that is real life.
    Come Saturday, I am roaming the street again and meet more friends with their stories.
    Happy shooting and may you have a great evening.
    John Ragai

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  9. Hi Robin,

    I just finished reading Susan Sontag's "On Photography", where she goes deep into the topic you have here, and with quite a complete historical background.

    "Truth" is a difficult word to use it here, and in this context. As a painter, you always add to a blank canvas, as a photographer, you more or less constantly decide what to leave away. But if you leave something away, how can it be truth then? On th other hand, you are only able to show what you actually see, and so, yes, photography is both a form of art (of seeing), as well as story-telling. If your picture is telling the story you saw, it "speaks the truth", so to say, and everything else is redundant or would only detract. So leaving things away is a must - you cannot show the whole world in a picture.

    But I recommend to read that yourselves - Susan could explain it much better than me - I'm no writer.

    Very often I have the feeling that your photos tell stories - this is something you do very well, and probably better than most others. But I'm also not really qualified to make such a general judgement, so this is my personal opinion. But the truth? Which one do you mean? ;-)

    Keep up the good work,
    and cheers,
    Wolfgang

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  10. Donald W Leitzel7/21/2012 02:06:00 AM

    Robin

    I am not a street photographer, but I enjoy your work and that of many others I have found on your site.

    Many words have been written and spoken regarding "Street Photography: Reality or Fiction?

    Put in its simplest terms, reality exists only immediately before and immediately after the exposure.

    The image is only the reflection of the photographers interpretation of the scene the moment that the shutter closes.

    Don from America

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  11. Robin, I enjoy your blog and the fact you attempt to confront philosophical/artistic issues from time to time. This one, however, is very difficult. Truth is a huge topic that has been the subject of innumerable philosophic treatises for virtually the whole of recorded time. Does it in fact consist only of what the five senses can perceive? What role does the individual consciousness have in interpreting the raw data? If it plays a critical role (and many think it does), how is one to determine the truth? Does any Art intend to depict all of reality let alone all of truth which may in fact be larger than perceived "objective" reality? Where does subjectively representational art end and propaganda begin?

    In the end, shooting "on the street" images necessarily must include some things and exclude other things. Frankly, no other mechanism exits for making the choice than one's own artistic and esthetic subjective aims. I would submit that, unless it is completely staged and contrary to the flow of spontaneous activity, it is highly questionable to actually call a street image a "lie". It may not be true in a majority sense, but only in a minority sense, but there is likely some artistic and esthetic aim from which stance it has strong elements of truth, if not representationally then perhaps emotionally. Consider the most famous staged photo ever: the Doiseneau Paris V Day kiss. Or in your example above about the woman and child, the close in photographer is recording a "truth": the woman's (and maybe child's) reaction to him at a difficult time, or maybe he took a chance that she was so distraught she would not notice him/her soon enough to react and the image would be that much stronger for having been shot close in. (Having failed, then a further evaluation of motives in publishing it is likely called for.) On the other hand, if he/she stands off and records the event with a telephoto lens, what differentiates the photographer from the voyeur? I think it is difficult to reach a definitive "true at all times and for all purposes" code of conduct in these situations.

    Also, considering the often used Cartier-Bresson tactic of finding a location that "looked" promising to him and then waiting to see what might transpire, it's not clear to me why waiting in one place for something interesting to happen, because of certain compositional and esthetic considerations, is any more or less selective than walking around looking for the same thing...is hunting from a tree stand or a blind less honorable or truthful hunting than stalking the game? One might also inquire what value there was artistically to the Gary Winogrand purposeless "shooting animals at the zoo" type street photography. It was true representationally, but often quite empty of emotion. Does Art succeed that does not evoke some emotional response?

    In any event, kudos for taking on the discussion.

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  12. Black and white seems to be your forte my friend. Photographs speak a thousand times than words where you can speak for your thoughts and feelings. It's not just a hobby but it's already a part of your life. I'm already craving for my own camera and take pictures.

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