3 Sep 2016

modernising street photography

My latest embrace of the world of street continued with a wonderful weekend at the first London Street Photography Symposium. I found some lovely like-minded souls with whom to share ideas, walk the streets and hear their thoughts.
What struck me was the populism that the phrase "street photography" now holds. Nick Turpin recalled how he felt like the only street photographer in London, sorry the only photographer taking pictures on the street, when he started in the 80s. It was still an isolated, idiosyncratic practice. Since then the popularity of the term has grown, facilitated by the internet, to a point I regard as "peak street" in 2011. Now street photography is used comfortably to describe a variety of styles, subjects and forms of image making. I find parallels here - sorry it's a bad habit of mine - of the adoption by the mainstream of underground or transgressive creative forms like punk or rap, skateboarding or street art etc. With acceptance and familiarity come a dilution of the "ideals" of the original movement. Pale imitations proliferate, superficially similar but soulless. But don't get me wrong. There is no one way to do street. Like any faith it can accommodate many beliefs, disciples and prophets. However it's inspiring when you do stumble across the real deal.
link to new London street photographs
What is interesting about street is how it's shadowed and refracted the mainstream technological developments of the medium. Think 35mm Leica and Contax in the 1920s, the Speed Graphic in the 30s. I've reflected on my own love of old school techniques. They grew organically, a product of my own circumstances in time and place, not as a deliberate homage.
My recent experiments with digital have made me reconsider my work in relation to the facets of that technology. I'd argue cameras on mobile phones are now fundamentally different to the classic machines I've referenced above. They are networked devices designed and used to record, manipulate and share, often in realtime, very personal moments with both intimate friends and anonymous authorities. Is there a new form of street photography that can reflect our times in that way? My ideas are still hazy. I'm not talking scavenger hunts!. Perhaps time to revisit Ambiguous?
Time will tell.

14 Aug 2016


I've rekindled my love of books about cities reading Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo. Set in New York City it bridges my last post well...
He felt the street around him, unremitting, people moving past each other in coded movements of gesture and dance. They tried to walk without breaking stride because breaking stride is well-meaning and weak but they were forced sometimes to sidestep and even pause and they almost always averted their eyes. Eye contact was a delicate matter. A quarter second of shared glance was a violation of agreements that made the city operational. . . No one wanted to be touched. There was a pact of untouchability here.
Using my phone has changed my technique out of necessity rather than deliberate choice. My from the hip style reflects a covert/non-confrontational/sneaky/zen-like (delete as you wish) attitude. Working with my phone necessitates a precise touch on the screen to take a picture: simply speaking I need to bring it to my eye level...and subsequently to that of the photographed too. 
link to new London street photographs
And my problem is? Well, as DeLillo says, eye contact is a delicate matter, a pact of untouchability. To break that is to tear the veil we share between us. A touch melodramatic? Perhaps but I have found this "new" way of walking as exciting as any period of my work. 
Bear with me while I find my feet again!

21 Jul 2016

still looking at me

Another return after a break. This one almost 30 years. Back to where it all began. 
I certainly had mixed feelings on my return to New York. My fears of a sanitised city were unfounded though. Manhattan, its people and its streets, I'm glad to report are still alive and kicking against the pricks. I found Times Square and my old rat runs as stimulating as the first time.
Here are some rough cuts of some ideas in progress. 
Do not adjust your monitor. Yes they are colour and digital. 
Have mercy.
link to street photograph
link to street photograph
link to street photograph
link to street photograph
And here's a quotation I heard on the radio one morning
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  TS Eliot
Feel there's another book in the making here...

4 Jun 2016

finding my feet

Ah there you are, now were was I?
It's been a while since I posted but don't worry I'm still here. Still snapping. Still street. Still black and white. Still, well, still.
My latest project is called Finding My Feet for both literal and metaphoric reasons. I found myself with an opportunity to spend some dedicated time back on the streets of London this year. I'd never stopped seeing street. I just needed to start remembering it again. Tool of choice, as a way of getting myself back in the game, was a digital phone. Heresy? Well maybe I'll have to revisit my classic recipe for street photography and make it a little more nouvelle...Interestingly enough my analogue style has translated without too many adjustments. 
link to London street photographs

It's a work in progress. That's the nature of digital. That's the interesting part for me. Will the infinite overwhelm the finite.
I hope to find out!

5 May 2013

London joins the Photobook Club

I recently had a great opportunity to share my love of photobooks with some like-minded souls at the first Photobook Club London event. 
I'd discovered the club earlier this year and was particularly taken by a project that the force behind it, Matt Johnston, had initiated based on a book that had really fired my imagination back in my New York days, Invisible City by Ken Schles. Matt and Ken created a "digital resource" effectively enhancing the experience of the original work with interviews and notes. A real treasure.
OK back to the event. The Photobook Club idea has spread far and wide around the world. Formats range from Bring Your Own Book, sharing its personal significance, or more formally discussing a "book of the month". I'm pleased to report the first London meet-up took neither course.
Hosted at the marvellous Ti Pi Tin space in East London we were able to spend time perusing the photobooks on display and pick one, or more, off the shelf that took our fancy to discuss with everyone else. The choice is intriguingly diverse. Japanese miniatures bound by silken threads, idiosyncratic self-published pamphlets, heavyweight tomes from the major publishers all vied for my attention. 
Between chatting to the other attendees my attention was caught by a navy blue cloth-bound book. The subtly embossed cover listed names, like a roll call of lost souls. Inside I found a collection of portraits, consciously stylish, but for me at least with a more personal, deeper connection. The mood had an elegiac quality, informed both by the title, Nothing Lasts Forever, and the subject itself, the transition from youth to something, somewhere else. I had no knowledge of the photographer, Tyler Leboneor of the book beforehand so when I came to discuss it with the group it was wonderful that someone could tell me yes it was a fashion photographer's study of his friends and, in addition, they were from South London, place of my roots. OK not so challenging but a great way of broadening my usual diet of monochrome urban grit. Not so good for digestion.
Anyway around the table we became gradually more confident to express and discuss our thoughts. I'd like to think it was very much in the spirit of the Photobook Club idea. Everyone had something to contribute. Everyone came away a little richer. Can't wait for the next one.

29 Jan 2013

pickpocket photography

“This is going to be interesting,” Robbins said. “O.K. Time to go shopping.”
When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time.
"My goal isn’t to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality."
In pursuit of his craft, Robbins has ended up incorporating principles from such disparate fields as aikido, sales, and Latin ballroom dancing.
But physical technique....is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
So he is this Robbins guy, a new street photographer on the block? Well he's actually a highly successful street pickpocket. Indeed. But before I go further let me assure you he's a "gentleman thief" i.e. he gives back what he takes. In a similar way to Derren Brown, Robbins has found greater satisfaction in the practice of his psychological and physical techniques of control for the rewards of entertainment and education. 
What he's also done is describe his ethos and his approach in ways that I, in that bubble that I live in, empathise with. I've often referred to the relationship between sport and street photography. The ability of a tennis player to place their racquet in just the right place, at the right angle, at the right time, all at speed, is a perfect metaphor for my practice of street photography. However when I consider the mental processes going on, the act of being drawn to a stranger on the street, to not simply observe them but to take, quite literally, that step further, I wonder if there's some deeper connection here.
link to street photograph
"What I'm doing is taking inventory and making sight maps and getting a feel for who these people are and what I'm going to do with them. I'm a jazz performer - and I have to improvise with what I'm given."
Aha. Another illusion I'm fond of. The romantic anti-hero driven to pursue their craft beyond rational reason. Alone in the spot(sun)light, conjuring beauty out of thin air. 
Idle thinking perhaps but, for me anyway, it's a little insight into why I do what I do.
If I haven't been out on the street for a while, my return is intoxicated by a sense of being both part and apart from the world of people. That moment of absolute focus on an individual is ordinarily reserved for friend or family. But, instead of an unconditional offer, the street pickpocket/photographer gives one of dispassion. The "mark" in return offers opportunity, oblivious to the transaction. For the street pickpocket the stakes are high, financial reward or criminal penalty. For the street photographer these consequences are at extreme ends of a spectrum of possibility.
Our pocket picking takes what we didn't even know we had.