Street Photography - Take a New Look at the World, and Yourself
Street. A genre of photography. But it's not just that, it's so much more. For those who shoot street, it becomes a part of your identity and psyche. It's an approach; not just to taking the photo itself but a pointer for how to see the world, participate in and engage with it. The further I delve into it, the more momentum it builds, as I discover new photographers and new ways of seeing the so-often-forgotten fleeting moments of our day-to-day lives. And as I look back on these formative days spent on the street, I’ve come to realise some vital lessons that this art has quietly been teaching me - lessons that everyone could usefully apply to everyday life.
Slowing down – Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to slow yourself and your mind down? It seems somewhat counterintuitive because slowing down sounds easy, but it’s not. (if you don’t believe me, go spend 20 minutes sat in silence focusing on nothing but your in-breath and out-breath. Chances are, many will find it difficult not to go back to their phones, to their friends, to their social media lives). Indeed, it’s easy to go about on autopilot and constantly log onto a frenetically-paced world. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Spending time going from one thing to the next, keeping busy. But never really making a conscious effort to slow down and smell the roses.
What I love about street-photography is that it forces me to do exactly that. To become fully immersed in myself and my surroundings in the now. Typically, when considering a photo on the street, you’re on the lookout for details, peculiarities, mannerisms and arising situations – so inherently operating at a slower, more thoughtful pace. And it feels good at that frequency. There’s a clarity to your thoughts and actions that you simply don’t have when caught up in the intricacies and complications of everyday life. Seeking moments on the street through a viewfinder has shown me that it can be done, and puts me in that state. From there on, it’s no big step to incorporate this approach into more elements of your life.
Staying aware – So all that slowing down effectively helps keep you rooted in the present (a trait I want to aspire to on a more regular basis). Just as any intricate craft or hobby does, street photography dictates that you’re living in the moment. It’s all about completely tuning into the world around you and your own senses in order to spot opportunities. Whether it’s spending more time looking, listening to what’s up ahead or just getting a smack of intuition that a certain street scenario might play out, they all serve to keep us right here, right now. (That is of course unless you’re shooting digital and spend significant amounts of time checking the last shot and the shot before that – something I try to avoid now as it throws you straight out of the present).
When it’s just you, your viewfinder and your subject, that’s all that matters at that particular moment. And in that way, it’s also a meditative process. When I shoot street it’s rare that I feel myself getting distracted by some worry, concern or intrusive thought. There’s no time for them. My energy is on the shot, on the process and not on the things I cannot control. And if niggling thoughts do decide to invade, then it’s the process of street photography and everything it entails that brings me back to the present, rather than the future.
Never giving up – Nil desperandum. The age-old declaration we know so well. And for any creative pursuit, it so often holds true. You often hear authors, for example, say how the first thing out of their pen ends up in the trash. But that they must go through this trash-worthy writing to get to the gold. And the same rings true for street photography and so many other activities. Countless times you can feel discouraged, perhaps frustrated, but then spot a picture out of nowhere, just as you were losing hope. I know. I’ve been there.
That’s the beauty and magic of street photography I love the most - that moment on the street which could appear at any time. So, there is no giving up at all. Because you could squander the possibility of shooting the most serendipitous sight you’ve ever witnessed. It teaches us to stay positive, to stay curious and never to doubt that with a little more persistence, we could all be just steps away from the shot we've been seeking.
Here’s to street photography. And the lessons it just keeps on giving.
All words and images - One Thinking Man (Piers McEwan)
Images shot in London (UK), Portsmouth (UK) & New York City (USA).