Upon reading the brief for this assignment I decided that street photography would be my chosen form.
I’m fond of the work of Eugene Atget (1857 – 1927), and while his street photography doesn’t strike me as falling into the generally recognised form of ‘Decisive Moment’, there are those moments, when the architecture and positioning of buildings fall together perfectly in a scene, that can be considered a decisive moment for the photographer. This is a type of photography I’m very familiar with, and often practice as a hobby.
However, I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and into a type of street photography I have never previously explored, that being the form pioneered by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
My method was somewhat sneaky, but I feel this allowed me to achieve images that I wouldn’t have been able to capture by other means.
I used my Canon EOS 1300D with a 50mm prime lens (80mm equivalent on a full frame camera). It was set to shutter priority mode (most of the time) with a shutter speed of 1/50th sec, in continuous shooting mode. This camera has the useful inclusion of WiFi and NFC connectivity, which allowed me to connect it to my phone running the Canon Camera Connect app.
With this setup, I walked around Sheffield city centre, with the camera hanging casually around my neck by its strap. Whenever I happened upon an interesting scene, or location with the potential for ‘people watching’, I would slow down, or stop walking, and appear to be engrossed with text messages on my phone. What I was actually doing was observing the people through my camera lens, via the screen on my phone… which I was also using to trigger the shutter.
Using this method I was able to avoid what Yves Bonnefoy described in the Cartier-Bresson documentary, L’amour tout court: ‘Alberto knew he was watched. He knew his gesture would amuse his friends and even reveal what he knew he was to them.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001)
Much street photography seems to either feature people photographed from behind, to keep them unaware of the camera, or responding to the camera, either posing, or disturbed/annoyed. Using this phone app with my camera allowed me to capture people’s facial expressions up close, (mostly) without them being aware that they’re being photographed. This produced very natural looking results.
“Wait! Is he…?”
F4, 1/125th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
View 1500 x 1000 at https://photosthingsandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/1-waitishe1500.jpg
The young woman suddenly looks up from her phone as the man, who’s just walked past her, clearly doesn’t look both ways. He looks like he may be about to step out into heavy traffic.
The ‘moment’ is seeing a person suddenly recognise the danger another person is placing themselves in.
This ranks among my favourites, of all the photos I’ve ever taken. Partly because I know what happened next and partly because I know what the woman looks like.
F7.1, 1/50th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
Following from the young woman who’s comfortable with modern phone technology (in the previous image) is an older woman who, though her phone is very dated, appears to find ‘modern’ technology a bit of a trial. The ‘moment’ is that flash of irritation, before she manages to make her call.
I’m unsure what the younger woman is looking at. She has an expression of concern on her face, and though she isn’t looking at my camera (which was in my lap), she may have noticed the shutter repeatedly cycling (it’s visible if you’re looking right at it), and could be looking at me.
F3.5, 1/100th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
View 1500 x 1000 at https://photosthingsandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/3-eh1500.jpg
Still following a ‘generations of phone users’ theme, a youth, apparently staring in bewilderment at a telephone box. It’s as if he’s thinking “Phones go in your pocket. What’s that big red box all about?”
This is probably not what he was thinking at all, but his demeanour and direction of gaze created what was, to me, quite a comical looking moment.
“It’s how far?!!”
F4, 1/125th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
View 1500 x 1000 at https://photosthingsandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/4-itshowfar1500.jpg
The combination of struggling with awkward boxes, and the facial expressions as they realise they’ve got to take the boxes further than they’d expected… it makes a great visual moment. Their personalities are written all over their faces.
F8, 1/50th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
View 1500 x 1000 at https://photosthingsandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/5-theglance1500.jpg
The young man glances at the women sitting on the bench. It’s hard to say if they’re looking back at him or not, or what is on his mind. Is it “She’s pretty” or “What are they looking at?”? Whatever the case, the brief eye contact is clear, and stands out from what is a busy street scene.
The Glance II
F4, 1/50th sec, ISO 100, 50mm
View 1500 x 1000 at https://photosthingsandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/6-theglance21500.jpg
The woman facing the camera glances at the two women walking towards her. There are many possibilities as to what was on her mind, and whether they were positive or negative, I can’t tell. She was looking directly at them for a couple of paces, so for that moment, there was a distinct thought process.
There’s a secondary glance in this photo, as the man walking behind the woman seems to be staring directly at the camera. I read his expression as guarded antagonism, but I may be wrong. I did, though, experience some negative behaviour regarding my camera, even when I wasn’t actually using it.
The contact sheets feature the shortlisted images from the three days of shooting. It was not practical to include every image taken, as there are 874 of them.
(Word Count: 970)
Atget Photography AT: http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Eugene-Atget.html (Accessed on 27/2/2017)
L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=7m57s (Accessed: 27/2/2017)