The Unrepentant Flâneur’s Guide to Street Photography Part 6
The Undiscovered Country
A short while ago, Yanidel Street Photography posted its list of twelve leading places on this planet to practice street photography. The blog went on to name an additional eight cities that should be of consideration. Certainly go see the post yourself, but I have summarized the entire list just below:
- Paris, France
- London, UK
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Rome, Italy
- Havana, Cuba
- Tokyo, Japan
- Barcelona, Spain
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Sydney, Austrailia
- Hong Kong, China
- Lisbon, Portugal
- New York City, NY, USA
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Bombay, India
- Delhi, India
- Jaipur, India
- Calcutta, India
- Bangladesh, India
- Cairo, Egypt
I’m somewhat surprised that NYC didn’t place much higher on the list but not at all surprised that these are the localities that are on the list. I think most people around the world would agree that at least most of these places would wind up on most of such lists.
I love street photography (SP) in NYC, I really do. I love the work of Joel Meyerowitz, Markus Hartel and many other New York based street shooters. I thoroughly enjoyed shooting there for a very short time and would gladly do it again, and again in a heartbeat. In fact, I’d gladly shoot in any of the places on the aforementioned list. The problem; however, with SP from the world’s capitals for SP, is the fact that they are the world’s capitals for SP. It might have been George Georgiou that I heard say in an interview that Paris has become “boring” because it’s so popular and familiar; “there’s nothing left to shoot”. I’m not sure I’d go that far but sometimes, to me, it seems as though the rest of the world doesn’t matter as far as SP goes. I’ve heard a few others express similar sentiments. Is it an accurate perception or are we totally wrong about this?
Where do you shoot or where do you want to shoot? Seriously, I really want to know, and I really want to see your work wherever it was made.
I definitely don’t see the established capitals for the genre as the only places worth shooting in. I’m extremely interested in SP, rurex and urban photography from places that wouldn’t typically make these lists. Most of my own such work is done in such low ranked places.
As a flâneur, the look and feel of crowded and empty streets and walkways in the evenings in unpopular communities have a profound impact on me. I pick up on nuances that 19th and 20th century abandoned cottages, barns and historical cemeteries have that no other place does. Friends, families and acquaintances participate in celebrations that are generally familiar to me but still exude a uniqueness every time they are held. It is home, and it is somewhat about belonging. There are lives there, familiar and not, that I can identify with to some degree just because I share much of the environment with them.
I aim to convey histories, stories and sensations, and express sentiments through my photography in ways that anyone may be limited to do through the best written words of blog posts and magazine articles. For whatever I don’t know about these communities, I am eager to wander around finding out, photographing and sharing with anyone interested.
This is an enjoyable adventure for me, and I’m all about illustrated adventure. Seeing other’s work in such places inspires me to keep going with my street and rural photography, and try new approaches.
The locality does not have to be a major metropolis but a major world city, that is not on the aforementioned list, and one that I suggest shooting in or observing imagery from, is actually a mere 64 kilometers (40 miles) away from where I live. On clear enough days I can see the skyline of Toronto from atop the Niagara escarpment or from the beaches along the western and southern shores of Lake Ontario. Toronto is a place that is teaming with exceptional street photographers, and infinitesimal candid situations to be rendered for the purpose of reminding all of us that every fleeting moment in life has purpose.
Have you ever heard of Zenlibra? If you have, then you probably know this is the handle for Toronto based street shooter Keith Daniel Fox. Keith is an artist who has been practicing street photography for a little over two years. As a result, he describes himself as a toddler with so much more to learn but to me he seems to be far more experienced in this genre.
Keith has lived in Toronto his entire life. He grew up in the suburbs of Etobicoke but moved downtown as a young adult and has remained in the same neighbourhood for the past 25 years. He only shoots in Toronto but if he takes a trip somewhere else, he does try to grab a few candid frames of people he sees.
If you’re not familiar with Mr. Fox’s SP, I highly recommend taking a look. I have become tremendously impressed by his work, and I am most fortunate to have gotten Keith to grant me an interview for this part of my series on combining SP with flâneurism.
Very early on, I wanted to know how Keith finds that the locals reception of him photographing them. That’s high on the minds of virtually every street shooter, observer of SP and photographer who has merely considered exploring the genre. We want to know if Keith receives positive or negative feedback regarding his photography of Torontonians, and if so in what ways. Here’s what he had to say:
“Generally people don’t react but if they do it’s usually just a strange look or sometimes a smile. I’m very open about what I’m doing and visible to the people I photograph. On two occasions I got hard stares and another time I got a verbal objection, but an apology and a compliment fixed those situations.”
As I consider myself an artistic flâneur. Readers who have followed every post of this particular series know that I don’t do nearly as much rural photography as I do street and urban photography but I love them all and use them all as a means of exploring virtually all aspects of communities; whether it’s the one I live in or one that I visit. I truly believe that this even helps me to mature creatively with my photography. Keith confirmed that he also applies SP as part of a personal exploration of historical and modern life in Toronto.
When I asked him; however, if he finds SP admirers to be biased toward cities that are typically associated with the genre, he expressed an unawareness of the perception.
“This is a difficult question to answer but I’m going to go out on a limb and say not at all. For those with a passive interest it might be thought that SP happens on a city street, but for serious admirers it happens anywhere people live their lives.”
“For people who love candid photography of strangers it doesn’t matter where a photo was taken,” he says. “I have seen great images taken in Mumbai, Taipei, Athens, on the beach, in the suburbs and dusty little villages in developing nations. The only thing that matters is, is it a good photograph?”
With himself as an example, Keith indicates that he seeks out the SP of others who photograph cities and villages other than NYC, Paris, London, etc.
“. . . but it isn’t so much seeking out as having it handed to me. I would encourage your readers to check out HCSP on flickr (http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/pool/) as a starting point to see some of the most interesting photography being made today.”
“The classic street photographers I enjoy are Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. As for photographers working today I love the work of Alex Webb and Trent Parke as well as Flickr users Justin Vogel, Ying Tang and Junku Nishimura.”
I asked Keith if he has a favourite of his own images, and he replied, “I don’t have a favourite because after a few days the shine wears off and I realize that all of my images are lacking in some way.”
I know that feeling all too well with regards to my own art. It’s a fundamental reason why, as a commercial artist, I either sell off my work or I hide it away. I’ve never felt so frustrated in my work that I throw in the towel but it’s true that I can’t allow myself to look at most of my own work for too long. Sadly, I have met and heard of many other potential artists who do give up due to such challenges.
Keith’s answer actually created the segue I needed for asking him what recommendations he has for someone who is considering using this genre to photograph their community but is doubtful that it will be of importance because their community isn’t associated with SP? He says that, “The only thing that matters is taking photographs that you want to take. Some of the most interesting photos are made in small out of the way places that people rarely see unless they live there. Take a look at Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’. Most of those photos were made outside of New York and L.A.”
For the commercial artist, like me, I had to steer some questions toward art marketing. While there are still some laypeople who cynically believe that most street photographers are out to make money and fame off of others’ likenesses, it’s probably far more prevalent to find street shooters who are steadfastly committed to the non-monetary gains of SP. Street photographers also do not become household names like rock stars, rappers and Hollywood actors. I am right there as an “all-about-the-art” street shooter, even though I’ve been a die hard commercial artist my entire adult life. In reinforcement of this notion I would go so far as to say that most galleries and art associations around the world do not procure or promote SP as a commodity.
It is a small group of admirers who actually collect street photography this way. I’m personally excited that they’re there, and that they do collect and adorn their homes, offices and restaurants with SP but of all the fine visual art that I do produce and market; I really do not market my SP. I am otherwise dedicated to its production and sharing.
That sharing by openly displaying the images is critical to SP, I think. Keith made a valid point in referencing the Hardcore Street Photography (HCSP) group on Flickr. The Internet is probably the leading place today for displaying street photography. You may never become a member of the prestigious Magnum Photos cooperative or find a gallery that’s interested in exhibiting your work but there are many online communities and image hosting networks like HCSP and 500px where you can present your photos regardless of what town they were shot in.
A colossal drawback to exhibiting online, however, is being able to draw attention to your pictures. These Internet sites always become so extremely populous once established that you’re work can easily become proverbial needles in haystacks if they lack enough visual kick to truly stand out. At that point, you may be better off establishing your own website and blog, and accepting the monumental challenge of attracting attention to your work that way.
Perhaps a lesser drawback is plagiarism. Of the millions of people uploading billions of photos to the Worldwide Web, it’s probably only a few to several thousand people who will steal one or two pieces of your best work for the specific purposes of attempting to make some kind of financial profit or gain recognition from them. It’s actually a good thing that SP is a genre of such low marketability that cyber art thieves are not likely to succeed at this. They’ll learn this very quickly.
Even Keith says that he doesn’t find that his street photography is sought out as collectable fine art or for advertising and editorial requirements. On a scale of 1 to 10; with 1 being not very lucrative and 10 being very lucrative, Keith ranks street photography in general; considering that marketability may be different in and around Toronto than anywhere else on the planet, as a 1.
As an artist, the only things that matter to Keith Fox are making the photos. He does not consider potential financial goals or rewards of street photography as most important.
Keith is also involved in making industrial landscape and urban landscape photography. He has quite an online presence through a website, blog and image hosting sites. I highly recommend following the Zenlibra photostream on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/people/zenlibra/). You can easily access it through my blogroll under the Photography subheading.
I am deeply grateful for Keith’s contributions to this post.
I can still see that SP lovers who want to get into doing it themselves might not venture down the path simply because they live in a city that certain others may not care so much about and can’t get to NYC, Paris, Moscow or Tokyo. I say never mind that. There are always things similar to and different from other localities that are fascinating. As an artistic flâneur, it’s your job to find them.
Explore and show off your town, regardless of where it is in the grand scheme of popular cities.