The Unrepentant Flâneur’s Guide to Street Photography Part 6

G-Man by Allan Hamilton

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:

  1. Paris, France
  2. London, UK
  3. Istanbul, Turkey
  4. Rome, Italy
  5. Havana, Cuba
  6. Tokyo, Japan
  7. Barcelona, Spain
  8. Bangkok, Thailand
  9. Sydney, Austrailia
  10. Hong Kong, China
  11. Lisbon, Portugal
  12. New York City, NY, USA
  13. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  14. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  15. Bombay, India
  16. Delhi, India
  17. Jaipur, India
  18. Calcutta, India
  19. Bangladesh, India
  20. 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.

Haulin’ by Allan Hamilton

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.

It’s Written All Over Your Face by Allan Hamilton

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.

Oh No! by Allan Hamilton

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.”

Keith does not feel that communities that are smaller or otherwise not associated with SP are underappreciated.

“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.

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23 thoughts on “The Unrepentant Flâneur’s Guide to Street Photography Part 6

  1. “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.”

    I love this sentence. It is telling so much and giving you every advice you need from my perspective. I have been to Delhi when I wasn’t obsessed with Photography and was not quite happy – it might have to do with the flu I caught on the flight over there. I have been to Paris with my camera and found it pretty ordinary on the main streets (the absolute opposite once being on the little streets). I have been to Venice during summer (too crowded) and winter at night (awesome atmosphere!) And still, I love the smaller cities, cities who have some history in both their architecture and their people. What I adore about my own town is the diversity of old, young, obviously rich, not so rich people. Of the nationalities and how they interact.

    However, I would bet, if you ask ten photographers (real ones, not amateurs like me), there will be ten opinions, right?

    A great post with an immense amount of inspiration! Thanks and Cheers :) Andreas

  2. Read and loved every word, I don’t know where to start (or stop more likely . . .) with replying! I would definitely put the quality of the “work” before the “where” and if the drive is there to pursue it, it will drive you – wherever you happen to be.

    How interesting would it be to get together a wide collection of street photos, without cultural signifiers and as few identifiers as possible, and see how reality differs from the perception . . .

    Thanks for the links, off to explore, and your G-Man btw is so cool!

  3. Great post. I find it interesting (and of course this is not always or even often the case) but all of the wonderful photographs you posted with this piece include people. Yes, the world gets smaller and smaller and we ALL know what Paris looks like, but so what? I don’t know what it looks like from your perspective- that will always be unique. That is always interesting, to me. And the part of Paris that is not permanent, are the people-lovely, crazy, wonderful, fascinating people. They are everywhere being captured on film by sp whose perspicuity reveals the raw power of the feeling of it all. I love it.
    You are absolutely right, this is the raison d’être of the artistic flâneur (does that rhyme? Oh I hope so, how do you pronounce flâneur?)

    • I’ve lived my entire life in predominantly Anglophone parts of Canada (Ontario and BC), so I learned French as a second language and I never became fluent due to not having anyone to continue speaking it with. I spent three years learning German and got much further with it but still didn’t achieve fluency for the same reason. To my ears, I would say that you made a perfect rhyme. To a Francophone Canadian’s ears; I can’t be certain.

      Manitoba has a fairly large Francophone population but Quebec, “la belle province”, is true French Canada.

      A French teacher explained to me, and our class, years ago that there are some in Quebec who consider the term flâneur as an insult whereas it might not be taken that way in much of France. French Canadians allegedly consider a flâneur to be a person who is pompous and may only pretend to care about others. This notion is the opposite of what the the term was originally supposed to mean.

      It was Charles Beaudelaire of 19th century France who coined the term to represent someone who did care about all others of society, and was curious about his/her community that they would habitually wander about observing circumstances and contemplating ways of improving life. It’s presumed that in 19th century France, the only people that had the time to stroll around cities this way would be the wealthy. This is the reason why even Beaudelaire’s description of a flâneur is someone of affluence or perceived social importance. A “gentleman” is the English term usually associated with Beaudelaire’s description; a term that used to be heavily associated with snobby British aristocracy.

      It is cynicism why there may be some in modern day Quebec who would doubt that a wealthy person could sincerely care about other’s circumstances but their own. That cyicism is also associated with centuries old bigotry between Anglophone and Francophone Canadians–dating back to the beginnings of Canada when the British and the French (from France that is) were often at each other’s throats while competing for dominance of this land (the British won); hence the unwillingness of Francophone Canadians, who are flâneurs, to call themselves flâneurs.

      Really, a flâneur does not have to be wealthy, English, Anglophone or part of any social elite. He/she just has to be curious about the realities of a community (not much watered down), and want to find adequate ways to celebrate or improve it. It’s an interesting and understandably very controversial aspect of idealism. That’s why, despite the alleged French Canadian disdain, I titled the series “The Unrepentant Flâneurs Guide to Street Photography”.

      The pronounciation of flâneur is kind of like, flah-noor, except that the e-u-r is pronounced very similar to the last syllable of the word hors d’oeuvre. I’m no help am I?

      • Are you kidding? That was fantastically informative (and funny- the British won. haha).
        Not to mention the inordinate pride I can now take in having made an extremely lame rhyme! Merci!

  4. Lovely photos – and a nice post too. Sometimes the best street photography happens in obscure lanes and streets – only I got to get there at the right time.

  5. Thanks Allan for giving me a chance to air some of my views. There is nothing I love more than SP and talking about it!

    • Keith, thank you so much for contributing. I think you have exceptional vision and a most admirable approach. I am so glad that you have been a part of this.

  6. I love love love this set esp. the spontaneity of that third shot. Amazing! So do you actually have your own gallery, sharing or do you submit your works to a museum?

    • Speaking for myself, I don’t own a physical gallery. I sell works through other people’s galleries or my own artist-run initiatives but none of it is SP. So far, I’ve only exhibited my SP in my online galleries.

      In others’ physical galleries and through artist-run initiatives that I have held I’ve sold landscape, portraiture and wildlife art.

      I also offer stock photography under several licensing options.

  7. This was fantastic addition to the series! I am still a beginner in SP but on occasion when I feel really brave I’ll take a shot at it. I don’t live near a major city and not a fan of huge crowds an extremely tall buildings; which I guess can be a problem in itself. But I do plan to visit NYC before the end of the month. I have always associated SP with actual cities but reading this post, it has really enlightened me and changed my perspective.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective as well as your featured artists’ view. It was truly a great read and of course I loved the photos! Great work as always!!! Keep it coming!

    Enjoy!

  8. Pingback: 50th Featured Blog, The Bests of Last Call, and A List of My Absolute Musts. | The Sophomore Slump

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