Click here for Home
"SECOND THAT EMOTION"
Landscape photography offers matchless beauty enacted by the Hand of God. Nature photography renders us spellbound by the variety of life that is photogenic, and sometimes visually peculiar. Architectural photography gives us a glimpse into the majesty of the human mind that conjures up the designs of the dwellings that we live and work in. No style of photography however, delves into the human spirit like street photography does. Street photography is the key that allows us entrance into the inner sanctum of human emotion. A street photo is able to tell a poignant story at a glance, which engenders street photography as the style that touches our heart strings, positively or negatively. A subject's facial expression, the visual circumstaces surrounding the subject, this all colors the way we feel about a street picture, and the subject within.
An example of this is "Lonely Meal."
I took "Lonely Meal" at a pizza place in Greenwich Village in New York. When I looked through the window of this pizzeria, I was struck by two things: The relative emptiness of the place, and what I interpreted as the disconsolate look on the woman's face. Her face and her isolationism, fairly shouted "loneliness" to me. There's no way for us to know if she was really lonely. I only know that I noted a wariness on her that I took for a sense of loneliness. To the end of attempting to project my interpretation of her mood, I exposed this picture compositionally to enhance this mood.
There was only the woman eating alone at her table, and another customer standing at the counter. I felt it important for the composition to place the woman near the right border of the image, with the majority of the left side of the image dominated by unoccupied tables and chairs. This I felt, would add to the feeling of aloneness. I also wanted to include the man at the counter as a minor element in the right background to reinforce this emotion of isolationism. The light conditions in the pizzeria were dark, and required a 1/15th of a second shutter speed at a lens aperture of f/4. This is wide open on my 20mm f/4 Nikkor.
The stark black and white modality of the image, enhances the mood of aloneness. A color picture would have been less impactful in this regard.
Sometimes the obvious emotional state of the picture's subjects tells the entire tale. This is true of "Unbridled," where the two girls got so caught up in being photographed that their natural youthful exuberance spilled over like two gallons of hot soup on a fast boil. It is wonderful to encounter such happiness and exuberance in street photography.
I had my 20mm f/4 Nikkor lens preset at an appropriate distance of four feet, but their quick and bubbly movement through the frame caused the motion blur you see, that outran the coverage of the 1/60th of second shutter speed.
As you can see with "Unbridled," motion blur of subjects (which is distinct from "camera shake") in street photography can be an asset at times, adding to the emotion of the picture. These girls were quick to move, quick to smile and laugh, and quick to move on to the next adventure in their young existences.
This was taken on East 14th Street in New York City. Like most of my pictures, I gave this a heavy dose of dodging and burning in photoshop.
You true sports fans out there know how emotionally depressing it is when your team loses. It is even more devastating when those losses mount to eliminate your team from the playoffs. I know how depressed I felt after my New York Jets failed to make the postseason in years past, so this is how I interpreted this New York Mets fan's look after the Mets failed once again after a miserable losing season: Depression. I took "Season's Over" in Union Square park in Manhattan. Composition is important to me in street photography. I wanted to heavily weigh the image with the Mets fan and the table he was sitting at, in counterpoint to other tables and people in the background. I try to juxtapose elements of composition for maximium visual impact. Technically, composing such an image mentally (and then making it fit a photo's frame), requires an estimation of how far away the camera has to be from the subject in order to include the elements of the picture as it was visualized before approaching the subject.
As for the purely mental part of composing, much of this juxtaposing of picture elements is instinctive for me at the time of the exposure. However, when I analyze it retrospectively, it makes perfect sense to me from an aesthetic point of view.
There is an aesthetic logic that permeates effective street photography compositions, that I feel is generated by natural visual instincts in the photographer with the proverbial good eye.
I believe that composing ability is an innate ability, although it can be learned didactically. Before I approached the subject, I formulated the compositon in my mind's eye, determining that a shooting distance of six feet would be required to frame the elements of the picture as I mentally previsualized it.
I already determined exposure to be 1/125 second at f/4. I preset focus to six feet, walked to what I estimated was six feet away from the subject, framed the image and made the exposure before the man realized that his picture was being taken. Would you not agree that he looks depressed?
Some street pictures blur the borders of different emotions.
In "Mona Lisa," The subject's mischievous smile---and I don't believe there can be any doubt who the subject truly is, even though there are numerous people in the picture---creates a question as to what the subject is feeling at the time of the exposure, which is why I titled this "Mona Lisa." It is a mystery. It could be simple pleasure born of a healthy ego. It could mean less. It could mean more. Who knows?
She is also the only person in the image who looked directly into the camera, which reveals much of her personality to the camera's lens. She is not a shy person. In fact, she might be called a brash person.
Much is left up to the imagination and interpretation of the viewer, as to the emotion felt by the woman. I'll tell you one thing: It warmed the cockles (whatever those are) of my heart to see smiles like this in my street pictures. The reason? Because it indicates a real connection between photographer and subject. That is always gratifying when that connection leads in a direct line from a subject's eyes to the film plane or digital sensor. How a person reacts to being photographed by a stranger tells us much regarding his or her makeup.
Street photography can be powerful at times, not because of the emotion felt by the picture's subject, but because of an emotion felt by the viewer. An impactful street photograph can move a viewer to feel certain emotions regarding a subject, and this is the case with "Road's Scholar."
With this picture, it's not important what the the subject is feeling, as much as what he is doing, which is writing.
Writing is a high level activity that is considered incongruous with homelessness for the most part. This dichotomy is what gives this image its power, and causes so many conflicting emotions in the viewer.
We admire the man, while feeling sorry for his circustances. We feel that it is somewhat inconsistent for a person who is scratching for survival on the mean streets, to be exercising his mind under these harsh living conditions. There is an air of nobility about this homeless man, that we cannot and will not ignore. He is the Crown Prince of Homeless Writers, perhaps writing the next Great American Novel. Our ambiguous feelings about the man find us wishing him a better future, replete with place to live and a computer to write on.
As expressive arts, photography and writing share the attribute of being able to cause the recipients of these arts---the viewers of the photographs and the readers of the writing---to feel emotions that are the pure progeny of these creative efforts. Practitioners of these arts elevate the human spirit with their minds alone. No wonder we wish the "Road's Scholar" well.
"WHAT DID I DO"
The old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies with "What Did I Do?"
All I need to say is that your instinctive interpretation of this storyline, confirms what happened in real life. I took this picture on Unversity Place in New York where I witnessed a spat between these two women. One woman was apparently exhibiting pleading and apologetic body language, while her friend walks away from her.
The woman on the right exudes suprised pain, with her hands turned up seeking forgiveness, and her mouth speaking words that futilely seek absolution.
Who among us hasn't experienced this with friends and family, when misuderstandings and hurt feelings have torn relationships asunder? We can relate when we look at "What Did I Do?"
The positioning of the two antagonists at opposite borders of the image add to this effect of the two people being pushed apart in space, and emotionally. In this case, I hurriedly trotted to a spot seven feet from the subjects to capture them this way, before the woman on the left had the chance to leave the frame's confines.
This is the emotion that is felt by some viewers as they look at this photograph of this man looming over the woman. Are these viewers who find this scene malignant, right? Or are the viewers who find this to be benign correct?
Is the man stalking her? It can look that way. Certainly the discrepancy between the size of the man and the woman add to this feeling of disquiet. Was the man really stalking her? The woman's diminutive stature renders her vulnerable in our eyes. The man's greater physical presence makes him potentially an overpowering force. What is the truth? A moment captured in time, defying absolute definition, that's what this street photo is.
The mystery does illustrate my point that street photography is the one photographic genre that trades in human emotion, in both subjects and viewers. We are all at the mercy of our feelings about photographs, and this more true of street photography than other genres of photography.
It is the element of human emotion that makes street photography a true, powerful art capable of moving people to think, and to feel. Later.