The Opportunity to Shoot the Past is Today

Recently from the recommendation of Daniel Schaefer I watched a film called “Midnight in Paris” which stars Owen Wilson and is directed by Woody Allen. The premise of the movie is that Owen Wilson (a writer) is hopelessly in love with the ideal of Paris in the 1920’s and is convinced that his present is not nearly as romantic or great enough. However through a strange series of events he finds himself in the 1920’s Paris where he finds out all the people living during that time-period wished that they were also in an earlier and more romantic time-period.

Highly recommend everyone to watch this film

Therefore it had me thinking about street photography and the romanticism we can often attribute to the past. We think of all the great photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, and Robert Frank and think that we can never capture as stunning images because the present is boring. However what we need to realize that today is going to be the past one day, and the opportunity to shoot is now. Don’t let all these excuses about the present not being interesting enough get in your way of shooting.

Henri Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson - I am sure we can still find opportunities to shoot images like this today

Also I am excited to announce that for my July 30-31st street photography workshop in LA I am going to have a Leica representative bring Leica M9’s, lenses, and compact cameras for you to shoot with. If you have ever wanted to learn more about street photography (and shoot with a Leica M9) sign up soon! I only have 3 spots available, so please shoot me an email at for more information or to sign-up.

So have you ever been guilty of romanticizing the past and dismissing the present? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below!

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  • Jimmy ;D

    Excellent topic, Eric. This really bugs me, as I think a lot of shooters are more than happy to replicate images as they used to look in the classic era. My take has always been that you should try to understand how the masters think rather than what they photographed. After all – street photography should be about documenting the present urban life. But feel free to shoot it like a master :)

    • Jason

      I agree with most of what you say here, but street photography is not always about the “urban life” and just because it’s called “street” does not necessarily mean it needs to be in the street. Far too many people think street photography needs to be urban and they are simply wrong about that.

      • Jimmy ;D

        Hi, Jason
        I never said it have to be done in the streets, but in my book it should definitely be about urban life. I would love to hear your definition of street photography as you say thats not the case.


    • Mobile Jorge

      Very well said Jimmy, I second those sentiments

  • Scott

    We had Tom from Leica up here in Calgary last weekend for a Leica workshop. We got to do some street at the Calgary Stampede. It was like a human zoo with no fences and lots of cowboy hats. The people who sign up for your workshop are in for a blast. These guys from Leica are street shooter too.

  • Anonymous

    I guess I don’t really romanticize the past because I happen to like running water and toilets. However in regard to photography, looking at Cartier-Bresson’s work or even more recently Vivian Meier’s.. I have realized this: That admittedly these, and other photographers, were excellent at capturing a moment but those moments probably wouldn’t be half as interesting if they were current day. When we look at their photos we are also being transported back in time, thirty years, fifty.. What we take today will offer the same kind of reminiscent [or even romantic] feeling to people of the future that we enjoy from photographers of our past, today. So when I shoot I look at my composition, I look at whether or not what I see as I frame speaks to me, if it will speak the same language to someone else, if it will mean anything down the road. If it’s just.. a person doing nothing special, wearing nothing extraordinary, I don’t fire off the shot. Adding here that I have been shooting a lot of film via my rangefinders so waste not– you learn to compose each shot and to let it go if it doesn’t matter. Which of course is why I am using film. To retrain my mind as well as my eye.

  • Rob LaRosa

    Holy crap! I’d love to be able to shoot with an M9 – or any Leica for that matter. Very exciting!

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  • Lisa

    I totally romanticize about shooting in the past, not because it was more interesting but because socially people were less guarded, today’s society has been force fed a steady diet of fear that they have a conniption at idea of someone taking photographs of them.

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  • Andy Hinton

    This is an interesting debate Eric. As someone posted, street photography does not have to be urban and many of the Bresson shots I love were not taken in an urban environment. I have thoughts of travelling about rural Europe where you can find scenes much like those he shot.

    A problem is that some aspects of ‘now’ are frankly boring. People staring at their smartphones is very now but makes for pretty dull pictures as it is a pretty dull aspect of the current age. But…is trying to find scenes that hark back to the past ignoring the present?

  • Terminallyhip

    Hell yea, I romanicize.. Thats why I shoot with an AE-1P..

  • Larry Monserate Piojo

    Timeless images are images with timeless stories told in it. And it is created the moment you deeply understand your subject, then passionately compose and capture the story in your frame; it doesn’t really matter which era you’re from.

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