garry winogrand - the animals

(Above image © Garry Winogrand, from his book: “The Animals“)

I just read a book titled: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which was a book about introversion and the conflict they often encounter with extroverts in society. Reading the book as an extrovert, it gave me great insight on how introverts think, behave, and interact with the rest of the world from a psychological perspective.

Being an extrovert myself, I often have a difficult time how introverts think, behave, and see the world. My girlfriend Cindy is an introvert, and I initially read the book to understand her better. In the end of reading the book, it gave me great insights about street photography as well, through better understanding different personality types. After chatting with my buddy Brian Sparks about the idea, he thought it would be a great idea to share this idea (he is an introverted street photographer). So special thanks for him for giving me the inspiration to write this.

Interested to learn more? Read on.

Are you an introverted or extroverted street photographer?

(© Garry Winogrand)

In American society, it is often frowned upon to be an introvert. Starting from primary school, teachers generally force introverted children to participate (even though they may not want to) and treat being introspective as a ”problem”. If you think about the most successful people in America, they are often the extroverts– as they often make bold claims and are great at interacting with others. The problem is that extroverted leaders often screw up by being too bold, whereas introspective leaders often perform better by thinking problems out before addressing them.

The interesting thing to note is that this is different across cultures. For example, in China and many Asian countries it is actually considered a positive trait to be introverted and self-reflective. There is a famous Chinese proverb that says something along the lines of, “The nail that sticks out the most, must be hammered down the hardest”.

In street photography, it is not ”better” to be an introverted or extroverted street photographer. Both have different styles, and different approaches. These are some things i have noticed in terms of the differences:

Introverted street phographers

(Photograph © Andre Kertesz. Kertesz mentioned that when he took the photo, he was feeling quite depressed and broken just like the bent seat).

In my experience, introverted street photographers prefer to shoot alone and walk at a slower, more moderate pace. They prefer to approach the scene as a whole, often adding interesting juxtapositions and layers to their images. They don’t like to ”interrupt” or affect the scene, and take on more of the ”invisible photographer” approach.

Street photographers in history who had more introverted personalities include the following:

  • Henri cartier-Bresson
  • Robert Doisneau
  • Helen Levitt
  • Andre Kertesz
  • Diane Arbus
  • Walker Evans
  • Lee Friedlander
  • (please suggest more introverted street photographers in the comments below)

Extroverted street photographers

(Photograph © William Klein. Klein was both a badass and a huge extrovert)

Extroverted street photographers are always on the move, and can’t stand still. They prefer to go out and ”hunt” for the moment, rather than being patient and letting the moment come to them. They are generally more comfortable shooting in the streets, and are more courageous when shooting in the streets. They often have conversations with people in the street, and are good at getting people to pose for them as well.

The criticism that many extroverted street photographers get is focusing too much on ”street portraits”– which some street photographers argue isn’t ”street photography”. Due to their on-the-go feelings, their compositions are generally sloppier than introverted street photographers, but on an average tend to shoot more. Extroverted street photograhers also may appreciate shooting with a wide-angle lens, and getting close to the action.

Some famous extrovert street photographers in history include:

  • William Klein
  • Bruce Gilden
  • Weegee
  • Trent Parke
  • Garry Winogrand
  • Joel Meyerowitz
  • Jacques Henri Lartigue

Discovering your personality type

© Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos. USA. Rochester, New York. 2012.

If you haven’t, I suggest trying out the Myers-Briggs personality test. While I don’t agree with the concept 100%, I think it is an interesting insight to understand your personality type.

But you might tell yourself, ”but I don’t want to be tied down and classified like a book. There is more to my personality than just definitions”. That is true– but recent psychological studies have suggested that children are shown to have different temperaments such as ”high sensitivity” vs ”low sensitivity” (which tend to become the identifying traits for introversion vs extroversion).

For example in the book “Quiet” – the author mentions a study in which ”high sensitive” children were more likely to cry if they heard a loud sound– as they were more keen on detecting changes in environment. These children generally grew up to be introverts. That’s why introverted children generally prefer to read books and be alone, as they have a difficult time interacting with large groups of other children (they become overwhelmed with the new external changes).

For the ”low sensitivity children”– they didn’t cry as much when subjected to loud noises. They physically were affected less by external changes, and ended up being more extroverted. this is why extrovert children usually do risky stuff on trees and stuff, as they need more stimulation through excitement and prefer to interact more with other children.

This also goes on when it comes to taste. Generally people who consider themselves more introverted rate the sourness of a lemon higher than extroverted people.

Okay so I know my personality type, now what?

© W Eugene Smith

I often see a huge problem amongst street photographers trying too hard to shoot a certain way they aren’t naturally conditioned to. For example, introverted street photographers want to use a wide-angle lens, get close to people, and even use a flash. Extroverted street photographers want to patient, wait around, and capture ”the decisive moment”, while creating complex compositions and layers.

Of course we can’t cut this black and white. There is always a lot of grey in-between. However, my advice to street photographers is to be true to yourself. Shoot what feels more natural to you, and what you feel that your personality type is.

However note that both personality types can learn from one another. As an extrovert, I am generally low on patience when shooting on the streets. I can learn more patience, while taking a step back and seeing more of the scene and compositions.

Introverts can also learn to be more courageous when shooting on the streets, get close to their subjects to create a strong composition and framing. Generally introverts are more perfectionists than extroverts, and take fewer shots, and may hesitate even when there is a nice moment about to happen. Introverted street photographers can learn to hesitate less.

Suggestions for photographers

Below is a generalization of personality types (I am still trying to flesh and refine the ideas), but you can consider this as a blueprint to help you.

Introverted street photographers

Strengths

  • Patience
  • More consideration for composition and framing
  • More selective

Things to improve

  • Courage
  • Quickness
  • Less hesitation

Extroverted street photographers

Strengths

  • Generally more courageous
  • Draw energy from interacting with people
  • Can (more) comfortably get close to the action

Things to improve

  • Take a step back and look more for the ”big picture”
  • Be more selective during the editing process after shooting
  • Go shoot with a concept or a project in mind (instead of shooting and figuring it out later)

Conclusion

© Diane Arbus

There is no one ”right way” to shoot street photography. Generally the history of street photography has been dominated by introverts (Henri Cartier-Bresson was a strong introvert) which caused a lot of these new extroverted street photographers to be quite controversial (think Bruce Gilden).

However it is important to know which way you lean (more introverted or extroverted) and have that as a guiding point on what your strengths and weaknesses may be as a street photographer.

Don’t consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, but something in-between? That is natural as well- but see which way you generally lean more toward. Also note that some introverted people act extroverted while shooting in public, while some extroverted people act more Introverted when shooting in public. There are always exceptions, but consider this article as a new way of thinking of the approach in street photography, according to personality types.

Further Research

This argument I am proposing on personality types is still in its infancy and has many flaws and shortcomings, but I plan on doing more research on the subject. I plan on reading more photographers’ biographies to better classify their personality types, and also try to better plan other personality traits.

For example, in this post I only mentioned introversion vs extroversion as personality types. According to the Myers-Briggs test, there are also 3 other dichotomies I haven’t mentioned (see list below):

Also if you are interested in learning more about introversion and extroversion, make sure to pick up a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Escaping into Life: A Psycho Study of the Contemporary Street Photographer

Update (6/26/2012): Thanks to Blake Andrews for notifying me of a book that has been written on personality types and street photographers by Andrew Stark. I just downloaded the book and plan on reading it and writing a part two on this post.

Are you more of a introverted or extroverted street photographer? How do you see your personality affecting how you shoot in the streets? What are some of your personal strengths/weaknesses and what would you like to work on? share your thoughts (and disagreements)in the comments below!