OBSERVE is an international photography collective focused primarily on the practice of candid street photography. This week’s feature is Fadi Boukaram, a street photographer currently based in Broumana, Lebanon.
1. What does street photography mean for you on a personal level?
It’s free therapy. And the best form of meditation there is.
2. What do you want your viewers to take from your photographs?
Nothing, I hope. It feels presumptuous for me to want anyone to take something out of my photos. Maybe with photographic maturity this would change, but for now absolutely nothing.
3. Why do you photograph?
I have very few family photos from when I was a kid. The ones I do have felt nothing short of magical. They captured moments, people, and places that weren’t there anymore. It was wartime in Lebanon and many of these people and places in the photos were literally gone, so pictures felt like a remedy to that problem. By the time we got our first cam at home, I was already in my teens but still stuck in that phase where the medium looked fascinating (it still does). Couple it with the obsessive fear that if I don’t shoot it I might not remember it and that’s a perfectly healthy reason for taking pictures.
4. What are some other types of photography (outside of street photography) which interest you?
Aside from SP’s cousins, Photojournalism and Documentary, I very much enjoy looking at, but not practicing, advertising and fashion photography. Especially from a historical perspective since these genres have usually been the driver behind what constitutes the ‘look’ or aesthetics of an era.
5. What excites you most about being a part of a collective? And what do you hope to contribute to the collective?
It’s not just any collective; it’s this collective I’m excited to be a part of. Not paying them lip service really, but after joining flickr, these people are among the ones who helped me learn almost from scratch, and they still do.
So being in Observe is kinda like being in the Extended Learning program. Contributions would have I wait I guess, but it’ll get there.
6. Tell us the story of one of your favorite street photographs.
The story is more interesting than the shot itself, but it still is memorable to me. The man in the photo looks like he’s surprised at some headline he just read in the paper. But truth is, right before I snapped the shutter, he noticed me and got startled. And then he continued reading the paper all wide-eyed. I hope I didn’t scare him.
7. Who were some of your photographic heroes when you started off?
A predictable choice, but Henri Cartier-Bresson was and still huge for me. He’s like the Old Testament God, mighty, capricious, and seemingly heartless at times. Mario Giacomelli is another hero. His dancing priests series is very inspirational.
8. How did you discover “street photography”?
Through the worst way probably. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and though I really liked shooting strangers on the street, my subjects were mostly homeless people and buskers.
I then found the ‘Beirut Street Photographers’ online and started noticing that there was way more to SP. Through them I took a workshop with David Gibson who, in his nicest way, basically told me that what I’m doing is crap. Good slap in the face with more to come, I hope.
9. Can you share one of your favorite photos (from another member of the collective) and share why you love it?
I love this shot by Tom. It’s a slow burner and these have been my favorite kind as of late. This one offers you nothing but clues, raises a bunch of questions, and doesn’t answer a single one. The scene is set with framed shots of an older man, a few with his wife, their wedding portrait, some grandkids below, and the key one of him wearing a clown nose. All look like happy times. Then you follow the clown shot through the light switch leading to the small landscape frame in the other room where the mood switches completely.
Even though it’s Christmas, a man’s stare warns of something ominous, unseen across (well emphasized by the outside-looking-in perspective.) I’m not sure if my view is culture-specific, but grimly sitting on a chair, instead of the couch, wearing a dark suit with the fingers crossed would mean it’s either a wake or you’re across from an ill person. Maybe through the wall, on the other side of the happy portraits, the grandfather isn’t doing that well. Is this really what’s going on? It doesn’t matter.
10. If you started street photography all over again, how would you do it differently?
I’d have joined “Street Crit” much sooner than I did. It’s a peer critique group on flickr where I got my SP 101 education (from fellow Observers, among others, as I mentioned earlier). For self-admitting beginners, it’s an absolute must. Especially if you’re self-aware enough to shut up, admit that you suck, and then listen.
11. What is one question nobody has ever asked you about your work – that you wished they asked you?
Thought a lot about this question and still drawing a blank. Between saying ‘pass’ and having Tom use Canadian cuss words at me for taking forever to turn in all my answers, I think I’ll go with pass.
12. What are some visions you have for the collective?
A long long way down the road, I’d like to see a decent book come out. Published by someone other than ourselves.
13. Do you feel it is valid if a street photographer participates in making a photo, not just observing the event?
Hot potato: I can’t remember how many times we’ve had this discussion (read argument). Staged or directed shots are not SP, period. There’s leeway for everything else. At least that’s how I see it.
14. How do you think your photos reflect who you are as a person?
Photos are a pesky thing in that they show who you really are, especially the stuff you try to push back. So through that I had to accept that I’m more naïve or idealistic than I’d like to admit. And that the symmetry OCD I had as a kid still has remnants now.