Have An Escape, Not An Exit From Street Photography

Joel Meyerowitz

(Above image copyrighted by Joel Meyerowitz)

Eric’s Note: This article is by Ollie Gapper, a street photographer based in the UK- and now a weekly contributor to the blog. Stay tuned for more of his “Ollie Gapper Thursday” posts!  

With any genre of photography its easy to become saturated in your work and the work of others around you. In street photography, regardless of the numerous variations in individual photographers approaches and the wealth of locations and types of people we are granted visual access to, we still, slowly, become numb to the photographic impacts that once enthralled us. This is why I, for one, enjoy periodically dabbling in different genres of photography, whether it is shooting or viewing, to allow my mind to refresh and recharge from the relentless practice that is street photography.

Make it an escape, not an exit

Image from Joel Meyerowitz's "Aftermath"

I made a near catastrophic mistake. On my last escape period from street photography, I almost completely exited the genre. It was only a few days ago that I realised I hadn’t seriously shot street for almost a year – almost unforgivable.  I am now having to really push myself to get back into my street shooting, which is harder than you may think. I’m shyer than before now, I’m not ‘seeing’ things as sharply and promptly and my mental barriers have begun to really come back. This is not something I am proud of – in fact I’m very embarrassed – and its something I really want to make sure you guys don’t do. Shoot street everyday, even if its on your phone.

You may just ‘discover yourself’

That said, what I’m trying to say is that its beneficial – hugely so – to put your concentration on work other than street every now and then. Take Joel Meyerowitz and his 10×8 landscapes, ranging from Cape Cod to Ground Zero to NYC Parks, his landscapes don’t just allow him to escape from his 35mm street work, but have also made up an enormous amount of his more contemporary work and publications. – Check out “Cape Cod”, “Bay Sky”, “Legacy” and “Aftermath” – great books with very nicely written introductions (especially Cape Cod).

Joel Meyerowitz "Beach Chairs" from his book "Cape Light"

I have, over the course of my near-exit from street photography, experimented heavily and studied in many different photographic genres, which I believe will help me in my future street shooting. Portraiture, still life, painting and landscape (both traditional and urban) discovering artists along the way which have given me very exciting ideas for a few future projects of mine. I have found myself rushing to be the first person inside a super market so I may make large format images of the aisles and shoppers, buying more logs than I care to mention so that I may produce a photo documentary on the woodyard from which they come and I’ve produced more paper negatives than I have room for. Its been great, the experience has taught me a lot about photography and I’ve created some work I’m truly proud of and excited about – work I wouldn’t have created if I’d stuck to just street.

I want to reiterate how important it is to make sure you keep shooting street, don’t be like me, I’m pretty much having to relearn stuff I thought I’d mastered (Don’t get complacent like I did).

Severin Koller - "Olga Wäscher"

Here’s three of the types of photography you may enjoy “dabbling” in which may help you further your street photography and refine your approach to it (the ones I do):

  • Portraiture – Maybe the most obvious, but understanding the human form is a massively beneficial practice – How light plays across it, the study of posture and poise, gesture and expression all help you judge what is about to happen and how you can photograph it.
  • Landscape – Composition and an in-depth knowledge of your camera, your film/sensor will ultimately lead to a better knowledge of your image – usually before you even take it. This knowledge can be gained and nurtured by reading what is currently my favourite book(s) – Ansel Adams technical series (The Camera, The Negative and The Print). To practice new techniques and experiment with street photography can be difficult, hence why I, and many other photographers, practice new things with landscapes. Landscape teaches the importance of composition, tone and visual hierarchy – all elements that will make for an incredible improvement in your street photography.
  • Fashion – By studying and creating photography that is designed to highlight styles and certain items of clothing or accessories, your eyes sharpen to noticing the ‘accidental’ or organic poses and opportunities that manifest themselves in everyday life. You may also gain a stronger appreciation for lighting.

What point am I trying to get across here? Shoot something other than street throughout your year, I promise at least some the things you learn will help you in some way or another on the street – just don’t leave street behind completely like I (almost) did.

Im going to try and post a couple of newly created street shots every week, in a push to help me regain my street shooting ability.

Contact Ollie

Stay connected with me by checking out my links below. I’ll soon be selling my professionally-processed prints, so make sure to contact me as well if you are interested in getting your print collection started/topped-up!

email: olliegapper@me.com

What do you do when are you in a creative rut with your street photography? Share your experiences and thoughts below!  

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