Eric’s Note: This article is by Josh White, a street photographer based in Toronto. I first met Josh in Korea about two years ago, where we taught a workshop together for Leica Camera Korea. Josh is also going to be a co-instructor in my upcoming workshop in Toronto. You can register intent here.
Josh: When Eric asked me to contribute to his blog with my thoughts on mobile photography, I had just seen the article “Mall Series,” by Stephen DiRado. The idea of shooting in a shopping mall was something I hadn’t thought much of. It’s an interesting place though, the mall.
It also coincides well with mobile photography and something I have been going through.
Since coming back to Toronto from Seoul nearly a year and a half ago I have struggled to find the inspiration I had during my four plus years in Korea. In Korea, every moment I stepped out of my apartment I felt inspired. I walked the streets at night channeling Daido Moriyama’s “stray dog.” I shot the same areas all the time and never once felt bored or uninspired.
Toronto hasn’t given me that. Since returning here to work a corporate job I have been riding this ridiculous photographic version of writer’s block. I used to blame it on my job. Living the corporate life very rarely leads to creative trains of thought. I wake up and go to work. Come home and sleep.
While I have always done mobile photography, I had never thought of it as a catalyst to creativity. It was quite simply the best way to capture a moment when I may not have a camera with me. The best camera is the one you have with you and all that cliched nonsense.
Because the corporation I work for specializes in telecom, I always have the opportunity to try and use new phones. Because I have a photography blog, people in the office always ask me about the cameras on different models. Perhaps from some strange obligatory feelings I would go out and shoot to see how they were and write a blog post about it or something of the like.
It was only recently, after getting the newest of Blackberry’s offerings that I really took the whole thing somewhat seriously. It was a bit of an epiphany.
Blackberry, a Canadian company trying to make their way back into the global mobile landscape hadn’t made a phone that I had even thought about using until this recent one. Maybe I was biased, but I decided to get one and use it full time in the stead of the iPhone I had been using. I took it out the first day to shoot and felt something I hadn’t felt for a while.
Maybe the motivation was simply from some deep down patriotism. After mulling it over, I decided it wasn’t that at all. It wasn’t patriotic tendencies that shook some creative energy out of my corporately lulled brain.
It really had nothing to do with the phone.
I suppose something just clicked. I walked around downtown Toronto seeing everything a little differently. I felt uninhibited by the “camera” I was carrying. I wasn’t worried about settings or image quality. I was trying just trying to make the camera work. The short-comings of the mobile device forced me to think creatively.
Buoyed by my newly found feeling of inspiration, I read the “Mall Series” post. The mall is definitely somewhere I had never felt particularly motivated to shoot. However, thinking it the perfect place for the mobile medium I took my lunch and went to a nearby shopping mall. After eating, I walked around more observing than searching. I stood outside the Dundas subway for 15 minutes just watching people walk by. Previously, I would have furiously searched for something interesting. Photography had become that for me, a search. Not a good feeling as it is almost tantamount to panic. Searching to “find” a photo opportunity.
Street photography shouldn’t be like that. At least it never had been for me prior to returning to my homeland. This 25 minutes or so walking around the mall reminded me of being in Korea again. It reminded me of the feeling I used to have walking around the small town I lived in. At that time, my camera was just a means of making record. I didn’t search for photos, I just walked and took them.
I guess the moral of the story is that no matter where you are, what you’re doing, what camera you have, or what your job is there are always interesting things the photograph. Street photography is a state of mind as much as it is an art. It’s a documentation of the photographer’s life as much as it is the photographed. For most of us, it’s a pastime and when we look back at our photos they will serve as a record of our own lives. What we did and saw.
Inspiration can be found anywhere. Don’t be inhibited by the idea that there is nothing to photograph or you don’t have a good enough camera to do so. In the end, street photography isn’t about either. A mobile phone isn’t the ideal tool and a shopping mall isn’t the ideal place for photography. Would I have taken nicer photos with a Leica? Perhaps. I’m not entirely sure though. While the photos might have been technically nicer part of me thinks the idea of having a nice camera often gets in the way.
Point is, wherever you are or whatever you do get out and shoot. I’ve heard Eric say a million times, street photography is meant to be fun. I couldn’t agree more; at least now.
It’s certainly funner than eating lunch in a cubicle.