Why I Killed Street Photography

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Photo by A.G. DeMesa

Eric’s Note: This guest article is written by A.G DeMesa— a street photographer based in Manila.

A.G.: What is street photography for me?

Surely it isn’t the mundane. Nothing gets more mundane than a 16 year old’s meal taken over Instagram. It’s not about capturing history or the little human acts because you will just be beaten by the lens of an experienced journalist. How about the perfection of form and the elements like rhythm, texture, layers, lines and others? Well, can’t photography stand on its own two feet and not rely on the concepts of painting?

So I killed my street photography. I murdered it because I became obsessed with making sure everything aligned together. I was mulling over the small details that should be present. I was looking out for the lines that should converge. I had to find the layers that will highlight the human or non human elements. I lost sight of what is important in photography: Seeing. I was doing photography and being a slave to what it means to photograph. There was no flow and joy in it for me anymore.

Photo by A.G. DeMesa

I went ahead and let go of the grip that focusing on form has on me. All of a sudden, things that are not considered artful photography started popping up. The models on the billboard ads, product shots on an appliance catalog, the architecture on a condominium flyer. These started popping up as photographs. So I decided to photograph anything. I started with the people I come across on the street and then switching it to the love of my life. I chased the stray cats that roam while also taking pictures of  the trees that grow in the urban jungle.

How can this be? After 10,000 frames on film, how can it be that all of this is just popping to me now? I decided to look at how history has celebrated the greatest photographers.

Photo by A.G. DeMesa

Joel Meyerowitz quit his job and walked the streets because he started seeing the little details after seeing Robert Frank being balletic in front of his subject instead of being stoic and passive.

Daido Moriyama, Shomei Tomatsu, and the rest of the “Provoke” magazine crew did the are-bure-bokeh not for the sake of black and white, grainy, and blurry photographs but because they saw that there was a disconnect on how Japan was showing itself in the 60’s-70’s and how it really is. It was a rebellion against form.

Noboyushi Araki liked the faces of the Japanese people and saw how beautiful they are so he photographed them incessantly. From then on he photographed things that are beautiful to him from clouds, to his cat, bounded women in the nude, the erotic and the pretending to be erotic, and the sentimental journey he took with his wife.

Photo by A.G. DeMesa

That was it. All of them had one thing in common: It was about seeing something. No dogma, no photographic gods, no one true photography. That is what I’m going to do.

The greatest thing that street photography has done for me was it laid a good foundation on what it means to photograph but I feel there should be a time one should graduate from just being a “Street Photographer”. That is not to say that one should leave street photography but rather one should build up around the core that street photography gives and continuously pursue that which excites your eyes.

Self-portrait: A.G. DeMesa
Self-portrait: A.G. DeMesa

When I look back at my 10,000 photographs, none of them are really the worst but I see it in a different vein now. Some pictures I killed but many I kept because all that matters is seeing. Which means that you should always be prepared because you’ll never know what will put excitement in your eyes when you go through your daily life whether it be walking the streets or spending time with friends. Always make sure that you can photograph it and make it live forever.

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