Daniel Kramer: These images are part of a street photography book in progress that I’m working on and which I’ve tentatively titled “Global Wanderings.” I’ve gone through one round of editing with Mike Davis and now I’m carefully combing through and digitizing my archives which is both a joy and a pain.
Warning: One of the photos in this post is Not Safe For Work.
I got started in photography in 1990 at the University of Minnesota. My last class before graduating was called Intro to Visual Communications with David Rae Morris and he just captivated me. The class was on Saturday morning and David would always bring a bag of warm muffins and play Grateful Dead music.
At the time, I was majoring in journalism and working as a freelance writer for The Minnesota Daily. I had just completed an internship with The Minneapolis Star Tribune and David introduced me to the concept of both writing and photographing feature stories. He helped me publish my class project in the Daily – a story I wrote and photographed on a reclusive book seller on the outskirts of Minneapolis. He laid out the package and seeing one of my images as a double-page spread changed my life.
For the next three years I worked at small newspapers. I rolled the bulk film, shot it, developed it, laid out the page and wrote the stories. All the while trying to transition to just shooting.
In 1993, I went back to school to pursue my MFA in Documentary Photojournalism at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. There were three people who influenced me tremendously:
- Ken Light who showed me I could aspire to more than being a staff photographer at a major metro newspaper;
- Pulitzer-prize winner Kim Komenich who taught me about aesthetics, composition and sequencing;
- Alex Webb whom I met first through his work and then in person at his exhibition in San Francisco.
When I saw Alex’s work the lightbulb went off in my head. Up to that point, I had only been shooting in black and white and only working on documentary photo stories with a clear protagonist and a beginning, middle and end. Alex’s work didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end and there wasn’t one main subject (except maybe shadow and light and color).
When I saw his work, I immediately began shooting chromes and began my Thesis project on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I just loved the freedom of not having to focus on anything in particular but just looking for light and color and moments. And I also loved not developing my film! And I loved printing Cibachromes.
After graduation, I interned with Newsday, was selected to the Eddie Adams’ Workshop and embarked on an 11-month project in which I retraced Mark Twain’s journey around the world on the 100th anniversary of his trip.
Over the next six years I worked as a freelance photographer: I shot Tiger Woods for Newsweek, my photo of Mother Teresa was syndicated around the world by Sygma, I worked on a book about my hometown Green Bay Packers, spent three years documenting everyday life in Cuba and received a grant to document my legendary Montana cowgirl aunt Bobby Brooks Kramer.
In 2003, I accepted the staff-photographer position with the alt-weekly Houston Press newspaper. Over the course of my six-year tenure I had my own photo column, won some awards and had a whale of a time photographing hurricanes, Presidents and pop stars. My work was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and I began teaching street photography at Rice University’s School of Continuing Education.
I was laid off from the Press in 2009 and am currently still teaching and working again as a freelance photographer. I shoot weddings and find my street photography skills bring an extra element to my coverage that other Houston wedding photographers might not have.
I trained to be an objective journalist so I’m not trying to say anything with my photography. That said, I do think the camera shows us things that aren’t visible to the naked eye and so I try to concentrate on fleeting moments that are wrapped in the aesthetics of shadow, light and color. I love color.
Why do I shoot? It began as a way of being a part of the action. When I went to college, my dad bought me a Yashica with a 50mm. Dad played football for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers and then wrote four best-selling books about his experiences.
He showed me a world that was very appealing and I knew I didn’t have the desire to make it on the football field so I turned to journalism and began to use the camera to explore my natural curiosities about the world.
Hanging in my mom’s office is a framed, unattributed quote that reads: “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”
For years I looked at that and silently agreed with the sentiment. Then one day I Googled it and learned it was from Diane Arbus. Wow.
My advice to aspiring street photographers is to find a photographer you love and really immerse yourself in their work. Then try to emulate it. Consider attending a workshop. Find or hire someone to critique your work. Be ruthless in your editing. When I retraced Twain’s journey around the world, I shot 35,000 frames and my Blurb mock-up contains 83 photos.