(A.g.’s notes: Out of the 4 Assignments we have finished over at Streettogs Academy group, Arnold Despi got into the Honorable Mentions list 3 times. He is a very active photographer always shooting and always looking for suggestions on how to improve from other folks. I decided to talk to him to get some feedback on how he keep things consistent, his style, and the things he enjoys most with street photography. I hope you all enjoy! Photos by Arnold Despi)
A.G.: How did you find out about street photography and why did you start doing it?
Arnold: I have always been fascinated with cameras and I owned a few since I was in my early 20’s but I never really put serious attention to photography. All I do was merely taking “snapshots” on some occasions, until May 2012 when I got interested to join a global photo walk titled “A Day in the World”. I signed up and captured some outdoor images the day of the walk and I submitted them to the organizers. A week after submission I got a call from one of the organizer’s rep in Sweden and she told me that one of my work was selected for the book publication and they need to include a story behind the photo. They had 100,000 entries and selected 1,000. One of them was mine. Out of excitement I said “yes and I will have a write up for you”. When I hung up the phone that’s when I realized I have to find those people that I photographed to be able to get a good story, and those were homeless people. So to make it short, every afternoon after office I would hang out where I photographed them. I started talking to the other street dwellers hoping they would lead me to the persons that I need to find. Three days had gone and no luck. On the fourth day I was hopeless and was headed home and all of a sudden coming my way was the old woman that I photographed. So I wasted no time I asked her if she could spare me few minutes and good enough she was happy to talk to me and shared some information. I just listened to her story and got more than what I needed. Before I left I handed her some money for dinner and a copy of the photo that I captured of her and her friend. She examined the photo and looked at me and teary eyed jumping with joy, saying thank you! Boy, was I so happy too seeing this old woman in joy. And so I now have a back story to my photograph. I could have just made up one but no, if I did that I was cheating myself. And that was when I thought to myself I will take my photography to the next level. I am in love doing this and I will continue doing this, I am passionate about it.
Having said and done that, I had no idea that I was already doing street photography. I started practicing and learning about street photography about 11 months ago, when I joined my first FB street photography group which is Street View Photography Feedback Group. Before this group I must admit, aside from taking “snapshots” outdoors I have no clue of what SP genre is all about. A year ago if you asked me names of legendary street photographers, I’d give you a blank stare – no kidding.
So why do I do it? I love doing it. It is challenging and to me it is an expression and also therapy having all the challenges in life, photography is an outlet where I can express my emotions.
What was your experience when you first went out on the streets and realized “I really like street photography”?
During the initial days and months that I started doing street photography I was so discreet that I was using a zoom lens. I was afraid that if people will notice me photographing them I would be in trouble. But as I progress I become more comfortable with it, I just act like casually taking photos and if they notice me I approach people after I take the shot and show them and ask if they mind and if so I would delete the image. In most cases they are fine with it, and so I started enjoying the interaction. But of course it’s not always happy days. I got yelled at a couple of times and been told to mind my own business or the “get the f**k off my face. It was still a great experience!
The first few images I have in street photography were mostly street dwellers and performers, because they are easy to photograph. But in order to learn this genre I directed myself to more challenging shots.
I love doing Street photography because it is very dynamic thereby the photographer is being challenged. You have to be observant, responsive, predictive and most often discreet in order to capture a candid moment. All of these combined plus a keen eye and the mastery of your tool to be able to capture the moment in your frame.
The other thing that I like about it is that you also interact with your subjects, and sometimes listen to their stories.
Did you self-study, went to a workshop, or just dived in head on without knowing much and went with your gut?
I really just went into street photography armed with my vision, passion and guts then learn along the way. I go out in the streets and shoot, a lot of practice then I look at my work and evaluate it, I don’t create images for others just to like it instead I want my viewer to understand it.
But as I take the journey I make time to attend some basic photography workshops to increase my knowledge and sharpen my skills. These workshops are not specifically geared towards the SP genre but I use it to learn some basics and interact with fellow photographers. One workshop that I am looking forward to is Eric Kim’s. I missed the one early this October 2014 in San Francisco due to work schedule but I am planning on joining the next one by February 2015. And that will be my first real Street Photography workshop and I am really looking forward to doing it.
You have been very consistent with our assignments, how do you manage to do that? Do you have habits you can share with us?
I believe that consistency can be achieved by building the discipline in whatever you do. I set my goal and do best to achieve it and if for some reason the pieces do not come together I do not change my goal, instead I make adjustments in my steps in reaching the goal. Now applying that principle to my street photography, I make it a point to shoot at the very least every weekend. And practice focusing on taking quality shots.
And if I can’t shoot I look back at my archives and check out some images and review them. I find many of them worthy of keeping because when you look at them after some time and with a refreshed mind and vision you can see what you missed the first time you looked at it. So I do not delete old images unless they are really “trash”.
The Streettogs Academy group is a good platform for me to get challenged as it is constantly evolving into different themed assignments. So when I go out on the streets I know what I need to come up with to address the required concept. But having said that I keep an open mind in approaching the concept, the theme can be subjective. Every individual will have his own interpretation so you have to be explorative as well in selecting your work and come up with variety of images to choose from and publish your best.
How do you interact in the street? Are you the fly on the wall or do you prefer to interact with your environment?
In my initial days of street photography, I can call myself a “street hunter”. I constantly look for something to photograph and that was so stressful and tiring. Now I have learned just leisurely walk but be observant and responsive. I feel that if I am relaxed in what I do, I do it better- and I am sure that applies to everyone.
I do treat each situation differently when I am out shooting. There are times that I have to be discreet to capture the emotions and the moment. But there are also certain times that close contact with the subject is the best approach. Interaction and listening to stories of people is interesting too.
Do you have things in particular you look for when you are out and about or take what you encounter?
When I go out to shoot I already have a concept in mind on what I want to capture so I know exactly where to go. Or I will go to a place where I have been before but I was not completely satisfied with what I have previously produced. I will re-shoot because I know there is something good that I can capture in that particular place, and if the second time does not make it, I go back until I am happy with what I got.
Most of the times I just keep it open so I just keep myself alert for what is in my immediate surroundings so I can quickly react to any opportunity. But as we all know that is not always successful and you may end up with a lucky shot.
Another approach is I find a location where I can call my stage and wait for all the elements to come together. I wait for interesting people to capture, good touch of light and a story to make the image stronger. So essentially more than often I am like a blank white sheet of paper and as I see the opportunity I start to work on it.
How do you manage to find time to photograph?
It is difficult for me to bring my gear everyday as my work is 30 miles each way and all the time and I am driving on the freeway. So almost no opportunity to take a street photo on a weekday, but what I do is after work and I know there is still enough good light to use. I try to shoot at those times. But mostly I just shoot on weekends, and I would start Friday afternoon and if I am not satisfied with what I got I’ll do more on Saturday or Sunday. And I treat that as an exercise as well, as I walk a lot. So it is double purpose.
I also go to special events as I know there will be people, lots of people and interesting characters. Once in while I do out of town trips and see some places and shoot. Well, it’s actually to shoot and see the place .
Are you planning starting a project or a series in the future? Care to give us ideas or you want to keep it top secret?
Definitely, I will be doing a project. I do not treat it as a secret but I would rather keep it on low profile for now . I want to put serious thought to it before I really dive into it.
If there is one thing that I regret, it is doing street photography late. I have traveled in quite a number of interesting places before and I was never into street photography at the time.
For more of Arnold’s work