Aperture have released a book collection called ‘The Photography Workshop Series‘ and currently have four in that set. I recently bought the co-authored one from Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, ‘On Street Photography and the Poetic Image‘. As Alex is one of my favourite photographers, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to gain knowledge and guidance from such a great photographer. Especially as it’s unlikely that I’m going to get the chance to meet him in person, and what better alternative than with a book.
Even though the book contains images, I wouldn’t really pass this as a photo book, but more on the lines of being informational. The book is split into small chunks which offer little snippets of stories and anecdotes and isn’t about the technical side of things such as settings and what cameras to use. Instead it’s about the feeling and emotion that help tell or a create a story through the medium of photography.
I often found myself going back to read and re-read the contents. I thought why not write about it and see how the advice given fit into my own photography workflow. What I’ve found out while writing this, is that it’s made me really think what’s within the book and what Alex and Rebecca are talking about.
I’ve looked at these sections and tried to think about how they might fit into both my landscape and street photography, and hopefully improve my methods to create meaningful work.
The Blind Man and the Bus
“The world is our collaborator on this two fold journey that’s inward to the self and outward into the world.” – Alex Webb
Alex mentions that if we have faith in our photography, that it will eventually take us where we need to go. Photographing both landscape and street photography, I’m at the control of what’s around me and what the world puts in front of my lens.
Landscape photography is greatly determined by the weather transforming how a scene can look and feel. However it is the elements and objects at a location which can also emphasise this, and visiting the same location, as this can change even over night. I’m lucky to live in a location that easily allows me to get to the coast. Every time I visit these locations, the sand and cliffs alter and shift, allowing me to rethink how to approach a scene.
With street photography, the landscape is less likely to change. However the people are always constantly moving, even more so than the clouds above or the seas below. Without this world and what it brings, I doubt I would be doing these two types of photography.
I often wonder whether my locations I visit were the right choices. Whether it’s a sunrise at a small coastal village, or walking down a particular alleyway while strolling around a city.
I suppose it’s hard for me to think and realise during the moment whether I made the correct choice on that particular day. Though I think choices that we make probably don’t become evident until much later afterwards when we can analyse those choices. I’ve realised though that I need to trust my instincts more and not overthink things.
The First Photograph
When taking photographs, Alex sees the world as if asking for permission every time you press down on the shutter. I too have a similar feeling, though for me it’s for the first couple frames. Even though I’ve been doing street photography for a little over a year, I still get extremely nervous and hesitant. It usually take me a few frames before my confidence builds up and my curiosity takes over.
The Camera Eye
“My response to writer’s block was to buy a small camera and travel for a year…” – Rebecca Norris Webb
I’ve always found myself to be a creative person and I’ve tried different forms to express myself. I even took on painting for a short period of time. Though space to dedicate myself was an issue and I also became frustrated not being able to achieve the result I had I my head. I still have a full-time job, and can often be a stressful environment to work in. My job might be seen as a creative place, but when tasks become familiar and repetitive, it can become hard to find that fresh creative direction.
When I was younger, I didn’t find books to be particularly exciting, however I enjoyed writing. The one thing that I struggled with most and still do is what to write about. Recently I decided to start a blog, maybe from an urge to satisfy that part of me. Even though I have ideas on what to write about, I still struggle on how to get it out my head and onto paper.
What I’ve come to realise with myself is that it’s good to have more than one creative release. My main one obviously being photography, 3D modelling and sculpting another. I suppose writing could also be one.
When I find it hard writing an article, instead of forcing myself to type, I’ll go out and take photographs. This can often help re-align my thoughts and hopefully inspire my creativity, which I can then transfer into my writing and even back into my day job.
Looking for Photographs
It’s hard for me to say exactly what interests me in street photography. It’s only until I come across it do I realise at that point, that’s when I raise the camera to my eye. I enjoy walking and not someone who stands in one place for a long period of time in hope that something interesting comes my way, I go hunting for it.
One thing that I am drawn to though, are people’s faces and expressions and how individual everyone is. I suppose it’s also the stories that all of us have that makes us interesting.
Only until recently I didn’t really know the types of landscape images I wanted to produce. It was only due to recent events which caused me to pursue other means of creating images, did I realise that was the direction I wanted to go towards.
Colour is Emotion
“Colour comes more from the stomach” – Harry Gruyaert
During the mid 70’s, Alex visited Haiti, Jamaica and the US Mexico border. Up until that point he had been working in black and white, however kept questioning himself that something was missing. Having never visited those places myself and only seeing them through the eyes of other photographers, it seems that colour is predominant throughout their cultures and is a way of expression.
When I was studying photography at college, all I was allowed to use was black and white film. When I picked up my camera again, I decided that colour was going to be my main choice, for both landscape and street photography. I guess out of using something different, but probably because it seemed more of a natural decision, I saw in colour, so why not shoot in colour.
What I came to realise though, that colour is more than just a visual aesthetic. I first started to use it in my landscape photography and was also the first time that I purposefully went out to catch the sunrise.
Both the sunrise and sunsets can create spectacular colours, and I can thankfully say that I’ve had the opportunity to experience some amazing ones. However if I had shot those scenes in black and white, would the photographs have given the same emotion. I guess they would hold some kind of emotion, however I feel the image wouldn’t be as impactful.
“Other than in Technicolor Westerns, I’d never see skies so spectacularly blue” – RNW
In the book Rebecca talks about the colour blue and how it takes her back to a location when she was growing up. I think what she’s trying to suggest is how certain things in our life can have a particular meaning towards us. For me, it’s more of a location and that would be the beach.
I suppose growing up in England and Norfolk specifically, I was never too far from the coast. I remember going on holiday every year to the same location, which was in a small chalet next to the beach. Maybe after all those visits as a child, visiting the coast makes me think of those days.
The Grace of Others
“In the end it’s not what the world gives the photographer, it’s also what the photographer brings to the world.” – AW
With someone like Alex who’s travelled a great deal and even to sensitive locations, he’s had to be culturally aware. As with anyone who travels to a foreign country, you don’t want to offend anyone.
I took a trip to Vienna and found that the laws for taking photographs are different from that in the UK. Though I didn’t find this on any website, but instead was kindly informed by some other fellow photographers.
While visiting, I had a great opportunity to experience parts of the city that I might not have if I hadn’t been introduced to the locals.
One of the reasons why I got into street photography was to help build up my confidence with speaking to strangers. What I also found out is that people have interesting stories to tell, and you can really get a feel of the location you’re visiting. Something that no website can do. I’d advise going to local coffee shops or cafés and try to make conversation with the staff.
For me, people make a place for what is it, and if I can talk to someone who’s been there for a good 40/50 years or more, what better way to gain an insight and understanding into that location.
For those who don’t get to travel much, including myself, doing the same things locally is just as refreshing. You might learn something you didn’t before about your local town. What’s more, you’ll meet great people and make new friends along the way.
“These days, I often feel as if I’m walking a fragile line visually-pushing the frame to include more and more, just up to, but falling short of, chaos” – AW
More often than not I find myself being drawn to crowded frames as I always seem to linger more. With lots of things happening in the frame you can often miss small details that you only notice a second time round.
I enjoy portraits but unless it’s someone that interests me that I’d like to start a conversation with, I’m more naturally drawn to what’s happening around me. I’m not really sure why it interests me, but maybe because I never really fit in as a child. I didn’t have many friends and always felt like an outsider. I guess even now I still fell a little like that, but instead of craving to be included, I now find it more fascinating being someone looking from the outside in.
I suppose being the outsider you always only ever catch part of a conversation. Much like the images I enjoy of Alex’s. You could say they’re half truths only giving small details which then allow the viewer to fill in the blanks and create their own stories.
I guess I would call myself a curious photographer that sees interesting things. It could be someone’s expression, a conversation between two people, the way someone is dressed or even as something as mundane as leaves spinning on the ground.
I guess another reason why I’m drawn to crowded frames is that I think the world we live in is a complicated one and like to show that in my frames. I find it fascinating how close we can be in the vicinity of others, yet be so unaware of what’s happening around us.
I think there is a fine line when it comes to complicated frames, things still need to be clear and clutter free, otherwise it can become confusing and messy without a sense of flow or meaning.
“As I pored through The Decisive Moment, I remember coming upon this Henri Cartier-Bresson image from Valencia, Spain. I’d never seen anything quite like it.” – AW
When I first came across street photography, one of the first things I did was buy a book on the subject. I think the first street photography book I bought was Street Photography Now. For someone who’s looking to get into street photography, it’s a nice way to get introduced to the genre.
I had seen the book at my local book store a few times, and became quite curious and also fascinated by the photos, which also helped introduce me to other photographers.
Coming from a design background, I’ve always enjoyed the print medium. Being able to feel the paper between your fingertips, so I’ve always had a natural interest. For someone who’s just starting out and unsure exactly what’s classed as a street photo, it was a great way to see the different styles that everyone does.
Even now with a little more experience under my belt, books are a great way to help with inspiration. However I soon started asking myself, “why am I taking photos?”. Books helped me answer that question, and this one in particular.
For someone who hadn’t been shooting for long, it was hard to see the type of images I liked. Though with books it’s always interesting to see how people view the world, what things interest them while comparing them to yours.
I don’t have many, but the ones I did collect when I first started out were interesting to look at, but didn’t inspire me as much as they did for others. It wasn’t until recently that I bought one, did I realise the things I should shoot.
The Unexpected Metaphor
“Slowly, it dawned on me that these images…were a metaphor for my grief for my older brother…” – RNW
So why do we take images?
When I decided to pick up the camera again, I soon started to ask myself this question. On the surface my initial reason was obvious, but I needed some other kind of deeper reasoning that might help me understand why I chose photography. All I knew at the time was that I needed to take photos.
I’ve always found myself to be a creative person and found photography to be the best medium to help express that creativity. Something that I wanted to do to help focus my photography was a project. However initially it took me a while to start one.
During that time and even in between projects, I’m always taking photographs. Maybe one day when I look back over those images I’ll come across something that will fit in with a future project.
I currently shoot all my street photo on film, and I’m trying to gather lot’s of rolls before sending them off to get developed. There are a couple of reasons, but one of them is to see if there is any kind of trend with my photos that I take.
The curious and fascinating thing about photography is the way that the medium is presented and shown to us as an individual. It can become a very personal thing. I hope it’s a way of understanding who I am as a person, and maybe why I do the things I do.
One regret that I have in life, is that I wish I was more prolific with a camera while I was growing up. I would have been curious to see how I saw the world back then and whether my view has changed.
Mistakes as Road Maps
“A mistake is only a mistake if you do not learn from it”.
That quote was told by one of my high school teachers and has always stuck with me. I’m not sure why, but I guess it must have resonated inside me somewhere.
Recently I took a trip to Vienna and found myself walking around some stalls called the Naschmarkt. After about maybe an hours shooting, I came to the end of the stalls and wanted to use up the final few remaining frames of the film. After a few more cranks of the film advance lever, I noticed that the film rewind indicator wasn’t rotating. I soon came to realise that I hadn’t loaded the film correctly, so all of that mornings shooting was wasted. Even though that was a mistake on my part, it’s something that I’ve learned from and hopefully won’t make again.
Bruce Davison mentioned that you need three things, passion, persistence and patience. I guess I’m quite an impatient person. Maybe this could be influenced by the world that we live in, or even from my urgency to get things done quickly. I suppose being an artist I want to show people my creativity and wish that I had the work to show. As time goes by I think my patience will improve, which I believe has done so over the past year especially since I’ve adopted film.
I’ve yet to develop any of my street photographs for the past 8 months or so. Maybe why I’ve waiting this long might be due to me not wanting to see all of those mistakes I’ve made. However if there are any, I’ll be able to make sure not to make them again.
Find out more about Nick and his work:
Photographs copyrighted and used with permission by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris-Webb.