A technique I like in street photography is the ‘decapitation technique’– literally cutting the head off your subjects (or just showing their limbs):


Mark Cohen

Surreal street photo by Mark Cohen. Bubble gum and hand.
Surreal street photo by Mark Cohen. Bubble gum and hand.

Mark Cohen in action, shooting without the viewfinder at a very low angle.

Headless horseman by Mark Cohen
Mark Cohen, teeth.
Mark Cohen, laughter.
Mark Cohen, laughter.

I first got this idea from the photographer Mark Cohen, who shot a lot of photos with a super-wide angle lens (21mm), and used a flash, and focused on body limbs and parts. His work is genius.


Similarly, I have added this technique to my own work. Some examples from my SUITS hardcover book:

1. Obscure the face of your subject

This picture I shot on Wall Street in NYC; shooting with a flash in the late afternoon (on a rainy and wet day), and shot it the moment the man in the suit covered his face with an umbrella. To me, this makes it more mysterious; the “suit” becomes more of a symbol.

2. Have a visual element cut off the head/eyes of your subject

Another picture in Tokyo: a man smoking a cigarette while crouched down in Tokyo. Note that the visual element looks like it is chopping off his head– perhaps a metaphor.

3. A patch of light, and just a hand

Showing emotion through body/hand gestures— like the man leaning against the wall. No need to show his face to show his emotion of despair.

4. Only photograph an arm

Shoot horizontally, and get close to whatever you’re photographing– whether an arm, leg, or body part.

For this picture I shot it on a 35mm lens with a flash, and only showed the tension in the man’s arm– holding the briefcase (showing the veins in his hand).

5. Hand and object

The symbolism of the tie looking like a noose. Shot with a flash.

6. Still life

A photograph of a shopping store mannequin– with the head “exploding” with flowers!

7. Cutting out the eyes

By cutting out the eyes, the subject becomes more obscure.

8. Hand gestures

This picture I also shot on a 35mm lens, with a flash– getting super close to the moment I saw this ‘significant gesture’ of the man reaching into his shirt pocket. Shot with a film Leica, pre-focused to .7 meters (minimum focusing distance).


9. Shooting with a flash

Danny eyes flash

I took a bunch of photos of this kid named Danny in Saigon (a 3-year old kid), and he was playing inside a cardboard box. I shot a bunch of photos with a flash, and when reviewing the photos after-the-fact, I saw this fun and surreal photo of him with just his teeth!

10. Shadow selfie

Obscure your own face by shooting a selfie in the mirror with a harsh source of light, and shoot at -1 or -2 exposure compensation to darken and obscure your face.

11. Darken the face of your subject by “burning” in post-processing

dark skies over Tokyo

For this picture, I shot it on a Leica M9, ISO 2500, with a 21mm lens. The original photo the man’s face was already quite dark, but I further darkened the man’s face in Photoshop with the “burn” tool.


Conclusion

To me, a lot of great street photos are surreal. They don’t look like reality.

Ultimately techniques aren’t so important– what is more important is what you’re trying to say through your photos. For my SUITS project, it came down to this:

Don’t be a prisoner to the rat-race; you have the freedom to escape!

And to show this feeling of anxiety and despair, I used a flash, decapitated heads, and photographed my own reality.

BE BRAZEN,
ERIC


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