Don’t miss out the upcoming SF StreetFoto International Street Photography Festival — to hype it up, here is an interview with Ken Walton, the founder and visionary:
Great to have you Ken. Can you tell us about yourself, and why you’re passionate about street photography?
I’m a single dad, a 5th-generation Californian, a native of Sacramento and a long-time resident of San Francisco. When I left the video game industry in 2013 I took some time off to find my next venture and found myself swept off my feet by street photography after watching the Vivian Maeier documentary.
I started shooting at the very end of 2014 and have never looked back. I’ve always thrived in creative environments where I got to make things (video games, software) and hated things that stifled my creative impulses (I was once a very bored lawyer).
In street photography, I’ve found a creative outlet that I think I’ll want to pursue forever, no matter what else is going on in my life. I love making the world look stranger and more surreal than it seems to most of us as we go about our lives.
I’m also an avid traveler, almost halfway to my goal of visiting 100 countries, and street photography has given me new reasons to go places I might never have visited. I plan week-long trips based on where I want to shoot. The international street photography community is incredibly friendly, and as I’ve traveled, I’ve had the privilege of visiting people around the globe who share our passion for taking pictures of strangers in public without permission.
What inspired/motivated you to start SF STREET FOTO? What meaningful differentiation do you have from other festivals?
I like to launch things. I’ve started and sold several companies, and it’s one of my life’s passions. Less than a year into my street photography career I knew I wanted to build something bigger out of it than just the pictures I was making and sharing on social media, and a festival seemed like an interesting idea.
At the time, the Miami Street Photography Festival was the only game around. I thought there was room for another and I also wanted to highlight San Francisco as a great place so shoot, populated by great shooters. It was a bit of a fool’s endeavor, as I was not only a street photography novice, I’d never planned an event larger than a house party. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of a lot of volunteers, I pulled it off, and we’re about to go into our fourth year with a great slate of events.
What makes us different? Unlike the other festivals, we’re a full week. That means we can offer more of all sorts of things. We have 3 or 4 top-tier workshops, lots of exhibitions (five, at galleries all over town, in additional to our finalists show), and 15 free photo walks led by volunteers through neighborhoods all around the city. I’m particularly proud of all our photowalks. We lead hundreds of people around the city every year for free, thanks to our volunteers.
What are the biggest misconceptions of photography festivals, and why do you encourage people to join SF STREET FOTO?
I not only run a festival, I’ve visited several others – Brussels, Street London, the London Street Photography Festival, and I know the founders of most of them pretty well. At this point, I’m so familiar with festivaals, I’m not really sure about misperceptions any more. I’ve lost touch with what it’s like to look at them from the outside. But here are some misconceptions:
- Misconception: They make money from the contests: Truth — They really don’t. The founders of every festival pump the money back into the festival to pay for all sorts of things, and at the end, you hope to have a little surplus to make the next year better. It’s a labor of love.
- Misconception: The contests are only for well-known street photographers: Not true. Every year, we have finalists from all over the world, and although there are familiar names, I am proud that many of them I did not previously know. I”m proud that we’ve helped to showcase the work of artists who may hot have much of a following.
I encourage everyone to join us at StreetFoto San Francisco because there’s an amazing atmosphere of community at the festival, and you’re almost guaranteed to make new friends or run into people you previously only knew online. Photographers sometimes squabble online, but at the festival, there’s great camaraderie, and you’ll get to spend your free time taking pictures in one of the world’s most interesting cities.
What tips/advice would you give yourself if you started street photography all over again?
- Shoot more, post less. Even when I was shooting every day, I should have posted less.
- Keep up with editing.
- The honest, insightful opinion of a good photographer, given in private, is worth more than any number of social media likes.
- Use 1/1000 when there’s enough light, because you are spastic, and you’re going to get motion blur even at 1/500.
- Sit on stuff longer. But not so long that you need to hear #2.
- For people who want to start their own festivals in their own country, what advice would you give them?
It’s a lot of work, so you’d better really want to do it. If you meet that criterion, go for it. The first step is to get a venue, which gives you a date, and then you need to line up a marquee guest. Keep things simple the first year, and watch your expenses very closely. Street photographers are a generous bunch, and many of them will be willing to judge a contest or even travel to your festival without a big paycheck.