phone photography

I have a confession.

I have a crush on street photography.

I’m still far from being a good street photographer but I decided to start documenting my experiences and see how I evolve. And maybe, if there are any street photography enthusiasts among you, it might be useful to you as well. 

street portrait Istanbul
Portrait of a man on the streets of Istanbul, 2011.

 

street photography Turkey
Man in Turkish carriage picks up a bag of carrots to feed his horse. Istanbul, Turkey 2011

First, a short personal history with street photography

Looking back, I think I began to find interest in street photography since my first days of Erasmus scholarship. I spent five months in Turkey, a country full of colors and contrasts and wonderful stories. The thing is, I was so engrossed in everything the Erasmus experience brought my way, that I didn’t rationalize it, I just photographed.

In the following years I focused my attention mostly on portrait and event photography and every once in awhile I shot things I found interesting on the street. 

Then a year ago I moved to London and the feelings sparked again, this time stronger. And that’s why, I decided to act on them and see how far I can go.

phone and street photography

So what is it about street photography that makes me enjoy it so much?

Mainly, street photography enables for me another way to create and tell stories. Stories that I can shoot anywhere, anytime, with any camera.

There are also other reasons that make it worthwhile for me:

I learn to pay attention 

In the past I used to find it hard to get out of my own head. I commuted from one point to the other in a ghostly like mode and when I got to a certain destination I couldn’t recall one single thing I saw on my way. That’s not necessary a bad thing, especially when you want to disconnect, but it also meant I missed things.

Street photography teaches me to be more connected with the outside world and to appreciate the beauty in the mundane. I don’t need to go to far away locations to find beauty and to experience brief moments of joy. Often a closer, more attentive look teaches me so much. I notice how people walk and talk, their posture or their mood in that particular moment. I see funny and interesting scenes that play in front of my eyes like a short movie.

ice cream seller
Ice cream seller, Sakarya Adapazari 2011
Mannequins, Birmingham 2017.

I get to know myself better

In an interview, Neil Gaiman says he needs to write things down to learn what he thinks about something. Similarly, my street photos show me what I pay attention to, what I find beautiful and interesting or not so beautiful. Ultimately they show me a glimpse of my reality.

phone photography
Chris in sunlight
phone photography
Chris blending in
kebab shop turkey street photo
Men preparing and selling sandwiches and shawarma in Sakarya, Turkey. 2010
kebab shop turkey street photo
Men preparing and selling sandwiches and shawarma in Sakarya, Turkey. 2010

Street photography makes me more visually curious and pumps up my creativity. Looking at my photos I discovered I’m very interested in colors, shapes and lines. How they combine, how they point things out or how they create a certain mood. And how I, as an active observer, sometimes build up, become part of that scene and transform it.  

 

street geometry
Self portrait on the street
istanbul lights
City lights, Istanbul, Turkey 2010.

The process challenges me

In street photography you can observe passively or get involved. Right now I find myself in the first category.

“Taking a portrait of someone – be it man or woman – starts with a conversation.” – Martine Franck

The passive position is easy, comfortable. For example now I’m covering family workshops at the V&A museum. I go where I’m supposed to shoot, get close to the kids and their families, observe and document what’s happening. It’s easy because all those people know what I’m there for, they accept me from the start and I don’t need to make an effort and get out of my comfort zone. 

The challenge on the street for me is to go over my social anxiety, get closer, connect with people and create powerful images.

My main fear is that someone might get aggressive or do something to my camera. That never actually happened and talking nice to people, smiling or telling them why I took their picture always helped. But to be honest I rarely get close enough. The fear is still inside my head. So everytime I go out I try to be a little braver and do a little better.

Blending in
Man on a street in London
street portrait
Portrait of D on the street

Finally, I found these little exercises to be helpful and maybe they’ll be useful to you too. 

  • chose something to pay attention to for several days – like a color, a geometric shape or shadows; you don’t need to photograph just observe.
  • leave your headphones in the bag and listen to the sounds of the street, look at people, eavesdrop on conversations.
  • shoot more than just one photo of a scene, change your perspective, find the best composition
  • the smaller the camera the better –> try shooting with your phone for an entire week
  • follow the light

And most importantly enjoy it!

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