So, for the last couple of years, I’ve been shooting what could very loosely be described as “street photography”. And, although I enjoy the particular genre as a thing (its accessible, free, constantly surprising etc), I actually find most street photography pretty, well, boring, I guess.
Generally, if you look at street shots across the web then it’s usually one of two things:
1. Shots of people walking, people walking past advertisements or street art, people walking through shards of light, people on their phones, street performers, buskers, the homeless, the backs of people, slightly creepy shots of ladies etc. This is what I’d suggest is most common.
2. Layering or gimmick shots - using very deep depth of field to await multiple components to come together to create a shot that on the surface seems to be compositionally complex (the photographers will probably try and argue that this is achieved by having a very trained eye and predicting the “decisive” moment. But, if I’m being honest, I’m sceptical (to try and put it politely, when I want to actually call bullshit). What I actually suspect happens in 99.9% of cases is that photographers will pick a spot and machine gun their way to success. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors*, with more than a pinch of pretentiousness.
Look ^ some randomer on their phone. Easy.
It’s hard to find middle ground. It happens, of course, when luck strikes (my favourite) or when you specifically plan a shoot when something beyond the norm is occurring (protests, festivals etc), but it’s usually one or the other.
I can’t give you an example of purposeful layering because it’s not really my thing that - fitting in with the cool kids. If you want to see many (MANY) examples of this, then head to the HCSP group on Flickr and fill your boots. I suppose the reason I take issue with this is because its a bit like a forum mentality - to fit in, you have to copy everyone else. Doing something different is seen as shitty or just plain wrong or amateurish.
Don’t get me wrong - all art is theft, it’s ALL been done before, so I can’t say that I don’t emulate a style. I definitely do. However, I have a little personality quirk, where I generally root for the underdog and enjoy niches. Small companies, who try harder, uncommon products or things that aren’t particularly in vogue - or were in vogue, but perhaps last season (I’m unfashionable, okay, there - I’ve said it). But doing stuff that few do is where I often find comfort. It isn’t therapy, but it’s certainly therapeutic for me.
So, that middle ground? That brings us nicely to the concept of anti-photography.
The concept of this (most notably established by the Provoke era of photography) is that making images of the mundane, the common, subjects that perhaps no one else would, it’s sort of an anarchic reaction to what is expected by the masses or accepted as “proper photography” (bullshit klaxon). But it is still really a gimmick. Maybe not in the late 60’s and early 70’s (when Provoke was originally published), but for the small few who attempt to emulate this (un?)style - yeah, it’s certainly a diluted version.
But, its saving grace is that it is relatively uncommon still on the whole and is still definitely divisive and against the grain of what is judged as “good”.
So, what you hopefully end up with is images from category 1 of street photography (the banal, the mundane, the common and overlooked) but with more than a dash of category 2 (a gimmick), albeit the gimmick here is an uncommon one - purposefully “bad” photography that is still interesting. Usually with lots of ambiguity and a side order of abstraction. And what is the simplest form of abstraction in photography? It’s arguably black and white imagery. I have to push myself to shoot B&W because I have shot colour for so long that I now associate patterns of complimentary colours etc, but I usually find in the long term that I am more satisfied with B&W images because they make you think a little more (or make ME think a little more). Colour images spoil us - they spoon feed us information and don’t require us to think too much. With B&W, we have to imagine how things might have looked - if only for a split second longer. Add a few Provoke staples to that - blur, grain (or noise, if you want to be arsey about it) and deep, obsidian, crushing blacks then I liken that to giving our creative imagination a proper work out. You might not want to start doing it, but once you have and you get it, it’s a lot more satisfying than being continuously spoon fed.
So lets look at this again:
I deliberately chose this image because it’s one of the most boring ones I could find. It really is just a guy on his phone. Urgh. Just look at his face! Oh, wait a minute - you can’t see his face?
Is this sort of social commentary on us, as a society, being addicted to our phones and social media? And branding becoming more prominent and important than people’s personalities or identities? (In this case, the Golden Arches?).
Ambiguity innit? Filling in the blanks. Food for thought (see what I did there? McDonalds? Food? No? I’ll get my coat).