Sunday, July 15, 2007

Street photography at the Art Fair on the Square

Evolution of a Street Photograph
Count me among the people whose interest in the Art Fair on the Square runs more to the people than the art. Nothing against art, far from it, but I'd rather look at it in the less crowded environment of a gallery. And then there's the fact that, armed with a camera, I'm not just interested in people in a pure and abstract sense -- I'm a street photographer.

People have argued about the exact definitions of this somewhat predatory art form for years. For some purists, it has to be black and white. For some, the image must not be cropped. I'm not that much a purist, and I'm working with a digital point-and-shoot, rather than the small 35mm cameras that were used by such masters as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. Cartier-Bresson worked more deliberately to create beautifully composed yet perfectly spontaneous compositions. Winogrand deliberately cultivated what came to be known as a snapshot esthetic. Frank was somewhere in between. What they all have in common is the pursuit of an idealized notion of visual truth, some perfect arrangement of elements in which everything comes together in what Cartier-Bresson used to call "the decisive moment." It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. These photographers shot hundreds, and in Winogrand's case, as many as thousands of frames for every image that was enlarged and exhibited or published. It was an art of selection, and the medium was the black and white 35mm contact sheet.

I miss the old contact sheets, but iPhoto is a lot easier to use. Here are iPhoto screenshots os some of the images I sorted through, looking for the one or two that I liked out of the hundreds I shot, holding the camera unobtrusively at my side, making sure the flash was turned off. Turns out I shot an amazing number of shots of feet, legs, office buildings, sky, sun -- almost everything but people. (I still have to work on that pointing thing a bit.) Nevertheless, there were a few people who appeared in my captures, and an even smaller number I liked. The one I think of as "The Art Dudes" was one of them.

I've circled where it appears on the iPhoto screens, surrounded by competitors for my attention, and then zooming in, indicating my preferred cropping (remember, I'm not a purist). Once I would have done this on a contact sheet with a grease pencil. Now I did it with a red virtual "pencil" in Photoshop. Making the selection was the hard part. After that, all that was left to do was crop the photo, open up the shadows and punch up the color a bit. Hope you like it.

Note: If you'd like to enlarge either image -- the iPhoto "contact sheet," or the final photo -- just click on it to open it up in Flickr.

1 comment:

thechrisproject said...

It's taken me years to well from the hip, chest, upside down, backwards, etc. I've only recently been looking at the work of Frank, Cartier-Bresson, and Winogrand. You're right, it is an art form that requires amazing selection skills. I do not envy John Szarkowski for the work he did picking some of Winogrand's photos for a book after Winogrand's death.

For me some of the fun comes from using a rather large camera and lens to do street photography.