Friday, September 17, 2010

New York City Street Photography: Respecting the Genre

I suppose in order for photos to be categorized as "Street Photography," there are two necessary elements, the city and the people in it.

Street photography without people may fall into the genre of Landscape Photography or something else.

When I'm shooting in the city, in any city, I tend to take pictures of empty chairs, chairs on sidewalks or next to garbage dumpsters, chairs in shop windows, chairs piled on each other in storage rooms, who knows why?

It's just something I do.

An empty chair seems to carry ghosts with it, especially an old chair, because many people—perhaps some of them now dead--have sat in that seat and some of their energy may still reside there.

But can photos of empty seats really be called Street Photography?

Whenever we put a created image into a genre, we limit the anagogical possibilities of the work.

I'm a Chicano writer, and I’m quite assertive in defending that fact, but I can also acknowledge that being a Chicano writer can put me in a form that may be shaped by those who define and view the category through necessary theoretical and/or socio-political frameworks, and my work may not always be judged on the work itself but on its discourse vis-vis the issues and esthetics of the genre.

So even though the images I accessed in New York last weekend may not all fall into the genre of Street Photography, I didn’t really care. I shot what struck me.

However, on the last blog (see below) I took on a challenge specifically to try New York Street Photography without being too cliché as to where I was or as to the genre itself.

Therefore, in today’s blog I am including only a handful of images that seem to honor the conventions of the genre.

So, here they are:
Please click on the images to make them bigger, and to see the details.

"Bruce and Whoppi"

"The Date"


"Dragon Land"
Notice how all the people in the photo are Asian women. Not a man around.



"Bad Kids"


"No Standing"

"Hey, Daniel!"
These young people yelled and cheered my name as they danced around. I kid you not.

Oops. This photo doesn't have any real person in it, so I guess (get it, guess?) that it doesn't count.

Oh, well, at least there's a chair in it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New York City Street Photography: The Challenge.

It must be hard to avoid street photography clichés in places like New City York and Paris, where the pioneers of the genre (which was/is inseparable from documentary photography) have gotten such great images they have become part of our collective memory.

The New York and Paris photos from such people as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau have come to (de facto) define the esthetic of street photography.

In my short time doing drive-by shootings in the city, I have tried Downtown LA, Hollywood, El Paso, and Palm Springs, and it the act of going around these cities snapping shots, it struck me how much I love the genre.

I’m interested in people .

I love to people watch.

I love sitting in some busy part of a city, a café or a plaza, watching.

Maybe I take photos, because I want people to see the beauty I see in the city.
Of course, I’m also interested in other photography genres, but I cannot deny my love for the old images we now know as street photography.

Downtown El Chuco is a fun place to shoot, because there is little tradition of street photography, at least not as much as in New York, so one is less likely to takes shots that are based on images of the city that have come before.

Click on any image to make it larger.

I imagine that a challenge to any photographer would be to take shots of New York while avoiding New York Street photography clichés, not only those that come from the genre, but also those clichés that come from the image of the city itself.

It seems to me that one of the standards of the genre is when an image shows a good-looking model looking down on passing mortals from a giant advertisement, especially if there is a stark contrast to the real person and the person in the ad.

Here’s some I took in Santa Monica and Hollywood. The impulse to snap these shots may have come from the standard of the genre, rather than a powerful attraction to the image itself. I’m not sure.

But this seems to have become such a standard in street photography that it’s almost a cliché, though seemingly not thought as such by most street photographers, who continue to snap variations of this image.

Add the clichés of street photography to the familiar images we have of New York, and it would seem quite a challenge to take, fresh shots in the city, especially in Manhattan.

Still, there are many, and I mean, many fantastic NYC street photographers out there today. Just Google it, and you'll see, but I'm sure they have much more experience than me, still coming out of pop-and-shoot photography, and these serious photographers seem to be able to take original photos.

Well, guess where I’m going?

Sasha has gifted me a weekend in New York, so I could take pictures.

I’m going to bring my Nikon onto the streets of Manhattan, looking for interesting images, but at the same time trying avoid both street photography and New York clichés.

Can I do it?

Wont’ I be tempted to shoot images at ground zero, maybe some sentimental shot of a family looking at a memorial plaque, or an ironic shot of young business men and women in suits, carrying briefcases, walking fast past where the World Trade Center used to be, more focused on their daily accounts than where they are walking?

Would I be tempted to take a shot of Sasha sitting in Central Park on the lawn, with the brownstone high-rise buildings sticking out of the trees on the horizon, an American flag swaying in the wind?

It will surely be a challenge to avoid too-familiar photos, images that could be taken by anyone, and whereas I agree with Pablo Neruda et al that the artistic search for originality is in vain and that everything has been done before and will be done again, I also think that art comes into being when we put our own fresh stamp on archetype.

I’m up for the challenge.

And even of the photos I take, which I will post when I have whittled them down to a few shots, are cliché, so be it.

I’m not really a photographer. I’m a fiction writer. I’m only doing this for fun :)