I love shooting Downtown LA. I never know what I’m going to see and today was no exception. That’s the greatest thing about street photography.: These incredible moments just materialize right in front of you.
I was waiting for the light to change when I saw him crossing the street. The moment he saw my camera he started moving towards me and posing. I took a few shots and started to cross the street but he followed me posing for picture after picture.
I was waiting for the light to change when I heard a rattling sound and turned around to see him. At first I thought it was a mask. He was sitting there, jiggling a paper paper cup filled with coins to get the attention of those passing by. The first thing you notice about him is his face. The second is that he in a state of perpetual motion, turning his head from side to side to see what’s coming from each direction with his one good eye. I walked over to him and started talking to him… listening really. He talked for twenty minutes telling me his story about how someone fired a shotgun at his face at point-blank range and what life has been like for him since that day. When he finished his story I asked his permission to photograph him and he agreed. What struck me most about him was the magnitude of his tragedy and loss… yet never once did I hear the slightest hint of self-pity. This is Jerry.
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Don’t be afraid to get close.
I see a lot of young street photographers downtown LA. I watch them with their 150mm lenses across the street taking pictures. To me this isn’t street photography, it’s voyeurism. I feel anything over a 50mm takes you out of the realm of street photography and puts you into something else… but it ain’t street.
The photo above is a good example. First of all he looks like a pretty intimidating guy, but I have found that in general the meaner they look the nicer they are and very approachable. The trick is to get out of your comfort zone and ask someone to take their picture and when you do will find that the majority of people actually are flattered by being asked. The few who say no you should just thank them politely and move onto the next.
When I lived in Paris I was lucky enough to meet the great French photographer Jean-Philippe Charbonnier a few years before his death. One evening at dinner I listened to him talk about his photographic process. He spoke about how if you want your photos to have an impact then “Get close and then get closer”. I know that’s a phrase we hear a lot these days from many photographers, but this was the first time I had ever heard it and to be honest it scared me. Jean-Philippe told me “Standing far away from a subject… far enough to not be seen may make you feel safe, but that “Safety” comes at a price. It disconnects you from the image.” His point was by interacting with the scene, putting yourself into it you are in fact part of the dynamic of the photo.
Of course there are many great street shots where the subjects never know they are being photographed – a shot encompassing an entire scene rather than focusing on an individual. I am talking about the shots where you are interacting with a subject and for that I feel the ones where you are close – very close – are the ones (at least for me) that have the most connection. I could have never taken the photo above from far away. It just wouldn’t have been the same. From focusing on the rings to the bokeh and the subject staring into the lens.
Manila with Street Walkers PH
I had such a great time in Manila with all the great people I met there from Street Walkers PH. We did several days of photowalks and I had the opportunity to meet many people in the group. They took me to areas of the city where I would have never thought to go alone and along the way I made some new friends. Manila is such a diverse city and it seems there is a photo to shoot every way you look. Shooting in foreign cities with people who live there can make all the difference.
Thank you again to my new friends Melo, Adrian, Ray and all the others who made this trip so great.
I will be back to see you all again soon.