When I started enjoying photography as something a bit more complex than random snapshot taking, people were very rarely part of my photos. This might be mostly due to the fact that most of my first experiments were landscapes taken while hiking, rather than urban portraitOs, but still, it shaped the way I looked through the viewfinder, making me naturally tend to avoid people, rather than try and bring them into my composition.
Obviously, by "avoid" I don't mean walking in the shadows like some vampire or Jack the Photographer, but the tendency to frame my photos so that human presence was reduced to a minimum, and focus was put on more static elements of the scenery.
Another reason for me adopting this approach is that a preponderant majority of the street photography I saw tended to walk the thin line between "candid" and "stolen" a little too heavily for my taste, and there are only so many photos of of the homeless, drunk and addicted which can be taken from the other side of the road with a safe and expensive telephoto lens, before the exploitation of other people's misery starts oozing out of the image itself.
And here lies the issue. For all the information, the training, the shows, the tutorials, that are available at the click of a link, it's still hard to actually find much that is able to convey what the elements that help taking good pictures are, once gear and technique are taken out of the equation.
It's far easier to clearly express an opinion on a particular lens, a style or a combination of settings, than it is to express what the
personal style each of us has is, and this personal twist is often not easy to come by when studying or researching online.
This in not necessarily a shortcoming. Some things, like attitude and approach are sometimes so nuanced that they are nearly impossible to make a Youtube tutorial or a blog post of, and lacking that information, for I long time I did not pick up on the importance of adding the human element to the picture (quite literally, in this case).
As my technique increased, the interest factor of my empty urban landscapes decreased exponentially, so street photography lost quite a bit of the moderate appeal it had in my eyes.
This changed after meeting and becoming friends with Jianmin Huang, or Jimmy on the run.
Jimmy is a photographer with an amazing energy about him, and that energy translates into his photos with such strength that even just a few minutes with him shooting is often worth a whole lesson in something that is seldom taught: how to consistently and clearly be present in your work while keeping the shot natural and free to tell its story.
I'm happy to have assisted him a few times, and his energy is always very evident, especially so in the short time frame street photography tends to have, when a good shot can be a step away from a poor one.
By being around him, I learned how the human aspect is not merely the act of adding people to a photo, but is the whole process of interacting with people in the creation of an image, even if only by waving at a distance and catching someone's attention.
It was mind-opening, in a way, to see how naturally and quickly a process that is so often plagued with awkwardness can be turned into an actual encounter, as brief as it may be, and this made me see people on the street in a much different way, every time I walk around, with or without my camera.
I say "in a way" because this is probably self-evident to most people, but at the same time there is a huge difference between knowing how to positively interact with strangers around you and EXPERIENCING that same knowledge, especially in an unusual setting (at least for who is being photographed) as street photography can be, and that is where second hand information fails, including this post. I have tried to adapt what I think I learned to what I want to express, and I guess we'll see how that goes, but I think it's a vital excercise for anyone interested in street photography and self-improvement.
People and street photography go hand in hand.
Not always, not by law, but because they allow the photographer to mold the street into a real, personal story.
People aren't in street photos for the interest they cause as a subject, but because as an entity we can interact with, they are a huge source of experience, both technical and personal, and it's that experience of a brief bond and the capture of that bond, that makes some photos so much more powerful, or communicative, than others.
It's important not only to go out and take pictures, but to also maximise the experience we gain while taking those pictures.
How experience should be channelled into photography is something everyone needs to asses and tailor to their need, but the power of interaction should not be underestimated.
It will make a difference.