Disclaimer – all images in this post were created by Thomas Leuthard. They are licensed by him under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. If you click on the images, you will see a larger version. more of Thomas’s images can be found on his web site or Flickr pool.
I had some time to kill this last weekend. I decided to finally read the street photography e-books by Thomas Leuthard I had on my reading list (and on iPad) for a while.
Thomas Leuthard is a Swiss street photographer, travelling all around the world, shooting portraits of people in the streets in large cities. He wrote three street photography e-books which are now available for free on his website: “Going candid”, “Collecting souls” and “Street faces”. For anybody interested in this type of photography, I strongly recommend to check them out. They contain a lot of practical tips on shooting street photography, sharing images as well as a large dose of Thomas’ philosophy of shooting.
The lecture of his e-books was quite interesting for me and made me put more thought into street photography. It used to be one of the genres of photography I understood the least. Now I can see several reasons for that.
The major one is probably the presence of really bad street photography around the Internet. Not just every image taken on the street is street photography. The basic rules of photography- good light and composition, and clear subject, still need to apply. Ruthless editing rules need to be in place. That’s what I found out after studying Thomas Leuthard images, because I like so many of them so much. They are fine examples of clean scenes, simple subjects and effective use of cropping and depth of field to make images just work, be about one thing at the time. And some of them just make me smile, like this one of two different shoes.
Secondly, I do feel in many cases the street photography in color just doesn’t work. No, I am not an advocate to turn all street photography images into black and white. I am far from it. There are some which are so clearly about color, I cannot imagine having them in black and white. Just look at this image of the woman and the tram. It would not work in black and white as efficiently as it does in color. I look at this image and feel like the woman belongs to this place, matches perfectly her urban surroundings.
Next, what is “street photography” at all? How to define the boundaries of the genre? For example, I still see no clear difference between street photography and travel photography. If I photograph in Mumbai, it probably is travel photography, right? And if my Indian friend photographs streets of Mumbai, it is street photography, or what? What is the subject of street photography? Is it always about individual people, the streets, people on the streets, how they interact with urban environment? It is almost like every street photographer needs to define the style for himself.
And there are ethical sides of street photography I just do not appreciate. For example, Thomas Leuthard specializes in those close, “in face” candid portraits. I admire how brave he is, putting the camera into people’s faces and getting the shots. Yet, I find it rather rude and disrespectful of other people privacy, even on the public street. Also, I am not the fan of the outcome. I do understand his need to have people looking at the camera, this eye contact. It seems to be important in portraiture work, an dI guess I can understand that. Although, in portraiture, the faces tend to have more characteristic for them expression. In street photography, all you see is surprise, anger, not the best traits. Plus,for me, as an introvert, the eye contact with those random strangers gives an uneasy feeling. I do not like to engage with people all that much, and prefer to observe them in their natural environment, preferably unnoticed. That’s why my favorite image of Thomas is this portair of young woman. She is busy with her phone, not aware of anything happening around her, not paying attention to pesky photographer. These are the scenes which speak to me, just describing what’s there, not intervening and changing the scene. Compared to unhappy faces on other portraits, this one is serene.
With all my ambiguous feelings about street photography, I often flirt with the idea of shooting it. With my twice-a-year trips to New York City, I have a great chance to do so, Especially now, with an iPhone having such a good and inconspicuous camera, I feel braver to do it. And this camera is easier to keep handy when walking the busy streets then my dSLR. Why I am not showing more of those types of images on the blog? This goes back to what I said earlier about ruthless editing – I would hardly ever dare to show the outcomes. At least, not yet.