From street to documentary photography

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The other day I wrote a post about doing street photography on my Facebook profile. Or rather, why I’m not doing it anymore, and why I’m not sure that I actually did do street photography. I did describe the endeavor of doing street photography in a somewhat negative light, at least when it comes to myself doing it, as well as the general “street photographer”. I did do a lot of what I – and probably many others – would consider as street photography (whether they would consider it as good street photography is another question), and I did enjoy it, at least in the beginning.

A guy responds to a group of people at a party in an apartment, one of them dressed as Freddy Mercury, giving a show for the passers by. The interaction between strangers on the street, is a very interesting subject. How we deal with this sudden interaction, the fleeting meeting of unknowns, can say a lot about the culture that dominates a society.

However, at some point I began to question myself a little. I felt that I was stagnating, my shots were too similar, there was no clear agenda or goal to what I was shooting. So I started to ask myself, why street photography? Or, that is not totally correct, the question was more “what?” What do I want with my street photography. Do I want to do art, do I want to tell stories, do I want to document something, what? I felt that I was shooting without purpose, and it got to me, and I felt that it affected the quality of what I was doing.

There is only one person who is always in the spotlight, when it comes to our individual lives. Everybody else live in the shadow, until we put our spotlight on them. We each feel like we are the most important center in the world. And we are, at least to ourselves. Taking a look at the individual in the crowd, the one person standing out, whether because of looks, light falling on them, or something third, is always an interesting exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I’m a great photographer, that I’m the next Joel Meyerowitz, Boogie, or Bruce Gilden (I’ll never have that courageous hutzpah). Nor do I feel that I have some huge impact, or that I’m a certified photographer, street or whatever other kind of photographer. I’m solely referring to myself in the context of myself and whatever I have in mind to share.

The contrasts of the Israeli society. If there is one factor, which really creates contrasts here, then it’s religion. Whether it’s between the various religions, the religions internally, or between religion and the secular society, there will always be contrasts which are interesting to highlight.

If anything, I’m an academic with a sociological and anthropological approach to the society I live in. Maybe that’s what is trying to pull me in some direction or another. I’ve only been doing photography since May 2018, and only with a “real” camera since July the same year. So I’m a newbie. And I think that until that point, where I began to question myself and my purpose as a street photographer, it was the newfound creative energy which has driven me. But at that point it was settling.

I’m not saying that I got tired of it. On the contrary. I did get more excited about it, more wanting. And that’s what was getting to me, because before I felt that it was enough just going around and capturing the moments, and once in a while taking more time to compose a photo (see for example “A Girl Under a Tree”, one of the photos which I had fully visualized before I took it, and which I spend an hour or so waiting for to be just right). But I felt that I needed to tell more.

Interactions, between friends, loved ones, family members, is also interesting. How do we talk with each other, how are our bodies used, our expressions. Coming from Denmark, witnessing Israelis interact is like stepping into a totally different world.

As hopefully is clear from my blog, I have gotten to the point, where I have something to tell, and a somewhat clear idea on how to do it. Previously my posts might have had something to tell, and the photos were adding to whatever I had to say. But they, the photos, have all been momentary thoughts, suddenly appearing. What I’m hinting at is that I needed to put a goal in front of me, before I went out. To have a purpose with the photography.

Loneliness. That’s a theme which connects with the other themes already mentioned above. I saw this man sitting for himself, surrounded by the pigeons. The umbrella lay there, broken, but standing out. It was the umbrella which caught my attention, but while standing and taking the scene in, I began to wonder why an umbrella, more than a person sitting there, caught my attention. I have a lot of thoughts on that one, which I might talk about in another post.

But purpose is not everything, I also need to consider establishing an angle, a more settled style – though that will never settle in respect of how my photos look like. More in what they are telling, the subject, theme, etc. I still don’t want to settle with black and white over color, there are shots that only work as the one or the other, and there are shots that work both as monochrome and color.

Living history. That’s basically what Israel-Palestine is. History is being repeated, it is being lived. We are creating history each day, but we are also walking around in history. People are the same here, whether they live now, or they lived 100, 500, or even 1000 years ago. Sure, some things might differ, but when you study the history of these lands, and the people who lived in it – not just the famous figures, you realize how little life actually have changed.

I have some ideas, some projects I want to do. And I don’t want to do projects because I think that I’m a great photographer, documenting creator, or the like. On the contrary, I want to do the projects so I can become good at what I do. To have a focus, and to have something to tell, rather than just capturing random moments, however interesting they might be. That’s the answer I want to give to the why and what. I need a purpose for my photography to be meaningful.

Ahh, here’s something. I’ve been talking about interactions. I have noted that there are what I think I’ll call “stations of interactions”. Places and spots where people meet and get to interact, more than just sharing glances or whatever one would feel like share. There is the lotto boot, as seen here. There are the shawarma and falafel shops, etc. I might put more focus on these stations, see what they can tell me of stories from the streets of Israel.
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  1. These are all valid and normal reflections and thoughts everybody goes through wether you’re starting out , in the middle of your path or even when you’re more experienced at your craft.
    I find the answers through the years of picture making and honing the craft and still I feel there are more questions than answers…
    The so called “Street photography” debate is an ongoing one but I feel we’re past this crazy never-ending wave of online “street” photographers and influencers. Or maybe I filter it more nowadays 🙂 Street, candid, outdoor etc – it’s all photography. How is it defined? Up to you I guess. Must we define it if it’s good?
    Sorry, anyway, lots of questions still as you see haha. Take care my friend!

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