Street Photography Is Alive & Well At Vancouver Capture FestivalThursday, April 07, 2016
Because I am an impatient kind of photographer I eschew street photography. I appreciate and admire that pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I note his patience for waiting for the decisive moment to occur.
When few people carried cameras, street photography was rare and exclusive. Now it is all around us and to me much of it has become humdrum and banal. I can imagine career photography critics, “The juxtaposition of the verticals and horizontals with the immediacy of those diagonals and the ability of that photographer to frame quickly make this photograph a superlative one.” To me that is nonsensical as most photographers (at least this one) shoot by instinct and do not take all that stuff into consideration at any moment when they are shooting.
My days as a street photographer began around 1962 and ended in 1964. The bulk of my Mexico pictures I took then. I did a few more in the early 70s. Mexico was always a ripe place to exploit street photography. There were the markets, the churches, the cemeteries and that “all so photogenic” poverty. I participated in an exhibition in 1963 at Mexico City College. I had taken photographs of the beautiful city of Guanajuato in a trip with art students. My photographs were awarded the first prize, I got newspaper coverage on them. Best of all, my award was signed by the judge who happened to be the noted Mexican painter, Rufino Tamayo. I thought for a while that perhaps I could be a photographer. But I soldiered on (unsuccessfully) in engineering until the differences between capacitance, inductance and resistance short circuited my career. I was saved by conscription into the Argentine Navy.
Once I arrived in Vancouver in 1975 I found the landscape beautiful (when I see a lovely landscape I hold off and buy a postcard) but the city itself cold and boring. It was a beautiful city in spite of its architecture. The cemeteries simply did not compare with the Mexican ones. How could an almost 100 year-old house compare with a 500 year-old one?
I imagine if I went to Bruges or Venice I would shoot some streets, probably with my Widelux or Noblex panoramics. The exotic always seems to be elsewhere. But not always as my friend Alan Jacques is amply proving at the VisualSpace Gallery 3352 Dunbar St. One of the three partner/owners is Yukiko Onley.
Jacques does have some exotic Paris photographs but the ones that amply prove that the exotic can be found at home are his Vancouver photographs, many taken on the corners of Main and Broadway. Jacques technique is to lie low (on the pavement and with a waist finder with his Nikon F-2 he waits for that decisive moment to happen. It is very difficult to shoot low and vertically (you would have to twist your head to look into the finder) so all the photographs, all in b+w are horizontal. The prints are from the custom printer Trevor Martin who never adds any of his feelings to the photographs he prints. His interpretation is neutral so the photographer’s intentions are never clouded by unintended drama.
I recently received another invitation (this is Vancouver’s celebration of photography month called Capture) from a photographer (I had never met him) called Scott MacEachern. I was reluctant to go (street photographs, again!) except that MacEachern had taken the trouble to invite me personally. So I went to the the Moat (!) Gallery at the Main Branch of the Vancouver Public Library and saw many colour photographs (all horizontal again!) taken most recently in Havana. While there were indeed some that featured American cars of the 50s the photographs astounded me in many ways. For one this man must be invisible. There is a photograph that has an array of over 10 people on the street, in windows, in balconies and not one of them is looking at the “gringo” photographer. The bulk of the photographs all have a feeling of a man who knows when to shoot from the hip. MacEachern answered my question ,"Why are they all horizontal? " with something like,"My world is horizontal."
|Havana photograph by Scott MacEachern|
And then the whipped cream of the dessert were prints (ABC Photocolour) that were inkjets printed not on that fashionable art paper but on photographic paper. The result is a manageable (and most pleasant low contrast), smooth skin textures and colours that while not quite pastel are in that direction. This is a photographer from the 20th century who avoids punchy colour and extreme contrast.
Congratulations to both photographers for helping to wake me up and to appreciate very good street photography.