Ungrateful Street Photography 2


I sent this photo to John Harper today. I had taken it the day before and it is by no means a Glory Shot. It’s just a photo that made me smile. From quite a distance I saw this woman who had the same gesture as children when they play cops and robbers. Finally, I don’t know if the children still play this, but me in my time (just after the dinosaurs disappeared …), we just had fun like that. To come back to this photo, I took it while I was hanging out near the small market. Surely the end of a robbery that has taken place. A masked woman, as the mobsters can be with her still smoking pistol, goes off with her booty, surely made up of zucchini, tomatoes or other vegetables ! Fortunately, no victims to be deplored. I went to the market and everyone was fine.

I reassure you right away, when I see this kind of scene, I don’t make films in my head, I am just focused on the gestures that are in front of me. I do not see anything else and I pray that I will have enough time to be relatively close to be able to take my photo. This is the problem with shooting at 28mm. Sometimes you need to be close enough to the people being photographed. This is often the case when there are gestures like here. Nonetheless, I tend to want to be too close and as the opening photo of this Blog shows, the risk is not having the main subject in focus. I am working in Zone Focusing at 2m and f8 and I know that my zone of focus starts at 1m. Clearly there I was too close … Besides, I prefer the photo I took a little further. More context with the girl looking at me and especially the scene in focus !

Let’s come back to John, who told me in his email that he was struggling in the street at the moment and that he had great difficulties to take interesting photos. We all have these kinds of phases when we do Street Photography. Times when we have the impression that nothing is happening in the street and that we are wasting our time. We are brought back to taking pictures without much interest of people walking by in the street or playing only with Light/Shadow to hide the poverty of his photos. These moments are very frustrating to live because we know that we are making shit and we also know that we are much better than that. We only have to look in our archives to see that we are better than that !

Some people call it the Photographer’s Block, but I don’t think that’s fair. For me the Photographer’s Block would be not to want to leave home to take photos in the street or simply stop taking photos (photos of relatives, friends …). There it is totally different. We are talking about Street Photography, surely the most complicated photographic style. It is not a competition and we are not here to say who has the biggest, but clearly in terms of the result, we are very dependent on what is happening in the street, on situations that we may encounter, light, the unpredictability of things … You have to be very reactive because everything happens very quickly and the scene will not happen again.

It is this ungrateful little side that makes the practice so frustrating. I still remember days spent in Aix-en-Provence with absolutely nothing to bring back home. And yet the city was what it was. Of course on those days there must have been a little less activity where I wasn’t in the right places at the right times. Anyway, the result was not what I expected. This is surely where the problem lies. I realized that the more time I spent in the street, the more this frustration increased. Of course you have days when you seem touched by grace and everything seems easy and you make keepers in spades. But it is extremely rare.

It is often said that for athletes, everything happens in the head. You have to believe that it is the same for us street photographers. It is a virtuous circle. if you start taking interesting photos you will find that your mindset will be different and your session on the streets will be of a different caliber. When I take a photo that I think will be successful, it’s liberating and I no longer have any expectations and it conditions the rest of my session. We expect to bring something home to post process. This is what frustrates us when we struggle to take pictures and it is a vicious circle. As I say, it’s all in the head !

A solution to this ? I don’t think there is. You have to let things happen, keep moving forward and wait for the photo that will take you back into the virtuous circle. Accept that things are not going as you would like. Go back to simpler compositions, try to be attentive to gestures, take cliché photos … Basically, do everything to rebuild your confidence in the street.

Personally, there is one thing that works for me. I no longer spend several hours in a row in the street. Very often this is before picking up the children from school, shopping, going to a restaurant … I no longer dedicate days specifically to Street Photography. I now have a totally different approach. I no longer experience any particular frustration as I spend relatively little time in the streets in Street Photography mode. If I can get something, I’m happy. Otherwise, the frustration does not set in because I did not spend a lot of time taking pictures. Even if I no longer dedicate days to the practice of Street Photography, I still do a lot because everything is a pretext to take my camera out of my bag. It’s simple, when I’m away from home, I often have the camera on my wrist !

What works for me may not work for you, but I find it interesting to share my way of working with others who I hope can give leads to people who need it.

All photos were taken with the Fujifilm XF10.

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2 thoughts on “Ungrateful Street Photography

  • John Harper

    As they say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. In other words your crappy shots would be my glory shots! I like that pistol packing shopper, I also like the other version from a distance too. Actually a great set, all the way through this blog. Stop showing off 😉

    I’m really struggling, have been for a while. It’ll pass, just need to keep shooting. I’ve had these periods before, it’s disheartening, but I never lose my passion for Street or any photography. It’s true what you say, if you only have a specific day put aside for a street session then it does add a little pressure. It is complicated on the Street, chaos which we need to make in some kind of order and place it in a frame…

    • Jeff Chane-Mouye Post author

      Ah ah. A crap is a crap. I haven’t said a word about social media. Even if you don’t shoot for it, I remember having some pressure because I knew that I needed material to share on social media. I’m no longer anywhere except YouTube and I think that it has something to do with my way of accepting that sometimes nothing goes the way I would like and it doesn’t matter.
      No keepers, no so so shots… I don’t care. Next time it will be better. I really lowered my expectations when it comes to street work. I’m still dedicated to street photography and I feel that this journey in Saint-Denis is a long time thing.
      The city itself is not a busy one. You can ‘t have lots of people like I used to have in Aix en Provence. So it’s kind of normal to get back home empty handed sometimes. So I accept it with no regrets