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Street photography - the art of telling the truth

Today I started my day as I do most days, looking through images, published by photographers all over the world. Street photography and the various different types and degrees of it appear to me during this process. I feel I know how to spot a 'good' street photo, it is a skill I have developed over the years of being a street photographer myself and in developing an intuition for my own work and what worked and also in appreciation for the photographer's whose work I admire. Within my work, which has taken a step into curation over these past 3 years since I developed Stories_of_Isolation, I have also come to find an deeper meaning behind it.

Manhattan, New York. July 2012.

Out of the 100 or so shots that I will see in a day, sometimes less than 10 of them will really speak to me and these will be shots which hold a story of some kind, a feeling. This feeling comes with the idea that there is something genuine held within its image. Contained within the static, I feel the life of it somehow, we may say that this is the art form. It is not purely the clever composition that we remember, even though an appreciation of beautiful composition is a part of the whole, but the substance of an image is in the subject, the poetry and mostly how it makes us feel. The content, as in all forms of art, is the piece which moves us. 'My hero is truth' were the words of Tolstoy, which sat in my mind as I grew up and were rooted behind the reason I picked up a camera and decided 'this is what I want to do.' My drive was then and still is, to document life and show the truth of what I see.

Toulouse, France. 2013.

During my first year as a young photography student I saw the work of the great Magnum photographers in a retrospective exhibition. This work spoke to me as there was no getting away from the truth of it. Back in their day the camera didn't lie, it was a document of life and this is still the art form that I stand behind and pursue. Cartier Bresson, Eve Arnold and Robert Capa, were amongst the names I admired and their images moved me somehow, they moved me to want to know and certainly, to feel. They were documenting life and they did it silently and respectfully, the last thing they would have wished to do was to alter the scene in any way. Street photography, for me, was and always will be the art of finding and telling the truth.

Hyde Park, London. 2020

There are many street photographers offering to teach the rules of street photographer and composition and I have been asked to do the same, but I always say the same thing - as with all art forms I don't think its something you can teach entirely. If you want to start then I suggest you learn the art of exposure, and understand it. If you do this, then you may be able to go out and be ready to capture something. I shared a dinner table recently in Venice with Daniel Graves, the founder and former director of the renowned Florence Academy, I asked him about teaching art and he said 'I can teach people how to paint but I cannot teach them how to be an artist." In my view it is the same here, we can teach technical skills but there is another side to street photography that we cannot teach and that is the poetry. In my view the street photographer is not there to stand on the corner of a street, having analysed the perfect symmetry and composition of the scene, taking into account the perfect light or shadow and to wait for that perfect figure/umbrella to pass just at the desired moment. This is not street photography, this is composition, this is direction, it is many things and it may look great in black and white but street photography it is not. Street photography in my view is not the art of waiting, it is the art of being ready.

Florence, Italy 2020

When I view images during my curation sessions in the morning, some photographs pop out at me, the same way I imagine they did to the photographers in the moment they took them. The skilled street photographer has the technical ability to capture the scene well but equally the emotional and poetic vision to see it as it unfolded, without a preoccupation in that moment for the composition and technical settings. This is my point, it is the skilful merging of both the heart and mind and one must know them both. You have to be some kind of poet on one level and skilfully articulate on the other, so you may hear your intuition when it says 'focus' and when it does, you follow, without hesitation.

Manahttan, New York 2012

The call to take a shot eventually comes almost telepathically, this is why I say, learn exposure. This is your part and you need to be clear and intuitive with it and this takes time. A skill which may become an instinct first needs to be fully understood. When I say learn exposure, I say this regardless as to the tool you are using, for without the knowledge of what you camera is doing, you do not have artistic control. The automatic features of a camera can be useful but you need to be the one to override them sometimes and stay in charge. I use a Leica M9 digital camera and M6 for film. Both of these cameras do not offer automatic features and this has been a way of learning over the years. When dealing with manual features only you are in control and you are the only one who can decide and when it goes wrong they are also your mistakes to learn from. So you learn to work in harmony and with respect for your tool, which may one day become, in the words of John Steinbeck, "an extension of mind and heart."

Florence, Italy. 2020.

So I have decided to launch - 'Street photography - the art of telling the truth' both online and in person teaching sessions. Where I can offer my views on the technical side of this profession and the art of exposure, a discussion and a practice on the art form of street photography. I am based in Tuscany, Italy, currently in Venice, and can travel. During the in- person sessions we may have a lunch, discuss your equipment and mine, talk about the processes we use, about what you would like to know, learn and do, then we have a practical session taking shots together in a place of your choice, shooting scenes and looking at what happens, how we chose what we chose, what the results are and how we may improve it. Because street photography isn't a theory and in this way the learning process is also a lived one and during our sessions together we get to explore this in a relaxed way.

To book an online or in person session with me, visit my online shop or contact me by email to discuss your requirements.

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