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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 can see immediately what I considered a 'good' street photo, it is an instinct I have developed over the years of being a street photographer and developing an intuition for my own work and 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, 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, for me this is the art form. It is not the clever composition that I notice or remember, even though an appreciation of beautiful composition is a part of the whole, but the substance of an image is in the subject matter and the poetry of that, and mostly how it makes me feel. The substance, as in all forms of art, is the piece which can move us. The words of Tolstoy, 'My hero is truth', sat in my mind as I grew up and were rooted behind the reason I picked up a camera and decided that it would be a tool for my expressions. My drive was then and still is now, to document 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 to silence, to want to know and to feel. They were documenting life and times and did it silently and respectfully, the last thing they would have wished to do was to alter the scene. Street photography, for me, will always be the art telling the truth.

Hyde Park, London. 2020

There are many street photographers who offer 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. You must learn the art of exposure, is what I only say, we must understand this if we have a chance to play with light the way we must in the profession of photography. The fundamental principle of photography - the respect and art of reading and recording light. Street photography adds in another level which is the humanity, the poetry of whats going on, and your heart must be in there too. 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. You may 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 wait for that perfect figure/umbrella to pass just at the desired moment. This is composition, this is direction, it is many things and it may look great in black and white but street photography in my view is not the art of waiting, it is the art of living and being ready.

Florence, Italy 2020

When I view images during my curation sessions, some photographs pop out to me, the way I imagine they did to the photographer in the moment of capture. This is a skillful merging of heart and mind and one must be a poet on one level and skilfully articulate in the art of exposure on the other, quietly ready and listening for that intuitive moment.

Manahttan, New York 2012

The call to take a shot eventually seems to come almost telepathically, once exposure is instinctive. Regardless as to the tool you are using, without the knowledge of what your 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. So you learn to work with respect and in harmony with your tool, which may one day become, in the words of John Steinbeck, "an extension of mind and heart."



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