In the past I would have never described myself as an urban photographer. In fact, I would have said that I didn’t really like to make photographs in an urban setting. I have this thing about being the “idiot with a camera” when out in a public space. I’m getting over that I think. Anyway, that’s possibly the subject of another post. Walking around an urban setting is much more photographically fruitful for me than it used to be. I guess spending more time in an urban environment has help me to get comfortable being there.
I guess living in the ‘burbs all my life, making photographs in an urban setting has been a bit foreign to me. I tell my students not to get overwhelmed by all that they see as we walk through an urban setting such as Georgetown. With all that there is to see you can get sensory overload and try to include as much of what you are looking at into one image. Most of the time those images are not as successful as the photographer would like them to be. Concentrating on a few details will help to make better photographs in this situation. Some of the old sayings for photographers to follow ring true here; “Get closer”, “Fill the frame”, “Eliminate the clutter” and “Watch your background”. These are all things to keep in mind when making photographs, especially in an urban setting.
Several years ago I attended the Jay Maisel Workshop in New York City. I have admired Jay’s work since I started getting serious about photography. I remember a American Photographer cover that showed Jay awash in mounted 35mm transparencies that were outtakes from his many projects. He still has a million outtakes in “the coffin”, a large Plexiglas topped box, in his studio. His workshop was great. I was amazed and awed by Jay and the others photographers I met at the workshop. Jay photographs a lot of people when he walks around NYC and true to form he photographed many while I was at the workshop. I tried to photograph people on the street but as I mentioned earlier I have that “idiot with a camera” complex, so I didn’t do so well with photographing people as I would have liked. I still try and every now and then I get some nice photos but but I don’t go about it in the same way Jay does. He gets right up close to his subjects something I still have not been able to do.
I tend to look at details and try to find things that appeal to me. Others may not even look at them, or if they do, may not even photograph them. An interesting clock mounted to the side of a building, a gate in an alley or details of different doors. These are the things I find I can aim a camera at without feeling like I am intruding into someone’s world. I know this is just me because there are a lot of great photographers that can and do make great photographs of people on the street. It is something I try to do whenever I am out in a city and continue to try and get over my “Idiot with a camera” complex. For now I will keep heading out with an open mind and photograph whatever interests me.