“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.”
– Susan Sontag
The neighbourhoods of Berlin have developed by various groups of people, with lifestyles, moving in, and dominating the area with their wily ways.
In Kreuzberg, traditionally an artist’s neighbourhood, you’d meander along the street and see torn jeans, tea-shirts, scruff hair — often an unnatural colour such as green or bright punk-pink.
The cool dudes, and dudettes of yesteryear can still be seen today, they are architects and lawyers, local business people who grind out a living and try and keep their head above water as yesterday’s principles get drowned in the practicalities of everyday life.
I spend most of my days in Kreuzberg. It’s where I live. Yesterday, the sun came out, and shone all day at 25 degrees Celsius.
That was a good reason to grab my camera and head out to do more street photography.
I’m writing a book, all about my experience of street photography, so I need as many good shots as possible to populate its pages with my best efforts as I wander the streets of this wonderful city.
I decide that instead of walking around the usual locations to take street photos, it’s time to challenge myself a little more; go to Charlottenburg, the Kurfürstendamm, and with a new mentality towards street photography I’d look for colourful shots — to get myself out of the black and white thought process.
The first mistake I made, was to underestimate the difference in demographics.
Charlottenburg is traditionally conservative. Blokes in suit and tie, smart cars that cost an arm and a leg, and lots of ladies with poodles, fur coats, long cigarettes, chatting about God and the World.
Secondly, I challenged myself to point the camera at people, not bother if they see me or not, and just get on with the shot. Get faces, body language, hand gestures, and get close up. It’s tough, but it makes for a riveting street photography experience.
Recently, I’ve been “shooting from the hip”, or trying my best to. I dislike taking random shots, and from the hip is definitely a case of “you get what you put into it”, situation.
I also try holding the camera directly in front of myself, at waist height, point and shoot — often it’s a mess. The angles are wonky, the feet cut off, or I just get somebody’s back leg disappearing out of frame.
I waited for the woman with the dog. I wanted to take a shot of the street corner with a person walking out the side street and into the Platz where the sun was shining.
Street corners cause people to slow down, look around, reorientate. So, it’s a good place to get some form of unexpected expression from a person.
I prefer to keep the camera at eye level. look through the viewfinder, and frame and compose what I want. I can shift my feet, squat, sit down on a bench, and get the low shot, or above head shot as I please.
It’s often a battle with fears on the street. The fear that somebody will pop up out of nowhere, and start ranting about the law and photography.
Berliners love to claim that they know their rights; so, when that happens I ask them to quote the chapter of law they are referring to. Often, they are stumped, so I give them my little bit of knowledge on what I can and can’t do with a camera.
As I made my way along the boulevard, the Kurfürstendamm, I kept my eyes open for posters, window displays and digital adverts with lots of bright colours.
I wanted to stop and wait for a walker to pass, wearing something that matches.
Best is either a contrasting colour like red against green, or harmonious colour as above. I hadn’t expected a woman to oblige me with the perfect mix of colours, but lo and behold, along she came. The truth is, I fluffed the shot.
I squatted down, aimed my camera and focused on the window display, my intention was to quickly refocus onto the passer by as she came into shot — but alas, I didn’t. I had a good depth of field to save the day, and I like the composition, the colour match and the fact that the woman looked at the camera.
Three steps later, she looked back and smiled at me — a lovely friendly ear-to-ear grin.
The idea of matching colours is all well and good, but it isn’t fine art. It’s a fun thing to do, it helps create connections for the viewer to enjoy. The same goes for when we look for street adverts with faces full of expression and attempt to match a person up to the advert face.
It’s hard to get those shots because nobody’s playing along with you, any good shot with a powerful match is a great bit of luck for a patient street photographer. I like it, but won’t spend too much time developing it.
Street photography is one aspect of a great artistic practice.
Photography. The difference between you and me, and the great photographers whose work makes your heart beat faster, is that they put every morsel of their soul into the whole process; they make all of it extremely important, they live it with each beat of their pulse.
I try to do this, and maybe like you, there comes a time in the day when I must force myself to stop thinking about photography, and deal with other practicalities of life.
Developing life as a photographer is a skill. To create a lifestyle where it becomes a natural part of everyday life, and the flow between practicalities and photography is all one body of water that flows and rushes without blocks and stops, develops with time and practice. The art of living.
As I plodded slowly along, I began to notice that clothing and facial expressions were quite different from down in Kreuzberg.
There seemed to be a lot of hold your chin up high, and dress well for shopping in Charlottenburg.
I suppose it has something to do with the amount of Porsches, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis parked along the streets.
As I walked, I heard the thump of a well known motor come along the street; a Harley-Davidson.
The rider was shifting along at speed, so I just turned to the road, waited for him to come into the viewfinder and took one shot, then carried on walking and looking.
I like the shot, maybe a touch faster on my shutter speed and it would’ve been tack sharp — something went wonky with camera shake.
Big bikes are wolfish, often ridden by True-Bikers, and as they weave through the traffic they give off an aura of menace. I like the fact the rider saw me, and looked right into the camera, that makes the shot.
My thoughts love to see the black and white in a composition. Its subtle tones with so much possibility for expression. I forced myself to stick to colour, as much as I could.
Three women, having a chat and enjoying the sunshine. Their bodies decked in leafy shadows, the woman speaking has a gesture that shows that she is passionate about what she has to tell.
Then, I saw something in black and white.
From a street corner a very proper gentleman appeared. His cane hung from his forearm, his jacket well pressed, and he walked with chin high, and looked straight ahead. He had the aura of yesteryear, and pulled it off as if he owned gentlemanly manners. He went to the bus stop, prepared his face mask with exactitude, then waited patiently for his bus. I managed a composition.
I like the composition, it’s stronger in black and white, and it’s a simple expression of everyday life. A man waiting for a bus. It would look better, even, as a charcoal sketch.
I took many shots as I wandered along the Kurfürstendamm. I hope you enjoy my efforts at attempting to understand a very different neighbourhood.
Thanks for looking and reading. Please tell me what your thoughts are about street photography, techniques, or anything related. All the best, and peace be in your heart.