Wide Awake in Street Photography

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop. — Ansel Adams

Berlin Street Photography - Group in sun rays
Berlin Street Photography – Group in sun rays

Life is made up of small moments, so we better make them good, intimate, solid moments. Photography helps us do that.

Where I live, a street portrait is out of the question.

Two good reasons, it’s an invasion of privacy of the individual. If you’re a decent human being, you’re going to understand that we live in a society where technology has allowed everybody to invade everybody else’s private space. Other people’s lives, is their business, until you’re invited in to it.

Life is made up of small moments, so we better make them good, intimate, solid moments. Photography helps us do that.

Where I live, a street portrait is out of the question.

Two good reasons, it’s an invasion of privacy of the individual. If you’re a decent human being, you’re going to understand that we live in a society where technology has allowed everybody to invade everybody else’s private space. Other people’s lives, is their business, until you’re invited in to it.

So, I don’t do street portraits.

Wet Berlin Street Photograph
Wet Berlin Street Photograph

The challenge of street photography is to record some kind of image of life in our times. Life in public places. That can mean photos of buildings, people hanging out close to buildings, and it can mean people interacting with people.

An intimate portrait of a person discludes their environment, so the street portrait frames a person as if they could be anywhere. So, maybe, it misses the point of street photography, altogether.

I took a shot of a group of people about to cross the street at the lights. It was raining, and had been raining for several days. Everybody had got wet, and so bought their brand new 3 euro umbrella.

Umbrellas are a great opportunity for creative shots of rain that drips. When you stand at the lights, go silent inside, and listen, you can hear the splashing sounds of rain drops hitting the umbrella standing next to you.

Even with the traffic, and that weird low grinding that always seems present in inner cities, you can stop and focus with your ears.

I have that thing, I can’t remember its name, but when I hear a sound my brain converts it into an image in my mind. And no, I can’t describe the image more than saying that the sound of raindrops has an abstract look. I do see the raindrops clearly, and in minute detail. Full on sparkles, small windows reflected like mini universes inside a drop of water. But there’s a sound image and the true image melded together.

Imagine, when everything you hear enters your mind as an image. You meet a person who wants to tell you about how ill they were at the weekend. They go on to describe the rolling, heaving contents of their stomach, leading your mind down into their bowels, through the small intestine, until they finally describe the explosive experience they had while sitting on the toilet with their head hanging between their knees.

Walking through the Streets of Berlin _ Berlin Street Photography, Sean P. Durham, 2020
Walking through the Streets of Berlin

And they think that my frowning face is one of great concern for their weekend demise. I’m just hoping they’ll change the subject pretty soon. So, I go on to talk about how the spring flowers were nice this year.

Anselm Adams, the photographer, said that if you can take twelve good photos in twelve months, you’re achieving something good. I agree. That’s how life is, we have to keep at it — whatever it is we are doing. We can’t hit those twelve good moments in twelve months unless we stay consistent about our activities.

One of the problems of creativity is that it is all about making connections. So, the creative person takes a couple of ideas and tries to make a connection. The best ideas for a starting point are two ideas that seem so far apart, that it could never be obvious how they would ever connect; that’s the task set for creative people.

So you work on it. And if you stay consistent, you get that big-little-bang moment in your own universe, and he-presto, a new idea is born into the universe.

The problem is that we creative people, especially those who see everything as an image, get great little ideas that are always worth pursuing.

If you are following me, I’m probably luring you away from what you were doing ten minutes ago, but it’s interesting, right?

Just like Bill Shakespeare said, “There’s nothing new under the sun…”, and some days it seems like he was dead right, until we think about the bard and his works. He didn’t write that, then walk away in disgust at his discovery, quill tossed over his shoulder to land in the muddy streets of London. He kept writing because he knew that intimate knowledge of all the things that don’t change much, gave him a superpower to be able to create new ideas about the way people become intimate with each other, and they way some people like to murder kings to get on in life, (The Scottish Play).

two women chatting at a tram stop in Berlin, Germany. Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2018
two women chatting at a tram stop in Berlin, Germany

In spite of the way things appear, there is always friction on the streets. People are walking, talking, and getting lost, then correcting themselves.

I see a lot of people listening to music on the streets these days, and dancing, and basically doing things that normally we would do alone in our homes. I think the relaxed pandemic measures has a lot to do with people’s desire to get out, and do whatever it is they want, but outdoors.

As a street photographer, we should think deeply about what we are looking at, test and adjust attitudes towards how to frame and compose, and how to see the balance of the light and darkness in a photo.

The shots we take today may sometimes look like nothing much, but have something intriguing in them. Often street photos of a society going through an important phase of change will be viewed with awe in years to come.

Or maybe, with a bit of luck, one or two of them, with twelve months objectivity, might become a small gem that you snapped while walking along a street. Now. https://berlinstreetphotographer.com/