Black & White Street Photography

Flaneur vs. Street View: Virtual Reality Can Never Replace the Real Thing.

Seattle

A friend of mine once expressed to me his admiration of Google’s Street View feature and how amazing it was to be able to explore any city at the touch of a button. He’s right, that is amazing, but nothing beats walking the beat yourself. Smelling the baconey-smelling breeze as you walk on Alki beach on a Monday morning. Or that disgusting but familiar scent of urine in the alleyway as you hunt for new street art. If you’re doing it virtually, you miss out on those things.
Virtual reality can never replicate the five senses. You can’t touch anything. You can’t smell anything. You can’t feel anything. The burning in your legs as you climb a steep incline, the feeling of someone bumping into you on a bustling street. The man behind the computer screen, his legs don’t feel anything. They may even be asleep from lack of blood flow.
You miss the sounds of the street, happening in real time, not in pre-recorded Dolby surround sound, we’re talking the real deal here. The whining engine of the garbage truck, the screeching sound of brakes, the bongos off in the distance, the chatter of people talking, birds singing, waves crashing, planes flying overhead, people singing to themselves, sidewalk preachers shouting about eternal damnation, you miss it all.
The man in the bandanna with no shirt and cut off jean shorts that conjure up memories of Daisy Duke if she were a homeless Native American guy selling newspapers on the corner. He has a football in his hand. He’s trying to coax the businessmen and women into playing a game of catch with him, he makes a throwing gesture with his eyebrows raised in an inquisitive fashion to one of the suits, who instantly breaks into a passing pattern and catches a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder. The suit throws it back, and another suit joins in the fun and wraps our homeless QB in Daisy Duke’s up for a tackle, it surprises him. All three of them are smiling and laughing. You don’t get that in virtual reality, no matter how hard you try.
Another suit walks up to him and says something I can’t make out. The QB shouts at the smiling man as he walks away, “YEAH, YOU JUST LIKE TO HEAR YOURSELF TALK, THAT’S WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS!” and he starts his routine again, trying to get the movers and the shakers to take a break from the day to day routine and engage with him in a game of toss.
He’s a homeless guy, conducting a sociological experiment. I guess in a way, all homeless have the potential to conduct sociological research on the human condition. They have a worms-eye view of the human race living life, its beauty, its flaws, its serendipitous twists and turns. Google Street View doesn’t make you feel anything close to this. It’s a tool and nothing more. It isn’t a replacement for the real thing, the experience. It’s just pixels.

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Being a Flanuer at Denver Pride Fest

The popular term these days is “Street Photographer”, but really I consider myself more of a flâneur. It isn’t as popular of a term, nor does it garner as much attention as the term Street Photographer. The term seems to create some confusion as to what it is that constitutes Street Photography.  Is it photos of actual streets? Do the images have to  be black & white or color? Should we only take super close shots, or stay further away?  Should we use film or go digital? There are many opinions and ideas about what makes an image fall into the category of Street Photography.

I like what Susan Sontag writes in her book On Photography:

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography, pg. 55

This quote accurately describes how I pass the time most days. I walk for hours and hours, hang around on public transit lines, and go the long way on purpose. I try to get lost in the city, to get sucked into the center of it all, alone in a crowd. That is why photographing in the streets appeals to me. I’m color blind, cross-eyed, painfully awkward and shy, but not when I’m holding a camera. When I have my camera, which is always, I make about a thousand times more eye contact then I would if I didn’t have it. It makes me super aware of my surroundings, almost to the point that it makes me a little paranoid, like everyone is watching me.

The camera is my best friend. I like to wander the streets and breathe in life, observing everyone and everything. So I guess that makes me a flâneur, and I like that term, so I’m just going to own it. As for what Street Photography is I have always considered that to be in the eye of the beholder. Street Photography is the result of passionate photographers carrying on a tradition of photographing candid images of people in the streets, if the frame doesn’t include a human being it falls into the category of Urban Landscape. That’s just my opinion, and if you have been a photographer for very long you know that fellow photographers can be super critical, to the point of being cruel. Photographers like that might be more strict on what they consider falls into the genre. I’m not like that.

I hate labels for photography almost as much as I hate how we always seem to have to come up with a snazzy name for every subtle difference in music. Electronic music has something like 12 different sub-genres. It’s confusing, I could never tell someone if I was listening to breakbeat, dubstep, garage, Hi-NRG, Eurodance,Techno, or trance. I’m just like hey check out this cool song with this awesome beat. Music is music, and photography is photography. Why get hung up in all the ridiculousness. Always remember the K.I.S.S. method: Keep it simple, stupid.

I think that photography in general should be open source and we should all try and educate those who aren’t yet privy to the wonders of the craft. Photography trolls who rail on and on about how everything is so cliche and spend most of their time bitching about how much they hate everyone’s photography so much should just shut their mouths and take some more pictures. Show the world what good photography is by showing us a good photograph, not by pointing out how everyone else’s work sucks so much.

Somewhere along the line, I got lost in this post. I will end it like this: If you are kind of a loner and maybe a little bit quirky in the eyes of others, grab a camera, any camera, go walk around your neighborhood and just observe the world. You can learn a lot that way, and it’s a great excuse to get up off the couch and experience life.

 

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Being a Flanuer at Denver Pride Fest

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