Friday, November 10, 2006

Positively Sixth Street

Went to downtown Austin after work this evening. I was initially planning to shoot some architectural pictures as the sunset and twilight kicked in. I walked around with my tripod and a backpack with some lenses in it for a while, looking for compositions. I kept walking past interesting looking people that I'd have liked to take their picture, but those barriers were still there. Then after about half an hour of this I realised that I didn't want to take pictures of buildings at sunset at all. I wanted to take pictures of people. Strangers. But not from across the street - I wanted to be engaged with them. Not voyeuristically capturing them from afar. So I put the gear back in the car and just took out the camera and one 85mm lens. Then I walked around the bar district in Austin. For about an hour. I kept seeing people I'd want to shoot, but didn't approach anyone. Just walked passed, nodded, said hello, kept on walking. Then eventually I got fed up of doing that too. So I asked someone. They didn't say no. I explained what I was trying to do and they said 'sure' Then I asked the next person. Same thing. and then one more. Three for three. Nobody said no. Nobody really seemed bothered - maybe amused and that's about it. Easy. Yet for me, a huge adrenaline rush. I was shaking after taking three stranger's pictures. Talking to them for a bit. The first two people I shot 3 frames in total. Didn't really look at the results, just shot and left. Messed them up - wrong shutter speed, bad composition. But I'd at least asked them. The third person I talked to for a bit longer, made some different compositions, actually didn't mess up the exposure, or camera settings. Was able to frame him off center, noticed some car headlights in the alley that would play off his cigar glow. That's the shot above. It isn't going to win any awards. It isn't one of my best. But I think it marks a real breakthrough, for me. I haven't got over the barriers that make this so hard for me, but - nobody said no. I can do this. I was going to wait until next year to start trying to do this sort of portrait work, but it just seemed something I needed to do. Twilight buildings can wait.

3 comments:

John M. Setzler, Jr. said...

Hi Gordon...

This is indeed a barrier to lots of people. You aren't alone. You have, however, just rid yourself of about 75% of the 'fear' involved in interacting with total strangers.

Your particular approach is much more difficult than many of my own also. You are approaching people who aren't 'prepared' to have their photo made. Most of the people that I approach are involved in some sort of public event. Only a small handful of my '1000 Faces' project are totally random people who aren't part of some larger social encounter.

You may find it easier to start out with something more social. I look for people who have some sort of visual interest to me in most cases.

Gordon said...

I think that's a great point John. I did decide to try people who weren't out acting on the street. I think you are right that people in those situations are much more open to being photographed.

There is a definite variance in what situations it is okay to take people's pictures - e.g., in a parade or just casually on the street.

I'm sure street performers, or sellers are also easier to work with - again they are out in the world with a different expectation of privacy - or actually asking to be noticed.

But what I found, at least with this small sample, is that most people don't really mind one way or another. As long as you are willing to be considerate of their time and not get in the way, it seemed just having a beer or a smoke break from work was an okay time to interrupt, too.

John M. Setzler, Jr. said...

Good luck with it :) Make a purposeful endeavor out of it... something beyond ridding yourself of any fears...