Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Street London 2017 – Some thoughts


I have just spent the weekend at Street London – a street photography symposium in East London and, as I drink my coffee I thought I needed to put some words down, organize my thoughts before getting back to the awaiting processing marathon.

I don’t practice street photography much, it’s a genre that interests me hugely but it’s a genre that requires time which I’m constantly short of. In recent years I’ve only managed to get out to ‘shoot the street’ maybe one day a year, it’s not enough to hone my eye for this different style of work.

However, I love street photography workshops and attend them where I can. I find it brings so much to my children’s portrait photography. The essence of street photography is being awake to the possibilities around you, working quickly within an ever changing environment, seeing a fleeting moment and constructing a composition around that moment with an eye to the action but also with impeccable technical skill. What photographer couldn’t learn from that?

This weekend has introduced me to some incredible practitioners, the work of Rammy Narula in particular left me spellbound and Fadi Boukaram recent American roadtrip Lebanon USA and the stories he told of kindness and welcome has given a ray of hope in a world that seems increasingly fragmented. We had the joy of seeing long term street photographers such as Melanie Einzig and Graciela Magnoni explain how their practice has developed over time and felt the passion that others such as Dimitris Makrygiannakis brought to their personal work. I name just a few, I learnt from each and every one.

The symposium also offered spotlight sessions where emerging photographers could share their work and there was a freshness to some of this work that I found truly inspiring – the work of Adam Maizey and James Catterson particularly appealed to me. Both such different photographers and both bringing a very distinct visual style to their work, it was lovely to see how they have developed their ideas to build coherent bodies of work and it will be fascinating to see how the projects develop with time. I particularly found it interesting to hear how James brings his experiences at work – designing video games – to an appreciation of architecture, of line and form into his street photography.

Discussing imagery and inspiration with my friend Kate over dinner after the symposium finished we were both struck by the importance of a wide knowledge of photography. It is so important to look deeply and with an analytical mind at work from many different genres. As with all creative arts we stand on shoulders of giants and the more knowledge we have the more our subconscious can assess approaches, can clarify ideas, can work with difficult conditions and create interesting and innovative compositions in the 1/500 of a second it takes to make a photograph. Without this store of ideas and information our work is limited. As you can’t be a writer without being a reader, you can’t grow as a photographer without looking at visual media, photographs, paintings, sculpture and cinema. Each element informs and instructs and if we are open to this we can grown our work and continue to develop our style whatever subject matter we photograph.

For a photographer who has been working for fourteen years in my chosen genre there were ideas flying about and inspiration coming from all directions that I will take time to process. I found myself thinking about bigger issues too – the ethics of street photography are a minefield that I’m glad I don’t need to deal with on a daily basis – my clients choosing to be photographed, images given not taken. Although whether street photos are ‘taken’ is another discussion and one that can vary so much from photographer to photographer, we all bring our own ideas, politics and personality to our work and while some images can be aggressive social statements other have a kindness and clear love for the human condition that is so beautiful to be heartbreaking. The question of gender also brought lively discussion; coming from a genre that is dominated by women photographers it was interesting to see that street photography still has some way to go to become more inclusive.

Most of all the weekend brought together so many passionate photographers of all levels and stylistic approaches into a space where we could talk, share ideas and images and enjoy an excellent beer or a rhubarb gin. Photography is such a small work and such a friendly one where support is more important than competition. Many thanks go to the organisers, to Nick Turpin and Jason Reed and to my friend Martin Usbourne of Hoxton Mini Press for putting together such a great event.

For the many photographers out there who read my blog and have thought, when seeing events like the London Street Photography Symposium advertised, can I go to that, I’m not really a street photographer I say, go for it. It doesn’t matter if you shoot the street or photograph families, we all have much to give, we all have tons to learn and the more we meet and chat, the more we learn from each other the better we make our work and the more fun we will have working in photography, this incredible art form we are lucky enough to call home.

I’ve put a couple of street photographs up to illustrate this blog – I didn’t take them this weekend but always good to stay ‘on genre’ to the words 🙂

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