Street photography is a documentation of human life. It captures the human way of thinking and the manner in which we behave. The streets are full of different personalities and attitudes, and it is the job of the street photographer to try and represent that as true to life as possible within their work. From my personal experience of shooting street photography, it opens up my mind and for me, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from practicing the craft.
I am not talking about lessons in street photography, but rather lessons in life. By being observant of my subject, taking in their behaviours and mannerisms, and then reflecting on the image, I have been able to find messages that have been beneficial to my own personal development.
Take a look at this image...
Just two images of an old dude reading the paper, right?
These images were taken 45 minutes apart. That’s right, for at least 45 minutes this gentleman was stood on the same spot in the middle of the street reading the paper.
This got me thinking about how impatient my own generation is. We are always “on the go”. We demonstrate restlessness in the way we conduct ourselves in the real world, and of course in the manner in which we behave online.
Sure, this man may no longer have a job to go to, but he is still managing his time in a relaxed and content manner. He does not need life to be 100 mph, he can just stand in the same spot and read his paper. Whereas I feel with myself and those who grew up around me (more so those even younger) there is a constant anxiety of “what next?”.
What both these images taught me, was that it is okay to slow down. You can be happy in your own skin without constantly jumping from one thing to another. So, whenever I feel the urge to go task crazy or have 200 browser tabs open, I will think of this old man, enjoying his life, reading his paper.
Then there is this image...
Hmm tasty chicken, I must have been hungry when I took the frame. Well, actually as a rule - never shoot food on an empty stomach.
Of course when I look at this image I may drool at the mouth slightly...okay, a lot.
But, I also see a journey. A gradual adaptation of something, becoming better whilst turning over time. This can also be applied to ourselves and how we improve as we grow older. We can sometimes be guilty of thinking we are the finished article, but in truth, we should always be evolving. Just as the chicken remains a chicken once cooked, we do not need to transform into someone completely different - just a better version of who we already are.
Finding your lessons
I believe there to be many reasons why, as street photographers, we choose to shoot the frames we do. Sometimes it’s purely because of aesthetics, sometimes it is show off how clever we think we are. But I also firmly believe we shoot the frames we do because they can sometimes give us answers that we are looking for in the world. Street photography for me has always been a therapeutic process and a way of understanding the philosophical aspect of life.
I encourage you to take a moment to sit with some of your images and look beyond the initial aesthetic. Thinking about where you were in life when you took the images, how was your emotional state at the time? Can it link to a certain thought or feeling you are working through? Take a moment to think, maybe you will find answers to some of the questions you have about life and yourself.
Understanding the characteristics of the people and the things around us really can help us learn more. We are lucky as street photographers, as we have already made the step of walking into the public classroom. We just need to ensure we are open to what the world has to teach us.
Thanks for reading.
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