Friday, March 01, 2013

I'm not the next Vivian Maier... least, not yet.

A while back my friend Sam shared this cool NY Times article about an unknown street photographer who took thousands of photos in her lifetime of street scenes.  No one in her life knew that she did this.  It was only discovered after her passing.  And the pictures were incredible.  Gorgeous shots taken in the moment - no posing, most of the time people didn't even know she was taking the picture. 

I'm not sure if it's what I'm reading into it, but she also seems to have a point of view, at times a compassionate gaze, or even a sense of humor.

I recently read one of her books, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, and got super-inspired to do some street photography of my own.  The neighborhood of White Center is super-colorful and has, ahem, interesting characters there.  So I thought next time I was driving through I'd stop by and go on walkabout with my Canon 5D. 
But there is something about street photography that is difficult.  There is a feeling of pushing through people's boundaries.  You're literally taking their picture without them knowing it, or if they do know it, there's a defensiveness there.  I might be too polite for this business.  Most of the shots I took ended up being of the place, and not the people.  I was hesitant to just go for it.
Also, Vivian had an older camera, one that took pictures from the chest.  So people didn't always know what you were doing.  With my big ole digital SLR, people see me from a mile away.  And I have this slightly pained expression where I'm trying to not bug them so I look all sheepish and weird.  As obtrusive as it gets.

Here are some pics from my attempt at Street Photography:

White Center ruffians
With this photo, I was way too freaked out to get any closer.  I'm a wimp, I'll admit it.  But those dudes looked scary.

Burien Goodwill
I meant to just get the tv's, then I got the guy picking his nose as well.  I guess I can only get candid shots when I don't mean to. :-)

White Center
Dude carrying laundry basket down street.

White Center produce stand
Women at produce stand

Lessons learned from my first street photography outing:
  1. Go to a place where the people don't scare you. 
  2. Find a location with lots of people, too.  So that they're not immediately aware of you as the only other person on the sidewalk, creepily snapping pictures of just them.
  3. Try to exude an aura of open, calm friendliness, instead of sheepishness, so that people don't feel weirded out.
  4. Go during golden hour, so the pictures have that rich instant-nostalgia feel.  Not mid-day when lighting is flat.
  5. Take lots of pictures.   Lots.  And be willing to edit.  Or stockpile them in a virtual attic, Vivian Maier-style, until someone discovers them 50 years from now.  :-)

Here is a link to more pics from that day, including ones without people, which highlight the eclectic quality of White Center:

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