With each step…
Rushing today. I found this old one from Taipei and it really caught my eye. Hope it catches your eye too.
And this continuing with the theme of bicycles, here is one of a reflection of a bicycle in a dirty window frame in Copenhagen.
Arrows! I am always drawn to them when I see them. Always looking for direction and what is better than a big arrow painted on the ground or wall giving me indication of how to proceed. To frame a shot, there is nothing better than arrows. They give a focal point and get the viewer questioning the elements of the photograph.
Today’s image has a wonderful red arrow painted on a wall. I found this in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo when I was having a wander around. Naturally, I had to get a few shots of it. The best way to get the arrow in frame as closely as I could was to get down low. So, in an effort to save my dodgy knees I lay down on the ground. I must have been some sight for the passing Japanese to see this foreigner stretched out on the ground with his camera pointing up. But I did not care. I love the anonymity you get being in foreign places. Stretching out on the ground to get a shot is not something I would do in Cork! So, there I was framing the shot, click clicking and looking up to see who was coming so as to frame them in the shot. I saw there was this long-legged woman approaching from the left and a guy in a suit from the right. Great, I thought, I can get the two intersecting under the arrow. I got ready. Looking through the viewfinder I saw what I thought first was a dog coming into view, then I realised it was a human, then I realised it was this beaming little girl running towards me. I instinctively snapped and then looked up. There was this beautiful little girl who had run towards me. She began to speak excitedly in Japanese. Now, I have very little Japanese, but I could not resist smiling back at her. How curious it must have appeared to her to see this guy sprawled out on the concrete with a camera. How natural for her to want to discover and how beautiful that she would run up to the camera and so expressively smile.
As I began to stand up and dust myself down, her mother came over, and with a respectful bow acknowledged me and with a puzzled look questioned what I was doing. She took her daughter by her hand to bring her away, but before she could I showed the screen of the camera with the photo of her little girl. The mother broke into a laugh, the little girl pointing at the screen laughing also. It was a beautiful moment. I imagine that the many passersby who saw this strange foreigner stretched out on the ground would have loved to have run over like the little girl did, but adults cannot behave like this. Can they?
This is the photograph I am posting to Flickr today. It does not have a background story to it.
I could spend hours in underground train stations. There is such activity there. When I am in big cities and get tired of being on the streets, I know that a change of scene by going underground will always reinvigorate me and get my curiosity going again. Here is an iPhone shot I took in the underground near Shibuya. I am involved in a project with some of other photographers at the moment to do with facial expressions. Doctor Paul Ekman identified that these are universal across all cultures. What emotion do you feel is being expressed here?
Yesterday, I was struck by a comment a contact posted on my photo. Eli said:
“It is easy sometimes to take for granted just how incredibly talented you are! Such a brilliant series…it is as if you have sketched this!”
And it made me realise that I am the one who takes these things for granted. I take it so for granted people will visit the photos I post. I take it so for granted they will hit fave and comment. Ya, I get generic comments – one word comments – but I have a group of contacts who take time to say something from the heart about what I post. And when I post it is them I am thinking of. It is their comments I look for and read. And ya, I take it for granted.
I get thousands of views, hundreds of comments and faves on my photos each day and I have become so blasé about it. But it is incredible to think that what I am posting interests people. When I started out on Flickr I could not work it out. How did you get people to visit and comment? One way I saw was to post in the post 1 – comment 3 type groups. Funny thing is that they say comment – but it’s not. You just paste a logo in the comment box. And in some of these groups they police things and if you have posted 1 and not commented on 3, they contact you and warn you that this will not be tolerated, that you have to paste that (usually very ugly) logo on to 3 photos or you will be banned. I ran with those groups for a while, but the thing that got to me was seeing how ugly the stream of comments were below my photographs. I used to look enviously at the photos of others who had none of these hideous graphic logos under their photos. No, they had text comments; they had conversations going on. And even more intriguing was these people were getting their photos into Flickr’s Holy Grail – Explore!
How? Took me a while, but then I got it. Flickr – or photography in the new millennium is all about the social interaction and pasting an ugly gif and thinking you are engaging with someone is not social in any way. It is anti-photography – it is anti-social. Most people in these groups do not view the photographs they are viewing, they just rush to hit C on the keyboard (well I hope they know that keyboard shortcut!) and then ctrl+V and click comment and they repeat on the next photo until they reach the safety quota to avoid the group sweeper who will come and email to threaten with a ban. So, I stopped posting to these groups and I did a cull of my contacts. I had hundreds. A few, a very small few were regulars who came and used words instead of GIFS to comment. I kept them. And then with each post of theirs I went and commented about how I felt about the photograph, and you know what, they did the same in return. Slowly, my list of contacts grew and then out of the blue in 2009 I hit Explore! I was super-thrilled. From that my contact list grew again and I kept up the reciprocation.
Today, I have about 3,500 contacts, but I my own contact list is about 250. More than this is not manageable. Of the 3,500, I would say very few are active contacts. There is a relatively small group of people who come visit my stream on a regular basis. Views have increased enormously since Flickr changed how they record stats. Faves also. Now people can rush through a stream double clicking on an iPhone to fave or clicking on the stars under the photos if on a computer. You don’t need to open a photo up to fave, or comment. But comments have fallen in numbers since the new version of Flickr arrived. It is so easy to just click fave – hit F or double click on the iPhone.
That is why the comments mean so much. That is why last night when Eli posted that comment that it stopped me. I really should not take this community for granted. Flickr has allowed me to develop and grow as a photographer so much. It has allowed me to reveal who I am. And I am very grateful!
This relationship goes on!
Yesterday, I posted this shot of a couple making their way across the Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Today, as promised, I am posting an in-focus photograph of the pair. With that then, I will leave Shibuya for a while. Thanks to all for the great feedback on that series of images. It means so much.Have posted lots of photographs from the Shibuya crossing in black and white but here is a colour one from there shot with the iPhone. It is a simple blur photograph of people in motion as they cross. The colour gives it a warmness and is not as harsh as the the black and white can be.
Again – thanks to all for coming here or to my Flickr accounts.
The issue of privacy and intrusion is something I am always conscious of when I am on the street. I think if I am not, then I should leave the camera at home. I imagine these ladies felt I was a nuisance, but as a foreigner they would not have been surprised to seeing me take photographs. I came upon them on my walkabout the local market in my wife’s hometown. It would have been hard for them not to draw attention dressed as they were. These were two ladies who took pride and time in their appearance, and looked a little out of place in the market. They were engaged in animated conversation under their two umbrellas. I approached as discreetly as I could, not wanting to make my presence felt, not wanting to intrude, and I suppose not wanting to lose or convert the candid moment they were involved in. Positioning myself to their right, I set up the camera and shot. I think the little click of the shutter release alerted them and startled them a little. I don’t think I frightened them as instead of walking away from me, they walked towards me. As they did, I took another shot (see below). Then I lowered the camera, gave a bow and bows were returned and one muttered something in Korean to the other. The other nodded her head, then slowly shook it from side to side and glanced back at me still shaking her head. I raised and held the camera to my chest, smiled and thanked them in Korean – Gomapsamida!
Did I intrude here? I certainly interrupted and maybe I provided them with a little distraction and amusement on a wet day.
The two photos are best seen together, I think.
The iPhone photograph was taken on the streets of Daegu. This man approached and I could feel his eyes on me causing my eyes to meet his. I stopped before him, gave what I thought was a requesting look as I raised the iPhone, nodded a few times and clicked. All the while, he appeared expressionless as he gazed at me. I showed him the shot and slowly an awareness of how he looked dawned on him. He seemed happy and sad in the same instant. He looked away from the iPhone to me and gave the slightest of bows and walked on.
When travelling, much to the frustration of my travelling companions, I am not a fan of guidebooks and maps can be like hieroglyphics to me (I just cannot understand them). I much prefer to ask for directions as I am on the go and when I am given directions, listening beyond the first ‘turn right/left’ is a challenge for me. I just know that I can stop and ask someone after that turn. Or even easier, if I am with someone else, is to let them listen. They can do it much more attentively than me. It can work out well. I have no problem stopping and asking people for directions, while some people prefer not to. So, I ask and they listen.
Same goes for guidebooks. I rarely read them before visiting a new place. But, I love to read them after visiting. Ya, this can result in being in places and missing out on some of the sights. It once took me three days to find the main street in Budapest! Luckily, I was travelling alone.
In many ways, I approach street photography in the same way. When I head out on a photo prowl, I do not have a picture in my mind of what I want to find and photograph. I prefer to be open to what may occur. And therein lies the frustration. Scenes and scenarios can evolve so quickly on the street and so many go missed. In densely populated cities, you can become overwhelmed so easily by all that is going on. In an instant so many things can capture your attention and your task is to isolate those split second scenes.
One of the challenges I face is the camera. Not the iPhone; that is set up for me, but the DSLR. As I like to shoot defocused images a lot, very often I have the auto-focus switched off and when something appears before me that I want to get in all its sharp glory, I miss the moment because the settings are not right. It drives me crazy. I tend to shoot on Aperture Priority mode a lot. I set the ISO to suit the light conditions and besides those two things the only other adjustment I make is whether to switch on or off the focus. What happens then is that I may work on out-of-focus shots for a while, then switch back to auto-focus and work on getting photographs that are in focus. Despite posting many out-of-focus photographs, I also do post quite a few in-focus ones.
The collision of coincidences that must occur for a good street shot is so rare, but the one thing that you have to control is your readiness to click. The one thing you need to develop is your sensitivity to scenes and that is a constant challenge. In many ways cameras can be an obstacle to getting a good shot. Life is difficult when there are choices and cameras, particularly DSLRs have a multitude of options. That is another reason why I like the iPhone. It limits those choices. As you can imagine, if I struggle with reading maps, then the numerous combinations and calculations of settings in a camera can leave me befuddled. With cameras, I am a bit like a grandmother with a TV remote control. Once you can change the channel and adjust the volume, what else do you need?
Today’s photograph is not the best. I would have preferred to have the guy a little more in focus, but then if I had readjusted the focus he would have walked out of the frame. So, I didn’t. I just clicked. That collision of coincidences was a little misaligned in this one. Still, I like it.
This iPhone shot is from the street market area in Haeundae in Busan. One of the techniques I use to blur images on the iPhone is to leave the top of my index finger on the lens as I have my thumb of the shutter release. Then I take my finger off and snap. The results can be nice sometimes.
One of the best things about travel has to be the food. Coming from a country which is not renowned for its cuisine, getting the chance to travel to exotic places and taste the variety of dishes they have is such a treat. But food is not only experienced through taste. No! Food arouses all the senses.
Enter an Korean restaurant and your senses are overwhelmed by the noise of the kitchen and waiting staff as they hurriedly plate up and serve the food. The other diners loud in conversation, their laughs echoing around you. You hear food crackling and hissing as it is tossed in hot oil, plates and dishes clinking and clanking, the fragrance of the food rushing through the restaurant as the doors to the kitchen swing open and shut. All the while you sit and wait in anticipation to see what will be served up, sitting there in awe of the pace and momentum of it all. Then it arrives! Plates and plates of food. No other country gives you as much food as Koreans. Side dishes, so many side dishes. Little saucers of garlic, pickled onions, pickled turnip, beansprouts, tiny fried fish, the ubiquitous kimchi (the national dish of Korea) and always a big bowl of steaming hot broth, all placed around the barbecue in the centre of the table.
Korean restaurants don’t cater for the solo traveller. Eating is not a solitary activity in Korea. It is something communal to be shared. You cannot get a dish for one in a restaurant and many restaurant owners, on a busy night, will turn you away should you be on your own. You would be taking up valuable real estate sitting on your own at a table designed for four. When I was in Seoul, I wandered around Gangham (ya, the place made famous in that song) for well over an hour before I found a restaurant that would take me in. I was met with the Korean gesture for no – the two index fingers crossed and a regretful smile and tilt of the head. Eventually, a ajuma (a middle-aged Korean woman) took pity on me and let me in, muttering away to herself, in what I guess was pity for this poor traveller all alone and nobody to eat with. She escorted me through the crowded restaurant past the tables of animated and loud Koreans out to the back where she pointed to a beer barrel with a tray on top of it and pulling over a stool up to it, indicating that this was to be my table. I looked at her. She looked at me. She with a look of this will have to do for you, and me with a look of pleeeease, can I sit with the others? We exchanged these looks, both of us trying to convince the other, neither of us willing to give in. But someone had to, something had to be done.
So, I took the tray off the beer barrel, handed it to her and lifted the beer barrel up (it was empty – I am not that strong or stupid) and walked back out to the main part of the restaurant and plonked it down to the side of a table of bemused looking Koreans and with a this is better, isn’t it? look I smiled at the waitress and hoped she would also smile in return. She did! And I can only imagine what she said to the table of Koreans next to me that caused them all to erupt in laughter. But I didn’t mind. I was hungry and more than anything I was right in the centre (well centre enough) of all the activity and I was going to lap it all up.
She handed me the menu and with the limited Korean I have I ordered Bulgogi, a beef dish that you fry yourself at the table. To accompany this, I had a small bottle of soju (Korean rice wine) and a bottle of Korean beer. As I said, Korean restaurants do not cater for individual guests. My order was a meal for two and luckily I have no problem in putting away enough food for a small family in one sitting. The only problem was that how could it be cooked! I was sitting at a beer barrel. A beer barrel without a barbecue. More laughter erupted and did not subside until the penny dropped for me and I realised my predicament.
With much gesticulation and hope, I managed to order some other food, food which did not need to be cooked at my table and I waited until the table next to me became free and I was able to relocate and use the barbecue there. For the next hour or so, I waited contentedly at my beer barrel taking in the sights, the sounds, and the smells, all the while picking on great food and getting that little bit drunk on Korean soju. I must have been a peculiar sight sat there on my own at the beer barrel, but I loved it!
Eventually, the people next to me vacated the table and I jumped in. I was surprised to see that when they got their coats the waitress sprayed them down. I was baffled as to what was happening, but then it dawned on me that she was using Fabreeze to rid them of the odours of the food and tobacco (still legal to smoke in Korean restaurants). Koreans do service so well! They even think of what will happen to you after you leave. You would not like there to be a lingering odour. Oh, no! So they you spray you down! And a thing I love is that there is no problem in asking for more of anything in a Korean restaurant and the best thing is that when you want your waiter to come, all you have to do is ring the bell on your table and hey presto, they arrive.
The restaurant began to empty out and things quietened down. The waitresses were able to take a little break and the cooks came out from the kitchen to join them. Feeling their eyes upon me I gave them a nod hello and a thumbs up for the great food. They smiled back and bowed their heads. I raised my little shot glass of soju to them, finished it off and gestured for the bill. After paying, I stood up and expected to be sprayed down. Unfortunately, I did not get this treatment. Perhaps, they felt I wanted the experience to linger.
One of the things which I struggle with in street photography is intrusion of privacy. Is it really OK to lift that camera and snap at whoever we want no matter what they are doing? When does it overstep the mark? On my recent trip to Asia, I spent hours shooting on the street. Most of the time I tried to be inconspicuous and discreet, but there were times when I stepped in close to get that shot. Those times my heart would quicken, but I had promised myself to be brave in pursuit of that shot. And you know, it paid off. I got some shots that I would never have gotten before. But in doing so I cannot help but feel that I overstepped the mark, that I intruded. However, in truth, there was only one occasion that a guy got a little upset with me and that in turn provided me with a great story I will write about here in the future.
The shots here are an example of street photography that I am a little uncomfortable with. In shooting street, it is easy to see everyone has a potential subject; everyone as game. But are they? Are there times when people in public situations are entitled to privacy. I tend to draw the line when it comes to children, homeless people or those who are evidently in distress. But everyone else? I think my instinct is to lift the camera and shoot.
On the recent trip, I encountered many people asleep in public places. Asleep they reveal so much. A tenderness and honesty is visible. The stress of the day rises and calms in their faces and for a few stolen moments they are freed. I have written before about how life in Asia is hard. People work long hours and spend ages commuting to and from work. Falling asleep in public is commonplace and accepted. Sitting opposite someone and observing them wake on train or bus is a beautiful thing. It takes the briefest of seconds for them to reacquaint themselves with their surroundings as they leave the refuge of sleep and return to the mundane reality of life. Watching them wake, I would often wait until our eyes met and greet them with a smile. Sometimes they would nod and smile in return and then we both would look away and the journey would continue. Looking back at the images I shot of people asleep I can recall such encounters. Little stories shared.
I never got the chance to show someone images of them asleep. I do not think they would like or appreciate it. I know I wouldn’t. Many months ago I was struck by Eric Kim‘s claim that street photographers fear of shooting on the street stems from their own fear of having their photograph taken. I think this is a case in point. I imagine I would feel a little violated if a stranger showed me photographs of me asleep in a public setting. Yet, then why do I think it is OK to take photographs of strangers I encounter asleep? I am not sure.
Entering the Seoul Museum of Modern Art I heard loud snores. Not having sufficient Korean to be able to comment on this to the lady in the ticket office I tried to mimic the snoring for her, but this resulted in her giving me the strangest of looks. Intrigued, I followed the snores and came across the guy below stretched out on this magical, golden sofa. His snores in this cavernous museum bellowing out. For a while, I just watched him. Peaceful and oblivious. Then I hoisted up the DSLR, checked my settings and shot. Got a few with the iPhone and off I went to look at the art in the museum, all the while accompanied by the rhythm of his snoring. A quite surreal experience. On the way, I met fellow visitors and again I communicated my amusement by mimicking his snoring and together we shared a few laughs. On a higher floor, I was able to get a wider shot of the guy with some people sat next to him.
As I left I could still hear the snoring. I will never know if he woke. Perhaps, he was an art installation, perhaps a wax model with the sounds of a snoring man played on a loop. I do not know. But for me, he was one of many people I encountered as I travelled who were asleep in public places and who just were too good not to shoot.
And on it goes. From Hong Kong to Seoul. From one big city to another. I had intended to step back from Flickr when I came home from the trip and try to categorise and organise all the photos I took, but I find myself retracing my steps chronologically and it is nice to experience the journey in this way.
The only thing I miss about my days of being single is the freedom it gave me to travel when I wanted. Nowadays, with a small family it is not so easy to decide on a whim to head off to visit new places. Still though, I am very fortunate that I do get to see new places, albeit with less frequency.
Being married with kids has also changed my perspective on travel. Now, the prime concern is to keep the kids entertained and happy. Once that is achieved, then we can enjoy ourselves too. My secondary concern is to get out and shoot. To see what can be seen and how to see it. And travelling to Asia there is just so much to see. It is an assault on the senses and at times it is just overwhelming.
On our recent trip to Asia, which took in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, I took thousands of photographs using both my Nikon and iPhone. Before going I was so excited. Five weeks in Asia. Five weeks to shoot street photography. Five weeks! Did I have a plan, vision, a project in mind of what I wanted to shoot, to document? Not really. I prefer to allow these things to take their own form; for me to react to what I encounter and not to be restricted by trying to find certain things.
In saying that, there were things I knew I wanted to see and shoot. I wanted to continue with the abstract blur series of people in motion, with both of my cameras. But besides that I was open. I told myself I would be brave and if that shot appeared I would not allow my timidity to get in the way of me getting it. This sometimes worked out and other times didn’t. In later posts, I will have some good stories to tell about situations like this.
However, this approach can result in a lot of clicks, a lot of snapping. I remember the day I arrived in Tokyo, exhausted after an early morning start and little sleep, leaving the hotel and getting out on to the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Now, as my stay went on I came to feel electrified here, but the first time I stepped out on that sunny Saturday afternoon, I knew I should be feeling something and I was, but I was not able to identify what. With the Nikon around my neck and the iPhone in my hand, I was obliged to start shooting. So I did, but with no real purpose or understanding of what it was I seeing or how it could be seen. After about an hour or so I returned to the hotel frustrated. Here I was in one of the most amazing cities in the world, a street photographer’s paradise, a place I had been dreaming about and I did not know what to do or how to do it.
The next day, I met up with one of my favourite photographers – Michael Kistler – who lives in Tokyo and we spoke a little about this. I didn’t make a big deal of it and neither did he. I guess both of us knew this would pass. We spent the day together on a photo walk around Shibuya, Harajuku, Yoyogi Park and back again to Shibuya. Now, I am a big fan of Michael’s work. It is inspirational. Being with him, seeing how he shoots, seeing what gets his attention amongst the frenetic momentum of Tokyo is fascinating. I guess living there he has a greater feel and understanding of the city and its people. I was a visitor, a tourist. He was part of it all. There appeared a logic to his photographing. I was on the outside of it and the shots I was taking were disjointed. Later that evening, I headed back to the hotel, I was not quite as frustrated as the previous day, but still.
Now that I am back and I see the thousands of photographs I have taken over the five weeks and as I look through them I begin to see what I wanted to see. I am beginning to understand it, to see its patterns emerge. And if, by magic, I could walk out my door and step back into it all, I would know how to shoot it. I would know how to connect those dots to create something cohesive and expressive. But, I am a believer in things are as they are. What I shot was what I saw at that time. If I went back now, I would have a different sensitivity and quite possibly miss or ignore the things I saw then. I was a tourist. I was an outsider. And that is OK. The images I made will present that. Perhaps the next time I get to travel I will have more of a focus about what I want to see and what I want to shoot.
It gets me thinking. When I was in Hong Kong, one of my friends asked me why I take photographs. Without hesitation I replied that I took them because I it helps me to understand what I see. And to add to that now, I realise we cannot predict what we will see. So maybe, not having a plan, being free and open to what I encounter is OK.
Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your own thoughts on travel and photography. Do you set out with a plan? Do you feel frustrated when you get back and see patterns emerge that make you feel you missed out; that you need to go back and see and shoot it again?