Photo inspirations: A Blipper profile
11th October 2011
Japan-based Blipper Way of Life (Paul Church) has been on blipfoto for a year now. To lead up to his big 3-6-5 he thought he would do something a bit different and write a little about the photographers and photographs that have influenced the photos that he takes and posts. Being based in Tokyo has also had a profound effect on his view of the world.
Paul quit his job in the UK to move to Japan seven years ago to undertake the intensive Senshusei course. He has lived in Tokyo ever since. To document his time in the city he signed up to blipfoto.com a global community of people who share their daily lives with others.
His amazing pictures of life in the city document not just his daily life, but life in the city.
This is the second in an occasional series of Guest Blogs by our Blippers for our Blippers.
Here we show some of his Blips as he shares with us his inspirations...
Daido Moriyama's photos of Tokyo are what attracted me to really get back into photography a few years ago. (I imagine this doesn't come as much of a surprise to any of you that have been following me for a while now.) Crooked, blurred, out of focus, and usually taken with a cheapo point-and-click, Moriyama's high-contrast shots show all the nooks and crannies that you probably won't see on the Travel Channel; this is Tokyo without the make-up. His book entitled Shinjuku Plus is a firm favorite in my collection.
Jeff Wall's Mimic
In my more contemplative moments Jeff Wall's Mimic is the photo I come back to time and time again. If you've never seen it before, take a moment now to check it out and read the photo's back story. There may be spoilers ahead...
I loved this photo the minute I saw it. What a moment to capture on camera, I thought. I was then initially disappointed to read a few weeks later that it wasn't what I had originally thought it was. But rather than moving on to other more real "street" photos, Jeff Wall's Mimic became even more intriguing because I knew everything was there for a specific reason.
Every detail and aspect was considered, selected, and positioned so precisely that I just kept wondering what was Wall's motive behind this and why did he include that? This ultimately led me to wonder whether this really could be classed as a street photo because it wasn't candid, which is the keystone in the definition of street photography. If I go out tomorrow and take a photo that is a carbon copy of Mimic, but mine is candid, does that mean my version is more legitimate as a street photograph?
Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
Jeff Wall's work is amazing because it makes you look at the whole frame from side to side and front to back. Everything is there for a reason and everything contributes to the photo. Spend a few minutes looking at his work and you will see what I mean. Of course, when we are walking around town we can't pick and choose all the elements of our photos like Jeff Wall does, but this totality is something that I try to include in my shots to try to create not just a focus for the composition but also a front to back depth of supporting elements that all build to create a great street photo.
When I first saw Kobayashi's book of abandoned buildings, Haikyo Hyoryu, I was blown away. It is such a great collection of photos that I am yet to find another that comes anywhere close to competing.
Part of the problem is that this kind of photography is really popular in Japan right now, meaning that most the books are watered down, commercial versions of Kobayashi's original artisitic vision. The great thing for me about finding this book was not that it showed me something new, but rather it compounded the ideas and feeling that I'd had that the old, broken, and mostly overlooked things around us are worth photographing. "I'm not just a weirdo that likes to photograph broken things; there's at least one other person out there!" This was the point where I decided that I would always photo what I wanted to photograph, not what was popular or crowd pleasing, and was the beginning with my fascination with the streets of Tokyo.
Stephen Shore, Breakfast
(ShinyDay had to take the d700 for work, so I was in charge of the d5000 for the day. It's so small and quiet I almost felt invisible, especially after I've been using the d700 and the 80-200mm bazooka combo for the last few weeks.)
Things. I like photos of things. The more banal the subject the better in my opinion because I think this is when photography can really surprise us. When we see a great photograph and the subject is part of the everyday, it shows how much we look but don't see. Stephen Shore's Breakfast is a great example of this.
Shore also likes street scenes. There's a good collection of his photos here.
What attracts me to these shots is that unlike Daido Moriyama, Shore seems to de-emphasize the people in the places his visits. We know they are there, and we can see the results of their actions, but it is secondary to the view that Shore wants us to see. Perhaps I like them because they are so different to anything you can shoot here in Tokyo, or maybe it's all the lines, right-angles, and organization that attract me, but whatever it is, I can look at Shore's photographs over and over.
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Typologies
Returning to the idea of taking the photos that you want take, we come to the typologies of Bernd and Hilla Becher. A typology is a collection of photos of many examples of the same thing, but rather than presenting the subject artistically, the idea here is to present it in a clinical, matter of fact way. Since I'm a geeky scientist, typologies feed into my need to organize, catalog, and stratify things.
The Becher's typology of water towers is a good place to start if your new to this kind of photography, but I'm sure everyone has at one time or another seen one before. This blog has a good range of typologies from a number of different photographers, and as a bonus check out Things Organized Neatly for something along the same lines.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris
I bet you were wondering how long I would go before I trotted this one out, but to be honest, I've hardly seen any photos by Cartier-Bresson. In fact, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare is possibly the only photo of his I've seen.
What I did when I first saw this photo was imagine it as one of a series of photos all the way from the man just before jumping to a moment just after he landed. Which photos would work and which wouldn't? I tried to think about the slight differences between the frames and how those differences would affect the overall feeling of the photo. Is there a frame that is just a smidgen better than the others, and is the timing that Cartier-Bresson chose the best one? It's a thought experiment, but it's worth keeping in mind that a lot of street photography involves a lot of factors coming together at precisely the right moment to create a great photo.
Bruce Gilden, flash street photography
This video of Gilden at work has had a massive effect on my photography and it's a video that I go back to when I need a little bit of pick-me-up.
The main effect it's had is that it helped me decide on the limits that I wanted to work to when I'm out and about. On a personal comfort level I realized that I'm just not prepared to invade people's personal space like that. That's not to say that I don't like his photos, because I do, a lot, but if I was working like that it would always be a push to do something that wasn't an honest expression of what I want to capture.
On top of finding my limits, the video really showed me how to approach taking photos in the street, and this was the point at which I realized that if you want to do street photography you always have to be prepared to interact with people, because without a doubt people will approach you. Usually it's just to chat, sometimes it's an angry word or two, but you have to be prepared for this interaction. In my mind it's a give and take. If you're going to take a photo of a stranger, then they have the right to approach you and ask what you're doing.
Bonus link: For some Tokyo-based flash-in-your-face photography, check out this interview with a guy called Charlie Kirk over on Eric Kim's blog. Check the comments for some very polarized opinions on this style of photography.
Tony Ray-Jones, The English
Looking at photos Tony Ray-Jones' of the English is a little bit like looking at a foreign country for me, even though I'm English. It all just seems so foreign, when it shouldn't really. He took inspiration from the New York street photographers during the time he spent in the US, and upon his return to England he set about trying to capture the essence of being English. Unfortunately, he only spent five years documenting the English at leisure before he returned to the US, but he got some very unique photos.
Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalents
Alfred Stieglitz gave me my first insights into the position photography has in the world of art. Admittedly, photography has come a long way since Stieglitz's time, but sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of people consider it the bottom rung of the creative ladder. After all, we just point and click, right?
Stieglitz's story goes that after showing some of his prints, he was told that the strength of his photos came from the inherent interest of the subject, not from anything artistic that Stieglitz had done.
Outraged, Stieglitz decided to embark on a study of clouds to justify that photography was a legitimate art form. In the end he produced over 200 of them, which he organized into a groups called Equivalents. These photos are often credited as the beginning of abstract photography.
Incidentally, very first Blip was my tip of the hat to Alfred Stieglitz.
The Blip Community and other photographers
The great thing about Blipfoto is that all in one place you can see the full range of photographic styles, subjects, and treatments, taken with the full range of cameras and lenses. Surfing through Blipfoto can be a real adventure through creativity!
When I look at other people's photos, whether on Blipfoto or elsewhere, I run through a little mental checklist of questions to try and figure the photo out. What time of day was the photo taken? where was the sun? how high was the camera off the ground? was the photo taken straight on or at an angle? can I guess the aperture, the speed, the processing, the meaning? By trying to answer these questions I try to learn how to approach certain types of shots and get an idea of what works with certain subjects and what doesn't.
I'm not saying that I try to work out how to copy other people's work, but instead by thinking about the photos I look at rather than just looking at them, I try to teach myself a series of top tips that I can apply when I'm out and about shooting.
So really inspiration and learning doesn't have to always come from the big names or from the famous books; it can come from any photo as long as you approach it correctly.
If you are interested in street photography, you might also be interested in this previous blog by photographer Sue Foll.
Or discover the process that allows photographer Andrew Brooks to create his own vision of a view, capturing elements over many hours, giving him control of weather and position of light.