Why I shoot street

 Those who are close to me would know that I've been asking myself a very important question lately: What drives me?

I am about as mellow a person as one could find. I simultaneously possess the gift and the curse of being able to see and accept the pros and cons of every situation, every object. I have no preferences. I sit on the fence. Ask me what I want for lunch and I'd ask you to decide.

In fact, I've even made it my year's goal to discover what's important in my life.

I draw some parallels of my personal dilemma about life, to my approach to photography. I've had casual flirtations with various genres: landscape, macro, but none of these resonated much with me. In a weird way, all these genres seemed a bit dead to me, and true to my nature, I kept going at all of them, not preferring any one over another, and all the time hating everything I shot.

And then one day, I came across Severin's blog, and all of it changed. There was something about some of Severin's photos that captivated me. A personal connection, between the photographer and the subject, however brief. In that moment, at the click of the shutter, the anonynous photographer pierced the soul of his anonymous subject, and the moment is forever captured.

From that day, streetphotography became a part of my life. I carried my faithful rangefinder everywhere I went. Streetphotography became a part of who I am. And then one day, I asked myself, why do I shoot street?

Most people could claim that they like certain things. I doubt that many people can explain why they liked those certain things. But then again, not many people ever stopped to ask themselves that question. We, as a human race, have become so overloaded with information that we no longer question anything. And yet, it is through asking ourselves these difficult questions that we grow as human beings.

What is streetphotography? There is no clear cut definition. The most acceptable answer that I've come across, in my opinion, is given by the aptly named Walker Evans: The impulse to take candid pictures in the stream of everyday life.

So, why do I shoot street? I don't have an answer, but I guess I can guess:
  • I am lazy - whereas landscape photographers have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get that shot of the sunrise, I only need to carry a camera with me everytime I go walking.
  • I like challenges. To succeed in streetphotography, one has to have an eye for details, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, to have the guts to point a camera in someone's face, and have the mastery of one's equipment to meter, focus, compose and shoot within a split second.
  • I like human interactions. At that click of a shutter, I am given the priviledge to look into someone else's soul, and tell a story, perhaps even an insight into the person's past that brought him to that particular moment.
  • It forces me to look at the world around me with a different eye. I become a part of a scene. Through my casual observations of the world around me, I get in touch with society, In so doing, I grow as a person.
  • I am a non-conformist. I do something that very few other human beings or photographers do. I seek perfection where perfection does not exist, and I dare to challenge the stereotype.
  • It takes a pretty obssessive person to do street. I am a pretty obssessive person.
And so, it would appear that just as I have no answer to my purpose in life, I have no answers to my reason or purpose in streetphotography. But just as I have begun to guess my reasons to doing streetphotography, I have begun to guess my being. Perhaps the answers to these two questions are one and the same -- perhaps if I discover the reasons for my streetphotography, I shall discover the reasons for my being.

Or, do I already have the answers to both questions, and that the answers are multi-faceted and not as straight forward as I hoped? Perhaps Douglas Adams was right, that the answer is indeed already there, and it's just that I don't understand the question? That to which 42 provides the perfect answer?

Then I come to the realisation that the answer doesn't matter. What is important is the question, or the fact that I am asking the questions: What drives me? What drives my photography? What drives everything that I do?

Perhaps streetphotography is just like life on a different level. In my philosophy of streetphotography, the process of taking the photo, the connection that's established, is more important than the finishing of the photo itself. The process, not the product. This resonates with life: in the long run we are all dead. It's the process that makes it worthwhile.
In the words of Amani Willet:
My camera has led me on a personal journey through the unexpected nuances of life. Photography has become my tool to investigate, discover, confront and ultimately portray the complex, fascinating world around us.

May it do the same with my life.