Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Street Photography Now Project One

I have decided to have a go at a challenge called the Street Photography Now Project.  It will run for 52 weeks and there will be a challenge set by respected photographers each week.  It sounds like a good opportunity - I think I'll have a crack at it and try and develop my street photography skills.

This is the first challenge by Bruce Gilden:
if you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it's a street photograph

Good Quote!!
It was Helen Levitt who said: "You have to go where something's going on". It sounds really obvious doesn't it, but I'm struggling to find anywhere with enough people or enough 'stuff' going on.  It's Wednesday, I live in a village with less than thirty houses, there are a number of small-medium sized towns such as Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Workington fairly nearby but it's just so quiet today.  

After a day in London it dawned on me how much more satisfying candid photography is when there are more folks around. West Cumbria is predominantly rural and it's harder to find 'something going on' from a street photography perspective!!  Can 'country lane' fall under the 'street' category?!?? It jusn't doesn't fit the genre does it!!

I'm going to pop out again this afternoon. Where else are there people? Helllooooooo.....

I'm back.  I have a few mediocre images from today but nothing even nearing the lofty heights of average!  And the ones that I marginally prefer are without people.  Now I've had a look at Bruce Gilden's work - how cool are they!! They really are 'up close and personal', 'in your face' and invasive almost. Now I am intimidated. I could get that close if I asked maybe, but how does he do it?

I feel embarrassed posting my efforts up from today now, but it's important I guess to benchmark my own progress and critically review my efforts!! How depressing...look...

Here's a couple of examples with people .... it ticks one box, but is it edgy and is it the 'decisive moment' ... nah

Here is a person doing something, a little bit of narrative, but there is no facial expression or overt interest in the image.

Here is a bit of person, a tad arty but no mystery or interest again

Then there are the ones with no people in that I kind of like. 

This is a den that some teenagers I would guess have proudly created for themselves.  I like it as it is a little unusual, however it would be strengthened if there was some sign of life.

As part of a documentary project of Cockermouth's recovery, this would have legs.  The foreground provides evidence still of the flood waters and debris.  The housing is empty sheltered housing next door to demoliton work.  But as a thumbnail with 300 other shots - ain't gonna work!!

And then there are these. I like these because they are vaguely humourous but not for this project, this one needs to be viewed large really.

I need to choose one before tomorrow's deadline.

I did try hard today and I must try to focus on the positives. And I am always my own harshest critic. It's week one for goodness sake!!  I tried a few different things, approached some strangers, talked to others, did portraits of a few - so that's progress - I'm quite shy. But hell, this is Cumbria, not Brooklyn - photography skills apart, the opportunities are far from frequent. So I either need to spend many more hours on the street or I change tack!!

Here are other people's submissions for challenge one. Not sure which one to submit yet!!


  1. I think you need to be braver Penny, there are some real edgy places in West Cumbria too. A photographer friend of mine from the West Midlands toured places like Thailand, Croatia and Czech republic recording the recovery from wars and disasters there, but he got some very edgy B&W pictures around Workington and Whitehaven. Agreed, he does most of his work at dusk but the scenes he found and captured could well have been in old eastern Europe. When I first moved to West Cumbria I did far more photography than I do now, but I did have one mini exhibition of "Urban Decay" images, and all were taken within a half mile radius of Morrisons in Whitehaven. political graffiti, glue sniffers, abandoned needles, vandalism, I even captured a drugs deal on film!!... it's all there you just gotta seek it out

  2. Hiya Blackcountrybiker

    You're annoyingly, absolutely right, LOL!! And thank you for the good advice, I do appreciate it. I am working in my comfort zone, within school hours during the week. Even a weekend would glean more. Not sure this type of photography is really 'me'. But I'm hiding behind these excuses really - I know I need to be braver. Well, it's a 52 week project so still time to toughen up a bit!!

    If your and/or your friend's work is online anywhere, I'd love to have a look. Your urban decay stuff sounds fascinating. Whitehaven is such a surprising place in many ways.

    Why don't you dust down your old camera and sign yourself up - it sounds like you may have a flare for it.....come me out here!!

  3. How to turn an issue around in one reply ha ha - but now you're getting into dodgy territory, I'd love to get out at night taking photographs again, and I'm certain that one day I will, but with 2 kids and a wife who works as an RMN (mental health nurse) on nights and my days off, time is precious, as I think you are only too aware of. Sorry to say that my friend Trevors work is not online, he's old school and works exclusively with film. He did supply a lot of images to agencies back in the 90s though. My own work has disappeared over the years through a number of failed relationships and house moves, I guess it's what you'd call a "past life"... I was quite an "angry young man" back then, now I'm much calmer and settled and don't feel the urge to get out there and capture the seedier side of life, but I must admit that I still have a morbid fascination with back streets and alleys. To turn it back on you Penny, have you ever walked past the bus station in Workington on a saturday night? I'm a city boy, brought up on a rough council estate and I'd like to think I'm quite streetwise for an old git, but I can still feel un-safe waiting there for the last bus to Whitehaven!

  4. Hi Penny, it's your blogging stalker again! There's an old cliche that says every picture tells a story right? Well here's the story behind your picture of the lady unloading the back of the lorry. She and her partner are Argentinian. They left their own country a few years ago during the "unrest" in Buenos Aires as they became vulnerable targets and needed to run away (this is all true). Since then they have been working their away around Europe and will soon be heading off to Spain. They are working for a Scottish market trader who comes from gypsy stock. His family travel all over the British Isles working the agricultural shows to earn a surprising fortune. During the winter they set up 3 temporary stores in Edinburgh, Belfast and Whitehaven to see them through the closed season. All three of them are from the street, they are urban survivors, living just outside the comfort zone known as "normal society". The guy who runs the business does everything with cash and allegedly concludes a few dodgy deals. On the day your photograph was taken they had travelled through the night from Southern Ireland to Whitehaven via the ferry to Heysham. On route they had to deal with both customs and visa issues. Once in Whitehaven they worked solidly for 12 hours merchandising a shop before driving up to Glasgow to acquire more stock and catching up with food and sleep in the cab of the van. Where am I going with this thread you may ask Penny, well, would you guess any of that from your photograph? that lady is one of the most streetwise people I have ever met.

    I feel like I'm being a bit critical of your work here, which is rich coming from an ex-photographer, but simply take it as an observation from someone who grew up in the inner city and learnt his skills amongst biker gangs, drug takers, drunks and other such outsiders. Look behind the scenes and you will discover another secret world.

  5. You're not selling it!! If an old, streetwise git like you feels unsafe at the bus station, what's a completely not brave, rural bumpkin who barely leaves the house at night wimp like me gonna feel!?!

    I would look so out of place, it's untrue!! Mary Poppins curbcrawling!! I know women and men have the same opportunities, but being a 'girlie' out at night photographing the troubled frontlands of Whitehaven or Workington isn't gonna go down well at home - it just wouldn't be worth it!

    This is my dilemma - I know what I would need to do to get the shots, but can't quite bring myself to do it!! Maybe that's why there are fewer female photojournalists than male!!

    Hmmm, now where did I put that hard-hat!!!

  6. My final comment for tonight Penny, a few suggestions of where to go for some Bruce Gilden style images. Workington or Whitehaven on a saturday night, Silloth Car Boot sale, Allonby and Silloth when the sun is out, Maryport High street on a weekend, the terraced streets of South Carlisle (Denton Holme, Raffles etc,), West Cumberland Hospital, Penrith market on a saturday afternoon, lurk around the catholic clubs and working mens clubs in Workington, Maryport or Whitehaven... some real charachters use them, the public parks in Whitehaven and Workington (any time of day - there's everything from teenage drinkers to little kids on the swing parks) it's all "street" in my way of thinking.

    Regards Adey.

  7. We've cross posted.

    Just read your post. My goodness. Amazing, is that really true? They seemed very friendly. I took a great picture of him but he was smiling beautifully which doesn't fit the genre of street photography really.

    Please do be critical, I am. Happy to learn. I'm pretty pants at this really - any tips appreciated.

    Behind the scenes and secret world. I think more in-depth photographic projects can, in many ways, be more revealing than street-life stills - particularly if you find out the background is a hundred times more interesting than the picture!! Just shows really. Now maybe I should photograph them again as part of a series of Whitehaven's best loved characters or Whitehaven's underworld!

    Thanks for the discussion Blackcountrybiker - I've really enjoyed it!

  8. Cross posted again!! Thank you for the suggestions Adey, I shall be lurking in the aforementioned venues with camera and dark glasses and raincoat at some point in the next 51 weeks! Especially Silloth car boot - great suggestion!

    Thanks again.


  9. It was a pleasure Penny, I enjoyed the craic too. I don't think you're pants either, I really enjoy some of your images, neither are you such a shy country bumpkin! Anyone who can take their kit off in front of a camera and post the results here for all the world to see is far braver than me cos that would definitely be a step too far for this old fella! BTW, I went out and bought some B&W film today, I just fancy the idea of taking some real film pictures this weekend, who knows, if I find myself with a few spare quid I might even invest in one of them digital thingys :-)

  10. My favourite of the images above is the chair picture. I think it tells/suggests a story and is at the same time ambiguous. It's a perfectly good street image as far as I'm concerned. I also like the one with the flats and the balloon. Street pictures are mostly urban but I don't see any rule that they have to be. I hope you enjoy your trips to the boot fair and other outings but I also think that you've brought out some interesting facets of the place you live in. Crime, drug use and drunkenness are part of our world but not any more valid as a subject, in my opinion, than building a business, running a market stall or doing the weekly shop. I look forward very much to seeing how your street work progressed this year (and mine too!).