Summer’s End

I can hardly believe it’s already Labour Day weekend. To me – and a lot of other people – it is the unofficial end to summer.

And what a summer we’ve had. I can’t remember the last time we had consistently HOT weather for the entire summer. But I’ll take that over our Canadian winters any time.

A couple of weeks ago, I did get to participate in a street photography workshop led by Fujifilm brand ambassador Ian MacDonald. I first came across his work on his blog and realized I had just missed his workshop held around the same time last year. I like Ian’s style of photography and that he’s been an educator as well, so I decided to invest in learning… considering I’ve never even taken a photography class.

It was a two-day workshop, but unfortunately, I could only attend the first day, as it turned out. Still, I learned a lot of valuable tips and met some great people. I didn’t get many good shots that weekend, but I did apply some of the things I learned in the days after.

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Making the best of a rainy day – I actually shot this through the windshield of my car. Probably not the best thing to do. But I was dry and it turned out to be a good shot!
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Ian’s style often focused on getting silhouettes. This was shot just as the same storm as above was letting up and the sun was breaking out of the clouds. The woman is not in an absolutely clear silhouette, but I like the mix of the rain and the car splash.
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This is one of Ian’s favourite places to shoot in Toronto. It’s literally a wall of light in front of the H&M store at the Eaton Centre – perfect for capturing silhouettes.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve learned a few things about how people react to the photos I take and post online.

There seems to be a move towards “abstract” photos like the ones above… where shapes and colours and textures are the focus, instead of what I consider to be “pure” street photography – capturing people’s emotions, gestures and situations. For example, this one by Aaron Berger is still one of my favourites. For me, this sparked an emotional reaction – it’s funny and strange and it makes you wonder what the story is here.

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By Aaron Berger

It could be coincidence on my part that I’m seeing less of this type of work and more of the abstract. It could also be a way of our photographers of getting around the ethical quandary of respecting someone’s privacy if you don’t have to show their faces, but still be able to make a great photo.

I’ve been doing a balance between the two. I certainly like how light and shadows can come together in a street scene, but I also like capturing someone in a particular moment that reveals a little bit about how they are.

An end-of-summer tradition for me is to visit the annual Canadian National Exhibition fair. When I visited last year, I hadn’t yet devoted my energies to street photography, so I was eager to view the fair this year through a different lens, as it were, and practise getting both kinds of shots.

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I always go to this particular game for this shot each year. This time, I decided to have some fun and focus on a couple of ducks that were on their side. Adds even more humour, I think.

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Part of our workshop with Ian was discussing the legalities and ethics of shooting subjects without their knowledge/permission. Since this child was in a public space, I was within my rights to take her photo without her or her parents’ permission. But this was my third try of the evening to get something like this. The previous times, I couldn’t get close enough without being creepy, and I really wanted the shot. So, as this scene played out before me, I decided to ask her mom for permission and she was more than happy to provide it. In this shot, the kid wasn’t yet aware that I was taking her picture. As soon as she did, though, she hammed it up, which was funny, but I like this candid shot much better.
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This was a simple lesson from Ian – find a background and let the actors come into the scene.

I suppose as “art” – like the kind you’d want to hang in your living room – the abstract is more attractive. You can make up your own narrative to that kind of scene. Fewer people would probably choose to hang a photo of strangers at a fair in their living room.

Which style do you prefer – the more abstract look, or the more “traditional” street photography style? Let me know in your comments!

Pedestrian Sundays Bring Out the Colour in Kensington Market

A couple of weeks ago, I finally managed to make it down to this summer’s Pedestrian Sundays at Kensington Market here in Toronto. The Market is a very lively neighbourhood in the downtown area and in the summer, they close the streets to traffic on the last Sunday of every month.

Making it pedestrian-only, Kensington Market becomes that much more alive, drawing locals and tourists alike to take part in music, food stalls, dancing, etc. It’s a street photographer’s dream with all sorts of subject matter.

I personally think they should increase the frequency of making it pedestrian-only or even making it permanent. In all the years I’ve lived in Toronto, I don’t think I’ve ever driven THROUGH Kensington Market – it has always been a neighbourhood for exploring by foot.

It was perfect weather when we went, although the harsh sun made it a little bit challenging to shoot. Still, I came away with some interesting images. Hope you enjoy!

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Hot in the City

We’ve been having some awesome weather so far this summer – unseasonably warm, but I’ll take that over cold weather any time.

That means it’s a lot easier to go out and shoot these days.

We’ve also moved offices for my day job – I am literally across from the CN Tower these days. That means I’ve been able to take my camera with me to work and sneak in some shots in the neighbourhood. The area is teeming with tourists and a lot more people work here too.

I’ve also been able to take images at various times during the day – including earlier in the morning when the light is nice and warm.

Here are few recent images. Hope you enjoy!

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Exploring Suburbia

When my family settled in Canada, we first lived near Toronto’s Chinatown on Spadina Avenue. It made sense as my aunt, uncle and cousins lived just down the street from us, so we had a bit of a social network to support our first few years in a new country.

Eventually, we moved out to Scarborough, Toronto’s eastern suburb, where I spent my formative years. There wasn’t much going on in Scarborough in those days, so I made the hour-long trek downtown almost every Saturday with friends, checking out record shops, book stores and the like. I guess I knew at an early age, if you didn’t have a car in the suburbs, your social life was limited.

So it wasn’t a surprise that I’ve spent most of my adult life living downtown, even though my family chose to remain in the suburbs. As a downtowner, I, too, would regard the suburbs as places to mostly avoid.

Fast forward to the present and my partner and I have settled onto a quiet street not too far from my childhood home. You still can’t do much without a car in Scarborough, but this little borough sure has changed. There are now dozens of vibrant neighbourhoods, scattered throughout with shops, businesses and restaurants that reflect the diversity that is Toronto these days. Our neighbourhood now is almost the same as it was when I was a kid, but with newer storefronts and as of last summer – a STARBUCKS!

For the past few weeks, I’ve made exploring local neighbourhoods into a project – documenting the streets through photography. It’s a bit harder to get candid shots of people when neighbourhoods aren’t as busy. But it was a challenge that I accepted, stretching my own creative boundaries to make interesting images.

This series doesn’t wholly represent Scarborough – I wanted to highlight some of the more “uninteresting” places to see what I could find. I had fun focusing on the suburbs as a theme. I hope you enjoy these images. You can also view the entire series on LensCulture.

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“At War With The Obvious” – Discovering William Eggleston

Besides being able to take a ton of street photos while in New York, I also came away with a huge learning from our trip earlier this month.

The last point of interest for us was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We didn’t plan to see anything specific there, but just wanted to wander around the largest art museum in the U.S.

After exploring on our own for a few hours, we were on our way out when I came across a photography exhibit of works by American photographer William Eggleston. I had never heard of him before, but it was the only photography exhibit we came across in the museum, so I told my family I would just take a quick peek.

What I saw took my breath away. In fact, my husband said afterwards that he never saw me so excited in a museum before. The exhibit consisted of 75 of his photographs, taken from a series called “Los Alamos,” made between 1965 and 1974. You can view all the works via the museum’s website, but I picked a couple below that made a huge impression on me.

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Oklahoma – ca. 1971–74, by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

This digital image hardly does this photo justice. The original is a dye-transfer print, a process that was used at the time almost exclusively in advertising. It was very expensive, but the results were striking – vibrant, saturated colours that jump out at you. In person, this photo looked like a painting to me.

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Memphis – ca. 1965 – 68, by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

This was another one that I loved because of its simplicity and how it framed a subject we might not think twice about.

I had never come across Eggleston’s name in all the research I’ve done on street photography until now. Granted, his work may not be classified as street photography today, but there certainly are elements of it. Eggleston’s subjects sometimes included people in candid situations, but more often than not, he photographed the ordinary in his life – store signs, gas stations, cars, Coke bottles… you get the idea.

It was pure luck that this was actually a feature exhibit at the Met and I came across it. Doing more research on him, I found out he is quite famous and an influential figure in photographic art.

His goal was to find beauty in the mundane, which may be the opposite of the street photographer’s goal of looking for the “decisive moment” when making an image.

So why am I writing about him? I think it’s because he was able to find beauty in the ordinary that inspires me so. In street photography, we train ourselves to slow down and take in a scene and look for details that interest us. This was Eggleston’s approach too and he was able to make us take a second look at things we take for granted.

There are several published books of his work, but they are not cheap. The most common one for sale is called “Portraits,” and it was available at the museum for 50 bucks. I flipped through it at the time, but it didn’t include a lot of the works from the Los Alamos series. The published collection of Los Alamos comes in a three-volume set and costs $400 CDN.

I may still order it, though. I’ve truly never seen such amazing work since Vivian Maier (that’s a subject for a future post).  I don’t know if it was coincidence, but I had been editing my photos in black and white prior to my trip to New York. When I reviewed the images I took there, I decided that to really do them justice, they would have to be processed in colour.

I still go back and forth between the two. I choose black and white when I feel the colour in the photo is either distracting or adds nothing to the story I’m trying to tell. For the majority of the New York images, colour was definitely part of the story and that’s why I processed them in colour. People tend to choose one or the other – I’m still uncertain on which way I will go. I may still continue to choose both for individual images or series.

But back to Eggleston… Part of the Met exhibition included some of his famous quotes. My favourite one was, “I am at war with the obvious.” This is such a good lesson for making art: to really consider a new and unique way of expressing yourself and stand apart from the pack.

Good photographers do this all the time. I always try to be aware of what would be the typical “tourist shot” of a landmark, and stop to consider, “How do I make my image different?” The asnwer can often be found by simply moving away from where all the tourists are and capturing your subject from a different perspective or angle. Eggleston takes it to a whole other level by finding a way to make everyday, ordinary subjects look amazing through his use of colour and composition.

As street photographers, we are often drawn to busy, urban settings where it’s easier to find interest subjects doing interesting things. I live in the suburbs of Toronto where it’s not exactly a happening place. Before I took up street photography, I did try to make images of my neighbourhood with mixed results. I hope with Eggleston’s words fresh in my mind, I will venture out again in my own backyard and see what beauty I can find.

If you haven’t checked out Eggleston before, I highly recommend it.

 

 

Street Images from New York – Part 3

Even though my family is used to me stopping every now and then to take photos whenever we are out, we decided to split up for a few hours on our final day in Manhattan. They did a tour of Radio City Music Hall, while I decided to walk from Union Square up to Times Square to meet them after their tour.

I was able to walk along the east-west streets, while slowly moving north block by block, mostly along Broadway. I was determined to stay away from where tourists flocked to, because I really wanted to capture how New Yorkers live their everyday lives.

I was very happy with the images I brought back with me. If New York hotels weren’t so terribly expensive, I’d like to visit more often. Now that my husband has seen the city for himself – and he quite enjoyed our trip – I think I can convince him for another short trip soon, perhaps closer to the fall or winter.

Until then, here are some images from our final day. Enjoy!

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I think this is my favourite image from our trip. I had spotted the bright pink hat from several yards away and started framing my shot, so I was ready to take it when I was close enough. There’s always an element of luck in street photography, and this time, it was the truck with the pink hippo that was just making the corner into the frame. On his own, the man in the hat would have been a good image, but I think the hippo really ties it together.

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Street Images from New York – Part 2

One of the more challenging things for a street photographer to do is to shoot through the viewfinder, since it’s a dead giveaway you’re taking someone’s picture.

I suspected that wouldn’t be too much of an issue in New York because 1) it’s so crowded with people that hardly anyone notices you and 2) I would look just like any other tourist taking snapshots.

While shooting from the hip often works, it’s almost always better to frame up your shots intentionally for better compositions.

On our second day, we visited Brooklyn and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan and then took the Staten Island Ferry to check out the Statue of Liberty. Here are some images from that day.

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