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November 12, 2011 / Aware of the Void

Embrace the Absurd

No Stranger Danger

I had read about street portraits, there are people in the world that revel in this sort of thing. You can see their work on Tumbler, WordPress and Flickr demonstrating the talents that they have at spotting a shot and grabbing it. They Blog and tweet about it, how liberating it is, how they have never had a bad experience. The people they approach are always nice and always delight in having an impromptu portrait taken. I never believed these photographers. For me the notion is absurd, why would you want pictures of strangers, why would a stranger let you take their picture?

I like people, I love talking to strangers and generally I am the one in a crowd that will start a conversation with someone that is not expecting it, but taking a picture is completely different, so began a new goal in life, embrace the absurd. I headed out with my film camera with the notion that I could just walk up to a stranger and tell them that I wanted to take their photo. This for me proved to be difficult and I spent a bit of time wandering the streets of Dublin looking for someone to photograph.

Dublin is a good sized city and on a Saturday afternoon there are plenty of people knocking about but I found it very hard to find a photo. I took couple of shots of bands busking on the streets to build my confidence, singers want to be photographed, they love the attention. Soon I started to notice people in the crowds that to me looked interesting, a Father with his Daughter on his shoulders, two girls with a mountain of shopping, a man collecting for charity. I spotted a man that was standing enjoying a fire eaters antics and I decided that he should be immortalised.

I walked up to him and asked could I take his picture, he told me to go ahead and then posed like it was his job. He did not ask why I wanted it, who I was or what I was planning on doing with his image, he just walked off. Picture taken and since I had not been killed I repeated the exercise until my roll of film was spent.

I still don’t know why I want pictures of strangers, I still think it is absurd, but I now know why some people enjoy this so much.

Camera:Nikon F401x
Film: Kodak TRI-X 400
Lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D
Dev: HC110 (B) 4.5min 20c


Leave a Comment
  1. Lo / Nov 12 2011 10:30 am

    Ah but would you hang his photo on your wall. Interesting idea and exploration of why we take photos.

    • awareofthevoid / Nov 13 2011 10:18 am

      No, I don’t think I would hang it on my wall. It has been posted to flickr and if I ever meet the guy again I would get his details and email a copy of it to him.

  2. Matt Korinek / Nov 13 2011 11:34 am

    Great post! I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of street photography, but I’ve never had the balls to try it! I’m just scared of what people might say! Good to know that it might actually be easier than it seems. Maybe I’ll have to give it a go for my Thanks for coming by the blog for a visit! Hopefully you enter a contest when I get that up and running!

    • Brendan Comey / Nov 13 2011 12:21 pm

      Thanks Matt. It gets pretty addictive once you find your feet with it. I am nearly certain this was shot with my 50mm 1.8 so it would be in good company on your blog.

  3. Miss Pink / Nov 13 2011 6:15 pm

    I take photos of strangers all the time. Often it’s at big festivals like Wave Gotik Treffen, where most people appreciate that me wanting their photo is a compliment (and I’m the same way; when I spend 3 hours getting ready, please, immortalize me all you want!). I have no problem with asking anyone for a photo, but some people have been weirded out by it. Not rude or harsh, just like, “Really? Um, okaaaaay…”

    I love street photography, and capturing those random people at random moments in time. Great post, and you take excellent photos!

    • Aware of the Void / Nov 14 2011 7:11 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, I had taken a few candid street shots but I was never very impressed by them. I found that getting in close and trying to engage with the person to be more rewarding both from a photography point of view for the social interaction. There is a great busking/street performance scene here in Dublin so bands and jugglers become an easy target.

      This musician posed and chatted for ten minutes.

      Brendan McGlynn-Musician

  4. Charlotte Lehman / Nov 21 2011 1:53 am

    I really like this post, particularly because I have been working up the courage to start photographing people like this–street photography–for quite some time. It’s nice to hear success stories with it as it really is quite daunting and scary at first! I look forward to trying. And it certainly paid off–the photo you posted is excellent!

    • Aware of the Void / Nov 21 2011 8:46 am

      Go for it Charlotte, it is a hell of a lot of fun and the people can be very interesting. You get great stories from people. Sometimes people just like to have a little chat. I was never very happy with the portraits that I took and I found that friends and family were a little unwilling to sit and let me practice, this way I can shoot through a whole roll in a couple of hours and I think because they are unlikely to ever see the results my subjects remain happy to have the picture taken.

  5. DougPete / Nov 21 2011 7:40 pm

    I started taking walks with my digital camera around my neck more than two years ago. My intent was to photograph nature in a nearby park. While photographing the ducks, leaves, and flowers, I would occasionally photograph people doing interesting things. Sometimes I would candidly photograph them but, as time has passed, I’ve become more courageous about walking up to people and asking if I may photograph them. Rarely do they reject my request and many are flattered that I think they are worthy of me recording what they are doing or how they look.

    I find it best to start talking with them first (so they realize I’m not an ax murderer) before I ask if I can photograph them. I usually offer to email them copies and they are often thrilled about that since they can use them on their Facebook pages or send them to distant friends.

    I’m still photographing nature in the same small park, and I’ve amassed about 400 images of people. It’s quite an assortment, the full range of human activity from serious to ridiculous to bizarre. My images cannot rival yours. I have a point-and-shoot. So my goal has been to simply record what is happening, more of a historical record than artistic statement. I have plans to display them online and have already registered a domain name, but since this is not going to generate any revenue for me, I tend to avoid all of the labor it will take to accomplish that. I plan to work on it in the dead of winter when going out to photograph things is painful here in Michigan, USA.

  6. Derek / Dec 5 2011 4:39 am

    I’ve been doing street photography (candid) for a couple years now. I find this post very interesting and well written.

    You’re taking about “street portraits”, which you’re refer to as going up to a stranger and ask if you can take a photo of them. As you said “They Blog and tweet about it, how liberating it is, how they have never had a bad experience. ” I will have to agree with you,that’s totally B.S. They must have more bad experiences than good ones.

    When I photograph people on the street. Generally I like to capture people doing interesting things in candid. I them to be themselves. Sometimes they spotted me, sometimes not. Usually the better photos are when they are unaware of my presence. However, there are times that I will “ask for permission” or “engage in a conversation” with my subjects. Here are the likely scenarios that I will ask for permissions.

    There are times people will stop me and ask me what I am taking photos of, Resulting in a conversations and leads to photographing them. The other scenarios will be because it will be a little too obvious, and I might as well try and ask for permission instead of creating ill feelings.

    The most frequent questions or comment i got:
    Why are you doing this?
    Will it be on facebook?
    Are you going to sell this and make money off me?
    Or last but not least, they think that I am crazy and decide to go crazy on me.

    It is VERY IMPORTANT to know why you are doing street photography.
    A lot of times you need to explain that to people, so they don’t think you’re a pervert.

    I think the success rate of street portraits depends on lots of factors. It depends on the photographer himself, his people skills, his looks (if you look like a weirdo you are most likely to get pepper sprayed), geographic location, and your subject’s mood and mentality.

    Personally, I “screen” my subjects. If I see someone that looks like he’s going to break my neck even though he’s doing something Very interesting, I think twice or more before i ask them, still think twice even if i decided to do it candidly.

    There are times I know that I am going to get away with it even though it’s completely awkward (e.g. dad is taking photos of his son and dog playing in water, i walk right next to dad and take photos of him at the same time).

    That seem logical to me.

    Why Do I want photographs of strangers in general?
    I like to capture ordinary people doing interesting things or showing interesting emotions, and hopefully in interesting lights, The street is ever changing. Besides, i don’t have any models anyways. Sometimes there are stories behind a photograph (which is great), and sometimes the photograph is the story itself. STORY and Emotion, is what I am looking for.

    One of my favorite street photography moment:
    I was walking downtown one day with my camera. A homeless person came over and try to get change from me. I really don’t have any money to spare, so i told him I could offer him a cigarette instead. Then he proceed to ask me why do I walk around with a camera. I gave him my standard answer, and said to him ” as a matter of fact, if you don’t mind, I would love to take a photo of you as well”. He agreed to that, and ask me what would I like him to do/pose. My reply was “I don’t know, Smile? “He said ” Shxt, smile, I haven’t smile since i was this tall next to my dad. I said ” Well I really just want you to be yourself, on the count of 3″ 1…2… He smiled for me, for the first time, in years.

    Alright, Sorry for the rambling, but that’s my 2 cents.

    • themofman / Dec 19 2011 7:23 pm

      Derek just about said it all.

      Every street shooter certainly shares some similar goals in this art. That’s because of the genre itself. For the most part; nevertheless, each each of us develops at some point (either immediately or after a while of experimenting/practicing) individual motives as to why we continue shooting.

      For me, its 1) a way to discover a community–especially the city in which I live, 2) a way to record history that I think impacts me and others in some important way–I truly hope that I can use it to help others somehow, and 3) it’s a visual art.

  7. Photobooth Journal / Dec 8 2011 9:43 am

    Brilliant. I want to see more, and more and more!

  8. christian harkness / Dec 12 2011 12:32 am

    Wired magazine put out this youtube video about Clay Enos doing and talking about street photography a couple of years ago. I think it is pretty good, and used it in one of my photo classes, we watched it and then went outside and ‘did it.’ ‘Twas interesting.

    Thanks for the post and great discussion.



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