Growing up I always wished I had the power to pause time or become invisible. In a way I think thats why street photography appeals to me so much. We pause time with 1000th of a second and no-one will even notice.
Vivian Maier’s Story is one of a truely invisible street photographer. Her work went undiscovered for years. A box of her undeveloped negatives were bought in an auction and slowly made their way onto the internet with help from the curious buyer.
Her work is clearly influenced by the prominent street photographers of the time, but she applied what she learnt and quickly developed her own style. She worked as nanny for various families which lead her to photographing on the street in her free time or whilst running errands with the children in her care.
She never told anyone about her passion. Her portaits of people on the street are other-worldy, emotions caught hanging in time.
Vivian Maier is one of my favourite photographers, not just because there is an amazing story behind her work but because she took photographs for herself, for her own enjoyment.
You might want to be invisible to get closer and take better photographs, to be a fly on the wall and observe people naturally without the presence of a camera influencing their emotions or actions.
The fear of taking photographs on the street comes from this irrational thought that we are going to upset someone and be attacked. This doesn’t happen very often at all, in fact in all my time as a street photographer I’ve only ever had a few confused faces. Of course it depends on the country you live in and the culture you may be photographing.
When I started working as a wedding photographer, I was terrified of asking to take pictures of the guests. I kept thinking to myself “I’m being so annoying, I’ll just let them enjoy the day”. Until I was showing one of my first wedding clients their photographs, and they asked me why there wasn’t more pictures of their friends that had came over from Scotland especially for the occasion. It made me realise I was being paid to do this, and it’s my job to take photographs of everyone and everything.
Apply that same theory to your street photography. Rather than aimlessly taking photographs of everything you see, but avoiding taking the great photographs you want, for fear of upsetting someone or being noticed. Come up with a plan. A project perhaps. Tell yourself, “I’m going to photograph all the people I see smoking today.” (not a great example) Now you have a goal, It will force you to make those images work, approach everyone who is smoking and take a photo.
Having a goal will help you get over the fear of getting started.
Pretend you don’t know how to use your camera I learnt this one from watching a video about Garry Winogrand. Everytime he takes a photograph on the street, he looks down at the camera, fiddles with the lens and looks at the camera as if it was broken. People will just think you don’t know what your doing and ignore you.
Don’t Make Eye Contact Take the picture and keep moving. Look past the person or above them. Make it look like you’re photographing something else or someone else.
Don’t draw attention to yourself, blend in! Wear dark colours, simple clothes that don’t draw attention. If you’re photographing in a community where there is a certain cultural attire, maybe you can wear something similar to blend in.
Say thank you If you do get noticed, just say “Thank you” and move on. You don’t have to get into conversation with the person if you don’t want to.
The important thing to remember in all of this, is to keep your goal in mind. Why are you a street photographer? If street photography is your passion, you will eventually find your own ways for dealing with fear and finding motivation to continue your projects! These are just some starting tips, that in my experience have been very helpful.