Taking the streets of Los Angeles w/ Keith Skelton

I was looking forward to working with Keith Skelton for quite some time in the streets of Los Angeles.  Los Angeles is a big city with a lot of things happening.  Keith chose a day with Chinese parade in the afternoon.  In the evening, the plan was to go to Hollywood.

Street photography is more than just taking pictures of a place and its peoples.  It is is about capturing the right moment along with the usual parameters that goes on to getting the right picture.  What distinguishes between the good from the ordinary is the “eye”.  What would look nice in a picture – a two dimensional frame.  An ongoing debate on this topic – is that what the eye saw? I will share my view in another post.

The composition brings the feel and form that connects the viewer to the point the photographer has captured.  Sometimes, this feeling is intuitive — coming in a blink.  But, as the noted cognitive scientist Herb Simon and popular writer Malcolm Gladwell both reckon — such intuitive decision making ability comes to the trained eye in this case and not to the novice.  It comes with practice.  Spending few hours watching Keith Skelton go about doing his stuff gave me the opportunity to see this clearly.

Street photography is also about personality.  So much about being in contact with people.  And it is not so much being chatty and friendly.  It is about making others comfortable, so people keep doing their own business.  Shop owners keep looking for customers, and customers keep on with their transaction.  The photographer is just a silent non intrusive entity who keeps watching.  And when a prey-like subject appears or about to as in the case on the umbrella/hat store in Chinatown, he shoots it.  Keith says – do not stalk.  Well, I am not sure that I agree with that.  If I am unobstrusive, undisclosed, and following all the laws, whats wrong.  I observed how Keith handled the situations.  In many ways, he was up there, when I was a bit slow, like the girls who dressed up like divas.  Later, he was there with the tableau before others.  He, for once, appeared like that obnoxious photographer who jumps on everything unless pushed back.  But I got – that is what it takes.  If I did not see him working like that I would have considered my time wasted.  The other important learning was the camera to use.  He was using the Nikon D300 which by no means is a slealth street camera.  He also had a compact.  During the event, when there were a million people with cameras, there was no issue in people being photographed.  He used the D300 and it was slinging loud and clear.  He did the same when he was in Hollywood later in the evening  — when there were crowds and the place was touristy, he had the big camera.  But then, where taking pictures can land someone in trouble, he was using the compact.  This is an art that needs to be mastered.  Just like anything else, practice is the key to mastery.

Once back from Hollywood at dark, I was dropped by a guy named Danny at the Westin.  The Motion Pictures Reel awards were going on.  I had a drink and walked out to the LA live where after a couple of strides, I ended up in Rock and Fish.  Not so much of picture taking.  It was a moment of reflection — what the day was, what were the moments of lost opportunity.

The day had began with Keith going through a book by Henri Cartier-Bresson in Amtrak station of LA.  To perform and capture the “decisive moment”, there is much work and training of mind is required off-camera.  This was what I was wondering.   Street photography requires mastery of composition and speed to an extent that it comes second nature.  With that thought, I was slowly setting my mind to Yosemite.  In a few hours, I was about to take the bus with moments captured from my few hours spent in LA.  Thanks Keith.  Thanks to all you who were such a great company.

Penn Quarter on a Snowy Day

I write this amidst a snowstorm that is covering DC area with snow that it has not witnessed before.  This year has been interesting with how much snow we have seen.  It has been a delight – with lots of photo opportunities.

Last Saturday, Georgetown vs Duke basketball game did not deter the lovers.  Long queues and ticket sales colored the white snow and the entourage of police cars that covered the area for our President showed up for a good part of the game.

Penn Quarter and Chinatown is building its own character… distinct from the power circles that dominate most part of NW.  There is color, restaurants, moods, and music …albeit within a few blocks.  On one side there is the Portrait gallery, the Spy museum, bunch of hotels, and there are small hoops which sell bus tickets for New York, restaurants, and most importantly people of all kinds.

Another interesting thing I notice is the sale of this paper called “street sense”.  Last Saturday there were quite a few hot young girls … on another day more seasoned street paper seller.

I was able to strike a conversation with one pretty color who seem to be quite persistent that I buy one paper from her.  I usually dont do that in exchange for a picture.  So I explained and walked away… although I was kinda torn to disappoint a pretty girl.  On another occasion, this African American seller did not want to be photographed but then after a few ups and down in the street corner made him change his mind.  “Come over you dont need to buy a paper.  Just take my picture.”  We then struck a conversation and he showed how he is trying to make a business by coming up with catchy slogans – mostly on Obama.  “Interesting,” I said and moved on.

These are few instances which among others that make my life as a street photographer quite fulfilling.  It takes a bit of moving out of comfort zone to talk to a stranger and ask a picture.  Many times like the paper seller, it takes a bit of familiarity – even if it s walking around him a few times – to break that ice.  But I have to admit, every time the ice is broken, and I get across another human being in the planet — connect with him, get to know a little bit about his world — I find myself fulfilled.  It is this joy of constantly exploring the human condition around me and documenting in pictures that make my life enriching.

Snow and Skating

kid hugs the poleJust as nature changes its colors with seasons, the mood in the scultpure garden changes as well.  It is skating time.

The place is not as big as the one in Central Park in New York where I spent the last couple of holidays — but the excitement in people is no less.

With Beatles played full blast — nice mood — it is worth checking out.

Fascination with Street Photography

I never get tired of street photography.  If I had to summarize and was asked to pick just one genre (if there is such a thing), that intrigues me the most — I would pick street photography.  I have always awed and appreciated the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, and Gary Winogrand.  The lovely moments they captured for proverbial eternity — boxes up culture, flavor, and rides of emotion and feelings.  Just like a good poem keep talking to me at different levels as I grow and mature, their photos speak to me in a similar  way.  Another dimension that comes to light — more so because of the specific medium of photography –more precisely, street photography.  And that is – it is damn hard!  HCB has said that luck plays a big part. While I agree that being in Washington, DC is different for this kind of work is not same as being in NYC or Paris or London or some city in Asia.   But the fact is the photographer matters.  More than the camera he is carrying — albeit all the ravings and musings on using a Leica rangefinder (I use one these days too).  But again it is not so much about the camera but the eye and “sting” of the photographer.  Else, how come HCB has gone around the world taking pictures.  I strive to mater the art of capturing the “decisive moment”.  I say this again it is hard.  But it is rewarding.  I have just started to scratch the surface and I realize how great the opportunities for improvement are.  As if there is a whole ocean to cross and I have just started wading the waters — not even swimming.  Looking at the pictures of greats are by itself – humbling.  Every time I start loitering in a street corner, I wonder how much it would take to create a body of work – that speaks of my style and tells a narrative.  I wonder.  My journey has just begun.  Here are my first baby steps.

Fall is almost over

Fall is quite beautiful in this area.  For a photographer it is a treat.  This year, however, the weather was not the very best.  Cloudy skies, rains, especially in the weekends made picture taking a bit difficult.  I wish we had more sunny days.  Here are some of the snaps from in and around DC. River road in Maryland along the Potomac is a great place. (Stay away from not getting shot by the rabbit and squirrel hunters).  Just when I wrapped up a shot, there was deer that jumped into my car.  I wish I had my camera in my hands and not the steering wheel. Anyways, as thanksgiving draws near, fall is almost over, here are few to look back on until next year.