Street photography and all its joys and pains

Grammarly has changed my life.

OK, that’s hyperbole, but Grammarly has given me relief in spades. It’s an extension you add to your browser, which checks for typos and grammar mistakes as you type. No matter where you’re typing, Facebook, Twitter, comment responses on Disqus, wherever you’re typing, it puts a red line underneath a typo or grammar mistake.

I’ve been surprised at how well it offers corrections, too. It is eerily correct in its offerings even when I’m writing cultural idioms or abbreviations. For example, I typed ASAIK and it knew I meant AFAIK (As Far As I Know). The corrections far outstrip even MS Word.

You can ignore any corrections you don’t want or don’t agree with. A little red circle at the bottom keeps track of how many words need fixing, and if you want, you can click it to see how many have already been corrected. I dare not look.

Grammarly is free, though that doesn’t stop its creators from frequently reminding you that you’re “missing out” on features and offers deals on upgrades. But these reminders are not intrusive. They’re contained in a correction, once in a while.

Hey, I don’t need an upgrade, I just need my typos corrected. They are getting so bad. I wrote a three-word response on Facebook this morning and mistyped two of the words. You see what I mean about how valuable this extension is.

I’ve been interested in street photography of late. I love photography. I noticed a book called The Birth of Graffiti by Jon Naar at the Second Time Around store a while back and bought it. He took his pics of graffiti in NYC in the 1970’s, a low point for the city and its denizens.

Naar is an accomplished portrait photographer, photographer of art and architecture and more. In his 90’s now, he is still active. Wikipedia says Naar has had a multifaceted career as an intelligence officer in World War II; a globe-trotting executive during the postwar years; and an environmentalist, with nine published books to date. Major publications like The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Fortune, Elle, and Schöner Wohnen have featured Naar. The NY Times Magasine’s very first use of color for an interior was commissioned by them of Naar.

I love-hate graffiti, it is a blight but it’s also art. Art blight. Blighted art. I dunno. Overall I’m just fascinated by it. I also like gritty city pictures, tattered handbills, signs, doorways, subways…Naar’s photos were all stupendous and so evocative. Yes, he takes shots of just graffiti, but he took many of his shots with people in them. Kids playing basketball against a backdrop of a heavily graffitied wall…a mom and toddler walking by a profane graffiti mural…and so on.

I didn’t know it at the time but his style of photo is called “Street Photography.” It is defined:

Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

I’ve always loved candid photography, especially of kids. I am grateful I’ve often had the chance to legitimately take photos of kids, either through being a journalist and covering school things and sports or as a school employee asked to chronicle events on campus for the yearbook or the official Facebook page. Kids are fun to take pics of because they’re unpredictable, emotive, and a challenge to get in the frame. They’re also cute!

Kids enjoy having their picture taken, unlike adults. Adults are suspicious, guarded, and can deck you if they get mad that you’re in their face. Hence the relief in being around kids with my camera.
But I also enjoy gritty cityscapes. Or even in my rural town, gritty, industrial things. Like these pics:

Many of my photos were of the same theme with the same interest in same topics as Naar’s. Like these of his:

If I’d like to concentrate on street photography, as good as it is to be on the same track as someone like Naar in terms of interest in these kinds of scenes, it’s the execution that matters. I need to improve my composition, framing, and bravery in getting close to the moment. In Naar’s scene of the police car, what makes it good is that the cop is in the car. When you look closely, you see his arm in the window. This brings life to the scene. The handbills, not only colorful and framed well, but his decision to take it with the bold clenched fist above them gives the picture a foreign feel, and vaguely threatening. The new & used tires, the inclusion of the graffiti and the loneliness of both displays of the tires makes one ask, which are new and which are used? They all look tattered.

Where I fail is getting people in the picture. Getting people in the picture is key. People energize the photo. Their activity mystifies, perplexes, shocks, or comforts. It’s the people who bring emotion to it, mystery, and story.

So, then there are the stupendous pics of Naar’s like this one, my favorite. Click to enlarge. It’s absolutely tremendous-

It’s subway and graffiti. OK, so the grit is there. The lighting is great, the warm glow of the interior of the car contrasted with the steel of the exterior. The light, joy, and movement of the people through the window to the left and the right. The yellow strip which mirrors the rush and zoom of the car itself when it arrives and departs.

And then…there is one sole, still woman. One part of the entire photo where nothing is moving. There is no joy. Her face is stoic, devoid of the same lightheartedness the rest of the people display. The grittiness of her surroundings is contrasted with her obvious wealth. Her perfectly coiffed matronly hairdo. Her poised, ladylike feet in expensive shoes. Her fur around the collar.

Since every photo should tell a story – or begin one, we ask, why, if she is so obviously of means, does she take the subway?

Most incongruously of all, is her butler and the hatbox. Pink, no less.

It’s an amazing photo.

There are many street photographers out there. This web page explains 10 principles of street photography and then lists many good street photographers.

Candid photography is interesting and challenging, just the way I like it. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile the link above has a wonderfully long list of good photographers and pictures to be inspired by!