(The tongue in cheek title for this post comes from some banter – about the role of chance in photography – with my friend David Barrett on Twitter @streetfotouk. Thanks Dave.)
I recently attended an engaging talk by renowned travel photographer and writer Michael Freeman. He voiced the perennial concern of travel photographers:
When global tourism grants camera toting tourists access to all conceivable locations, how do you come up with novel images?
This is a recurring theme in my conversations with photographer friends. Specifically, the issue is one of avoiding taking the obvious ‘tourist’ shots.
There is nothing wrong with obvious shots of course. Every photographer I know takes such photographs (as personal records or for sharing with family members). They just don’t make for very interesting photographs. They’re just too easy, obvious and familiar to be interesting.
So the challenge, for photographers wanting to express themselves, is how to get beyond ‘I was here and saw this’ record shots.
Pro photographers are constrained by the expectations of publishers. They’re expected to photograph in something approximating the National Geographic style (alluring shots with saturated colours). After all, they’re in the business of stoking demand for the services of the travel companies on whose advertising spend they depend.
Amateurs have no such constraints. An unattractive reality needn’t be expunged from our photography. Consequently, we amateurs have many more potential subjects and decisions to make about how we portray places.
For me, interesting photographs means greater subjectivity. Photographs that are interpretations of, statements about and/or equivalent to the actual experience of a place are almost always more interesting. It’s about photographing beyond ‘this is what I saw’ record shots to ‘this is how it made me think and feel’ photographic statements.
This type of photography isn’t the result of pre-trip research, the so-called golden hours of day, staging images, or clichéd viewpoints. The process is more fluid and subject to chance. Failure is much more frequent than success. It requires long hours on the street, persistence and comfortable shoes for the many miles walked. You often aren’t sure what you’ve shot exactly (until you see the result on screen).
The images below, all taken in Delhi, act as examples. Delhi is a wonderful city with many beautiful sights. However, it is also grimy, dirty, chaotic, noisy, traffic jammed, overcrowded, and blighted by poverty for too many of its inhabitants.