So I am part of a small photo group here at work – shocking I know. Last year a few people here wanted to get together to talk shop and eventually we all decided to make the talks a regular ‘thing’ and the photo group was born. Paul, my co-worker here in the studio, and I have been looking for new inspirations and making this group seemed to fit the bill. We have a great group of people and they are all very talented and excited about creating memorable images.
When we get together it isn’t just to talk about photography in general but to also challenge each other. To keep things interesting each of us brought a few photo challenges to the table on little pieces of paper. Each week someone reaches into the lens bag and pulls out the a challenge for us all to undertake.
Typically what happens after the challenge is read is that we discuss the parameters of the challenge, establish ground rules based on what the challenge is and then off we go, see ya in 2 weeks. So when we get together we review how each person accomplished the challenge put forth. One by one we examine, critique, and talk about the process of how each image was created. I love seeing how each person interprets the challenge. We have seven people in the group and each person comes up with something completely different.
With the background about the group and its purpose out of the way it is time to dive into talking about what our latest challenge is for the group. Two weeks ago the following challenge was pulled from the bag:
“String you camera around your neck and take shots without looking. Bring in the more interesting photo(s)”
After some discussion we came up with the following rules to match that challenge:
- You didn’t have to have the camera around your neck but you couldn’t look through the viewfinder at any point to set up, frame, check exposure, check focus, etc.
- You couldn’t review your photos on the camera’s screen after taking the image (no chimping)
- You can only take up to 36 images
- You don’t have to shoot all the images in one spot
- You can’t see any of the images until it is time to import
- Bring one image to the table at the next meeting
Sounds simple enough. Basically most of this challenge is to treat the shooting as if we are working with film cameras. The other part of this challenge is to force people out of their comfort zone of setting up and composing the shot through the lens. The challenge is to build confidence in your ability to use the camera as an extension of yourself and know you can get ‘the shot’ even if you can’t see it forst in the camera. This skill comes in handy when you can’t get your body in the right position to get the image you are after. Sometimes laying on the ground isn’t possible or reaching over a large crowd of people is necessary and knowing how to hold the camera to fill the lens comes in handy. Admittedly Paul and I had a slight advantage over this as we do this on a semi-regular basis with the events we shoot at work. However, we are able to review and re-shoot at work, with this challenge that is taken off the table.
This challenge is very similar to the stylings of Mark Cohen. Mark would literally shoot from the hip and not bring the camera to his eye. The following excerpts are from an article on Mark found here.
“If you have your camera up to your eye, you can’t keep track of what’s going on,” says photographer Mark Cohen. “By holding my camera down here” – he gestures to his waist – “I can suddenly take pictures.” Cohen has a peculiar style of shooting: he does it secretly, and always at hip level.
For years, Cohen’s approach was to shoot three rolls of film over a two-hour walk, develop the rolls directly, have dinner, then go back to the darkroom, develop eight to nine prints directly from the negatives, and cast aside the rest. Cohen did this several times a week for decades.
I admire and gain inspiration from the masters such as Mark, Henri Cartier-Bresson and my favorite photographer, André Kertész. And while I place my interest in street photography at the same level as the nudes that I shoot, I don’t think I am allowing myself to dive into the street photography pool enough – I have only been dipping my toes in. Years ago street photography was my main thing and I have moved away from that some. This photo challenge reminded me what is so great about walking around a city and capturing the mod, the action, the life of society. This might have been the catalyst I needed to get me in gear.
While I was ready to jump into this challenge with both feet, I don’t think all of my fellow group members were as excited. I saw it as a return to when I was still discovering things about photography and wild experiments – shooting from the hip – and I’m not sure everyone else felt the same. Another reason this is a good challenge is because sometimes we get so caught up in the technical aspects or are looking for specific shots that we remove ourselves from the spontaneity of the world around us. Walking around with a camera gives one a sense of purpose and goal “I must find the right shot” and so we walk with eagle sights looking for “it” and are missing everything going on around us that might seem average or mundane. I’m not trying to take away from what Bresson called ‘the decisive moment’, that is important even in street photography, but sometimes we just need to walk around not looking through the viewfinder in our head or on our camera. Maybe my fellow group members saw the elements of the challege as handicaps versus something more freeing, then again, I could be wrong.
My approach to this challenge was to do just as the piece of paper said, I hung the camera around my neck and off I went. Instead of doing all the shots in one day I spread it out and did half on one day and half a couple weeks later. After shooting the first half I figured if I didn’t get a chance to shoot again I will be able to pull something – the second half would be my ‘insurance’ photos. Fortunately yesterday was a less hectic day at work and it was snowing so I seized the opportunity, wrapped the camera up in a grocery bag to protect it and off I went snapping the last 18 photos needed for my collection of 36. Once I finished I went back to my computer and was able to finally download and see all the images and I was nervous. After going through and doing some edits I was able to narrow the 36 down to 8,not a bad ratio of keepers if you ask me. As it turns out I liked my ‘insurance’ photos better than the first half I shot, the moodiness of the snow helped out more than people going to work, in this instance that is. But, this is where the other difficult part rests, picking just one image from the 8 to show. Unlike Bresson, I do get an attachment to my images and when looking at a small gathering of 8 it is even more difficult to ‘cut’ 7 from the list. With all that in mind, there was one image that I knew was going to be a success when I pushed the shutter button and so I decided, with some input from others, that was the winner.
We are meeting today and I can’t wait to see what everyone created. I’m also ready to see what the next challenge will hold.