One of my favorite things to do when I go on vacation is street photography, meaning not photos of streets, but photos of the action on the street. It really means action most anywhere; in stores, at famous monuments, etc. The only defining factor is that it is spontaneous and, for the most part, not posed.
In the early summer of 2015 my wife Linda, daughter Caitlin, and I went to London and Paris. These are a selection of the photos I took on the streets of these two amazing cities. Each photo I think captures an essence of the moment in a way that staged photos can’t. After each photo I have given some ideas of what I was looking for and what you can also look for when you do street photography.
Selfie Kiss at Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
The main thing about street photography is you have to be ready. No fumbling, no settings, no focusing even. You have to get that shot as if it’s a breaking news story, right now right there. In this case I had already noticed her bright red (and long) fingernails so I was attuned to her.
I also knew there was a rare empty space not filled with people behind her and watched for a moment to see if something interesting might compose itself. And when she raised her arm I knew what was coming and raised my camera.
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Stripes – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography is about visual stimulation. Your eye drives the process and you have to respond quickly. The decision-making has to be immediate or the moment has passed. In this case I already had my finger on the shutter button as I happened to see this woman with the bold striped dress coming towards me. I didn’t think about it I just pushed the button.
The other thing about street photography is the fun of not really knowing what you captured. The stripes were interesting, yes. But getting the other striped shirt and the person walking right between them was fun to discover later and it’s what makes the photograph as a whole visually stimulating to me.
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LOOK FOR CONTRASTS
Standing Nudes, Sitting People – © Marty Coleman 2017
Juxtaposition is a key element in the commentary in much street photography. The interaction between people, objects, environment, and light add to the visual conversation.
In this case the verticality and solidity of the sculptures played off the very slack and loose poses of the sitters. I loved the humorous juxtaposition of their poses and of the nudity vs clothing so I pushed the button. If you notice, the camera is not up at my eye level. I had it around my neck hanging to my stomach and took the photo from there. I could have chosen to raise it up, it wouldn’t have bothered me to be seen taking the photo, but having the sitters be midway between the sculptures was key to the composition and feeling of the image so I kept the camera at waist level.
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THERE ARE ANGLES AMONG US
Bride and Locks – © Marty Coleman 2017
Doing street photography means you are always looking for great angles. Sometimes that means you have to imagine what something would look like from a different angle from the one you are at. Keeping the camera at your face and thinking that is the only image available limits your choices considerably.
In this case there was no doubt I was going to take a photo of this bride on the bridge full of locks. The question was what angle would best tell the story? There was way to much clutter in the image when I was standing up so I squatted down very low and put the camera even lower, almost to the ground, to get the shot. This is one of the reasons an articulating screen at the back of the camera is essential to street photography, so you can see very low or very high.
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WHERE TO POINT
Two Sisters and a Ceiling – © Marty Coleman 2017
Not only is what height your camera is at something to consider, but where it is pointing as well. To limit yourself to only pointing forward or slightly up or down means once again you are limiting yourself and the possible images you can get.
Here I, along with thousands of others, were looking up at the ceilings in Versailles. But what I saw wasn’t just the ceilings but everyone else taking photos of those same ceilings. I angled my camera from my waist directly up to catch that phenomenon. In this photo I was walking quickly and just barely caught these two women out of the corner of my eye. I turned, snapped and moved on. I didn’t know what the image looked like until well after we were done with the tour and on the way back to Paris on the train.
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BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Bride and Groom at Notre Dame – © Marty Coleman 2017
In street photography something unexpected is always just around the corner. The best shots aren’t always going to be in main areas of tourism or activity. They more likely will happen as you are walking to or from those areas. Having your camera on and ready (and with the lens cap off!) is critical. I can’t tell you how many photos I have missed in my life because of one of these reasons.
Having your camera set to multiple photos at one time is also key. In this case, I saw the bride and groom walking down the street and kept my finger on the button until just the right time and then held it down. I got about 3-4 shots and was able to choose the best one from the bunch as a result.
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ANTICIPATE THE ANTICIPATION
Place to Kiss – © Marty Coleman 2017
When we walk around a city we see the fluidity of time and motion. As a result we often don’t see examples of anticipation. But the still photograph from the street can often capture just that right moment.
Here these two people were drinking and talking and flirting, all the while seeming to hem and haw about the funny sign right next to them. I got the feeling they wanted to kiss but weren’t sure how to go about it, especially when there was a sign directing them to do so!
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MOTION IS YOUR FRIEND
Four Portraits at the Musée d’Orsay – © Marty Coleman 2017
When you do street photography you are going to get motion. And motion means blur. This is not a bad thing. Blur is a tool of expression. It expresses movement, action, direction, energy. Don’t reject an image because of it but instead evaluate how the blur may help the image.
There is usually no more static place in the world than a museum. But people walk around them all the time and that means movement. Here I was able to capture a bit of both the action and the static at the same time. I had a number of other shots from right around this same moment, but this was by far the best because the blur of the woman in the stripes on the far left balanced out the strong and isolated image of the nude by Renoir on the right.
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ISOLATE TO COMMUNICATE
The Singer and the Thames – © Marty Coleman 2017
Isolation is another important element in street photography. Isolation means visual power and weight and it can be used to tell a story.
On the banks of the Thames in London I was watching the hundreds of people go by before I went in to see the Tate Modern Museum. This singer with his small speaker and music machine was entertaining the crowd. But all I saw was him alone next to this giant river. I set myself up to capture an image that showed how I saw him in the midst of the crowd.
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STREET IS STYLE
The Fascinator – © Marty Coleman 2017
Style is everywhere on the street. Ignore it and you miss a million fantastic shots. Find it and you will have a never-ending well of ideas and opportunities.
While we were in London we took the train into a certain station to transfer. When we got off we started seeing an unexpected amount of men and women dressed to the nines. I mean they were really going all out. If it had been on a weekend night it would maybe make sense. But this was at 9am on a weekday morning. What was going on? I didn’t know, but I knew I was going to have my camera ready to go. This woman was walking by with panache and purpose and I immediately angled myself to make sure I got a photo as she passed.
Later we discovered it was the Queen’s Day at the races and everyone was going to the station to travel out to the track.
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The Woman at the Seine – © Marty Coleman 2017
In staged photos we most often will see a lot of people smiling. But staged smiling usually only says one thing. What is great in street photography is to find true expressions that aren’t staged. That are a result of a person’s true feelings coming out.
Here that feeling is sublime joy and happiness. It can be felt in much more than just the Mona Lisa smile she has. It’s in everything her face and body is doing. Always be ready for that moment where you are capturing true feelings because those are what will let people know as much about a place as any monument or building.
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THE COURAGE OF THE PERSONAL
Mannequin and Walker – © Marty Coleman 2017
Street photography can get very personal. People can see you take photos, some think it is a violation, others couldn’t care less and you don’t know who will react how. If you believe in capturing the life of the street you have to be bold and courageous to do so. Sometimes that means you have the opportunity to ask permission but other times you do not.
I was walking near our Airbnb apartment in Paris early one morning, on my way to the cafe where I had been drawing each morning when I saw this scene. I was focused on the mannequin in the window with the sunrise reflecting off the building when this woman walked by. She had been looking down at her phone but looked up right as a took the shot. She was past me in a second and that was that. I don’t know what her emotions were about seeing me as I was taking pictures and I am not assuming I know. But I had to have the courage to take the photo without knowing that.
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SHOW WHAT IS SEEN
Seeing Versailles – © Marty Coleman 2017
Bold graphic elements are everywhere in street photography. Windows, doors, people can all be seen not as what they are but as formal devices to frame or direct an image compositionally. This is especially true if you are going to shoot in Black and White or are thinking in terms of BW when you later work on the image.
I didn’t see an image of Versailles here. I saw an image of how Versailles is to be seen. Finding a set of elements composed so they show a third person’s view is something for which you should always be on the look out. It tells a story much more effectively than just a photo of a place.
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LINES OF MYSTERY
Escalation – © Marty Coleman 2017
Lines direct one’s vision. Finding those lines and using them to create mystery or wonder is one of the joys of street photography.
We were headed down into the London Tube and I was standing behind this elegantly styled woman. All I could see were all these lines converging behind her and really wanted to capture that. Once again I simply took the photo from where the camera was hanging around my neck. Being low created a giant black shape in the middle of the image. We know it is her but visually it’s a void, allowing one to imagine what is behind even more than imagining her.
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THE GEOMETRY OF HUMANITY
The Poser in Paris – © Marty Coleman 2017
People are always posing for something. Street photography allows you to capture when people are posing, not for you, but for someone else.
We took a walk along the banks of the Seine and what caught my eye first was the profound geometry everywhere. The lines were formal and abstract and I was trying to find just the right combination of elements when I saw this woman posing for a caricaturist. She leant just the right amount of warmth and humanity to the otherwise severe composition so I took a number of photos. This one, with her gaze going completely off camera, was the one that really expressed how I saw Paris at that moment.
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TO FINISH UP
So, there you have it. A little tour of London and Paris. It’s probably a lot different from what you would find among tourist photos. But maybe these photos give you a different understanding of the two cities. One that is more about the mood and feeling of a place than a recitation of its monuments and objects. That is what street photography can do for you and your appreciation for a place. It is also what it can do for others who see the photos, giving them an idea of what it’s like to be in and around a city, to feel they know a place at a more intimate level.
Give street photography a try, you won’t regret. And by all means let me know how it goes and let me see some of your photos!
Each of these photos is for sale. Price is $50.00 plus shipping. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested. Give me the name of the piece and we can go from there! I can receive payment and ship internationally.
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Revisiting a Theme
I did this drawing yesterday (6/21/16). I also did it in 1980. Not this exact image of course, but the same basic scene. In 1980 it was a woodcut print. I also have created it a few times on napkins over the last decade. Why is that? Why do artists revisit a theme like this? I mean, we all do it, right? That is how we eventually gain a style and a look. We keep wanting to try something again and again. Can I do it better? Can I do it in a different way that will bring out a different aspect of the idea? Can I have fun with it again, like I did last time. Sounds like a sport when I say it like that, and in some ways it is.
Why This Theme?
So, why do I revisit this theme in particular? I think it’s because I have always been drawn to the problem of not paying attention or of paying attention to the wrong thing at the wrong time. I have that problem to some degree and so do many others. And it has consequences. Bad things can happen when you are distracted. It can be as simple as getting honked at, or as complex as an airline crashing with resulting insignificant or significant consequences.
For some reason this idea keeps coming back to me. Maybe because I keep being reminded of it by the outside world, in news reports about the parent who left a loaded pistol on her bed and a toddler got hold of it to tragic consequences, or the politician who gets caught with his pants down but can’t stop his behavior and gets caught again, also to tragic consequences.
It’s Not Easy
If you watch me on Periscope or read this blog regularly you know I believe we live in a ‘judgment society’ these days. In the old days, people believed an unseen God watched us and judged us. We were going to go to hell because he had seen us doing bad things (or thinking about doing bad things). In Christianity of course, they are saved from that fate by Jesus. In other religions they have their ways of being saved as well. But it always required being saved or redeemed in some way.
The Internet is God
Now however, it’s not an unseeing God, it’s the internet who sees us and judges us. Just look at any unfortunate event, like the 2 year old taken by the Alligator in Florida, or the toddler falling into the Gorilla enclosure in Ohio and you will immediately see that unseen God in the form of very angry and very self-righteous observers demanding justice, castigating the institutions, decrying to terrible parenting, etc.
The difference now, with the Internet playing God, is that there is preeminently the judgment. The mercy, compassion, forgiveness, understanding and patience is less and less apparent. It is not what is expressed or thought of first, but usually only in response to the severe judgment that comes from all sides. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that it comes, I just wish it was the first thing we thought instead of the last.
Drawing and commentary © 2016 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Quote by Lauryn Hill, 1975 – not dead yet, American singer/songwriter
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Once upon a time there were two sisters from a tropical island. One of the sisters was round and voluptuous, the other thin and angular. The one who was round and voluptuous was very popular. She had boyfriends and was invited to parties all the time. The one who was thin and angular would often tag along with her sister, the pretty one, to the parties and other activities. Her sister and her sister’s friends were mean to her and the men showed no interest because she was not very pretty or sexy. She knew she was ugly and just accepted it as the way it was.
After she graduated from high school the thin one had a chance to move to the city and live with relatives. She didn’t see many prospects or options staying on the Island so she decided to go. As soon as she had moved to the city she had started to notice men paying attention to her. They would chat with her in cafes, flirt with her on the street, smile at her even when she took her young nephew for a walk. All of it was quite confusing for her since she knew she was ugly.
The thin one had only been in the city a few weeks when she was stopped on the street by someone who asked if she was a model. She laughed at the man and told him she was not and could never be, a model. He begged to differ and gave her his card. He asked her to call him if she was interested. She laughed all the way home but her Aunt, when she heard about it, said she should go check it out, that she actually was model material. The thin one laughed because she knew she was ugly and certainly not model material.
The thin one decided to go meet the man just to get her Aunt off her back. And in what was the biggest surprise of her young life, the man was actually the artistic director of a very large and legitimate modeling agency. They liked her and within a month she had her first paid assignment and within 6 months she was making a good living.
In the meanwhile the voluptuous one was hearing about this back on the island. She was very confused, and a bit jealous, because she knew what her sister knew. She was the pretty one, the popular one, and her sister was the ugly one. But now she was hearing she was a model in the city? How could that be? It made no sense. She decided to go visit and see for herself.
The first thing the voluptuous one noticed when she got to the city was how few men paid any attention to her. She walked through the airline terminal, picked up her bag at the baggage claim, and even hailed a taxi and no one paid any attention. It was not something she was used to and it made no sense. But she chalked it up to her maybe not being all that fresh looking after the long flight and forgot about it.
It didn’t take her long to become annoyed by how opinionated her sister was. She wasn’t nearly as meek as she used to be. She had even argued with her about what to wear when they went out to the party her sister had been invited to that night! The voluptuous one wanted to wear a revealing dress, one that showed off her cleavage (which was plentiful) and her legs. Her sister told her that was not a good look, that she had to choose one or the other, show cleavage or show legs, not both. The voluptuous one didn’t like that but decided to go with the leg look, just so they wouldn’t have a big fight on their first day together in the city.
The party was very exciting. There were some people the sister who was visiting recognized from TV and from magazines, though she couldn’t remember their names. Her sister introduced her to many people, so many she lost track. She realized that her sister was one of the stars of the party, she was popular with men and women alike, older people and younger. When the sister from the city would go off to chat and leave the sister from the island alone she noticed once again she got barely any attention from anyone, unless it was when someone came up to her to tell her how amazing her sister is.
It was then that she had her epiphany. She saw it so clearly. They had switched roles. Here in the city her sister was the pretty one, and she was the ugly one. She went to the bathroom and sat in a stall and cried. When she came out her sister realized something was wrong. She smiled inside, happy to see her sister, who had been so mean to her so often get a taste of what it was like to be the ugly one. The sister from the island tried to explain to her how she felt but the sister from the city wasn’t showing much sympathy. By the time they got home to the Aunt and Uncle’s house they were having a fight about it.
The Uncle and Aunt were still up when they got home and couldn’t help but hear them fighting. They invited them to sit in the kitchen and have a cup of tea, calm down a bit and maybe talk to them about it, which they did. They both explained their version of what happened that night, which led to an explanation of what used to happen on the Island. How they both felt ugly and both felt pretty, all depending on where they were. They talked about how they didn’t want to feel that way but did in spite of that.
The Uncle said, “You know, your Aunt has gone through this too.”
They looked at her and said in unison, “You have?”
“Yes. I was voluptuous and popular on the Island just like you are. Then I came to the City and I didn’t get nearly as much attention, just like you.” she said to the voluptuous one. “So I decided I would do whatever it took to become attractive to the people in the City. I worked and worked and worked. Finally I started to get noticed. I went on dates, had fun, had a lot of friends. Then I was in that car accident you heard about many years ago and wasn’t able to keep in shape after that. I became like I had been before. Many friends left me and I wasn’t asked on any dates anymore. But there was one person who knew me when I first came from the Island, knew me when I became popular and pretty, and knew me after my accident. That person was always my friend, was always supportive, was always saying kind and complimentary things to me. I saw him almost every day because he worked the counter at the grocery store I would go in. You know who that is, right? He’s your Uncle.”
The sisters had never heard that story before. They smiled and told their Uncle what a great man he was. But he stopped them. He said, “I was not that great a guy. All I did was care about your Aunt. I didn’t know anything about ‘popular’ or ‘pretty’ in the city. All I knew was your Aunt was kind and thoughtful and smart. She also was very pretty to me, so I am not saying that wasn’t there. But her ‘pretty’ came as much from her smile and kind words as it did from her beautiful face.”
“What that taught me girls is this,” the Aunt said, “You are planted somewhere in the world, it’s called your home. But not everyone fits in perfectly to the larger home that is your island or your city. Some look out of place to others in the city or the Island. Some look like they belong. You can’t control what the rest of the Island or the City are going to think of you. What you can do is develop the things that matter, no matter where you are, city or island. You develop those things and someone will be there to see them. In my case I was lucky enough to have the boy at the grocery counter notice them. I am grateful for that.”
The uncle piped up with a laugh, “And I am grateful this beautiful woman noticed me!”
The sisters went upstairs to bed. They talked a long time, apologizing for all the small and big slights they had laid on each other. They decided to be more supportive and loving to each other and others in the future. And they did just that.
And in the most ironic twist of all. The sister from the Island met the man of her dreams on the flight back to the Island. The man was from the city and was going on a business trip to visit some resorts he had contracts with. They talked the entire time and she knew by the end of the flight he was the man for her. They ended up marrying and settling in the city of all places. She felt loved and cherished the rest of her life.
The sister from the city had a more roundabout journey to her true love. But it was equally ironic when it happened. It was when she went back to visit her family on the island 10 years later. She was a famous model by then and everyone on the island knew of her. Well, almost everyone. There was a man in her home town who ran the local orphanage. He never really had time to pay attention to fashion magazines or watch TV and didn’t know who she was. But when she came with her mother to help at the orphanage one day, he watched her play with the kids with rapt attention. He noticed the care she showed, the willingness to get dirty, the smarts to figure out why the roof was leaking in one corner. He asked her to come back again if she could. And she did, the very next day. Within a year, after she had made many more visits to the island than she ever had before, they were engaged. She moved back to the island permanently a short while later and they got married in a ceremony on the beach with all the orphans and her family all around.
She would occasionally do some runway modeling shows at the resorts but otherwise she was full-time at the orphanage, loving her life and her husband until the end of her days.
Drawing and story © 2016 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Quote by Victor Hugo
Nina and Tuaca
Last year my friend and fellow napkin artist, Nina Levy, submitted and won the annual Tuaca Napkin Contest (Tuaca is a liqueur). She couldn’t submit again this year so she encouraged me to enter and I came up with this napkin as my entry. Here is her winning entry from last year.
I included lions because the research I did showed the lion was integral to the Tuaca company heritage as an icon and a brand identifier. Other than that addition I pretty much drew a nice moment to enjoy a cool drink on the rocks.
Sharing and Winning
It will be up online at the Tuaca Napkin Gallery as soon as they see it doesn’t break their rules (I can’t show a drunk human or lion for example) and/or not perverse in some way. I hope you will go there and share my napkin on your social media platforms. While there isn’t a formal voting element to the contest I would hope a lot of shares might indicate to the judges the popularity of the drawing.
The winner gets some nice swag and a check for $5,000.00 from Tuaca. I would like that!
Drawing © 2015 Marty Coleman
The Super Hero
Earlier during my cemetery walkabout, right as the sun went down, I happened upon a lone superhero starting her overnight vigil overlooking the city. She was strong and disciplined. I asked her how she got to be a superhero. She said she always wanted to be one and found that the local university had it as a major. She graduated in 3 years with a major in SuperHero Studies and a minor in Civil Engineering. Her day job is with the Army Corp of Engineers.
The Zombie Pirate Queen
During my cemetery visit I also met the Zombie Pirate Queen. She was desperately looking for something more to eat. I pointed her in the direction of downtown, telling her the bar scene was hopping there and she should find someone to her liking. She thanked me and ran off, but not before giving me her business card, telling me to let my wife know she sold Avon on the side and could give her a free makeover.
The Night Ninja
I was taking a leisurely midnight stroll around the cemetery when I saw Jack and the Night Ninja doing a bit of competitive grave robbing. I told them they could get a lot more work done if they worked cooperatively instead, which they did. In the end they made their deadline and planned to meet later at IHOP for breakfast.
The Night Ninja skulked around me for a while after she was done grave robbing. She wanted to know why I was taking photographs and if I worked for the NSA. I told her no, but I was lying. I finally got her off my back when I gave her a coupon I had to Ulta and told her they had a 50% off sale on eyeliner.
Unfortunately for the Night Ninja she never did get to have breakfast at IHOP with Jack. She instead met her demise at the hands of the Corpse bride who, in spite of being all in white, surprised the Night Ninja while she was checking her Snapchat. The Bride had just been left at the alter and hadn’t eaten all day so Night Ninja had an unfortunate end.
Sally and Jack
I met Sally in a corner of the cemetery where she was waiting for her blind date. She had been set up by her Sorority sister, Drusilla, with her younger brother. She was quite scared of being alone in the cemetery and was happy to know there were others around. When her date, Jack, showed up out of the dark, hand first, she got so scared she peed a little.
Later in the evening I saw Sally and Jack enjoying a romantic moment sitting on a tomb. Jack had a big smile but Sally was worried about finding a bathroom.
The Lady in Black
When I arrived at the cemetery she was the first person I came across. But she said nothing, she just looked watched me as I passed. Wherever I went, she was nearby, ever silent, ever watching. After the night was over I finally got up the nerve to talk to her. I asked her what she was doing in the cemetery. She stared at me intently, never blinking and said, “I am your eternal witness that these events were real.”
© 2014 Marty Coleman – All Rights Reserved