It looks like you’ve been doing street photography for many years now. How did you get started?
I believe my interest for photography has been firstly influenced by my father, who used to be a good amateur photographer. In my mid-twenties I started to shoot mostly B&W films and also acquired some experience in the darkroom processing. At that time, I was mostly impressed (I still am) by the work of master photographers like Salgado, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Erwitt, Berengo Gardin.
How have you seen street photography evolve over the decades?
This is a difficult question and I apologize in advance for simplifying too much a complex matter. I would say that today we can still observe the classic approach to street photography, coming from the old French and American school, which seems to remain immutable over the years. In parallel, more innovative trends have developed during the last 15 years or so (e.g. the “In-Public” photographers group), proposing different stylistic and formal approaches. The creative use of color or other suggestive or evocative effects can sometimes assume more communicative strength than the documented subject itself.
In more recent years, following the social network expansion, street photography has become more and more popular, yet sometimes losing its appeal in my opinion. The “shooting from the hip” technique is becoming a common practice; the idea is to become invisible to the subject, but the results are very often an out-of-control framing and composition. The challenge to get closer and closer to the subject, without being noticed, can lead to sort of self-referential attitude, no matter the final content of the shot. Another common modus operandi, which personally I don’t like, is the kind of “aggressive” shooting attitude, which tends to treat the human subject as a sort of hunting prey. The results look very often to me like empty pictures, having maybe some graphic impact, but lacking a clear narrative content.
It looks like you’ve traveled quite extensively, what has been your favorite city or country to shoot street photography?
I would say that any place could potentially offer the opportunity to do street photography. It is also true that, travelling in countries with different cultures and traditions can help in encountering inspiring subjects. Besides travelling as a tourist, I had the chance to live for quite long periods in different countries (in North Africa, South America, Australia). This offered me the privilege to experience something beyond what the tourist’s eye normally sees.
When I go out to take photographs, I am always keen to get in contact as much as possible with the people, hopefully trying to catch a hint of their private and intimate life. I don’t always try to shoot “candid photos”, but more and more often I find myself chasing an interaction with my subjects. There are special places where you can really feel the “humanity’s heart beating” just walking on the street. Special places like La Habana, or Cairo, as well as small villages in Venezuela or Colombia.
What advice would you give to new street photographers that are just starting out?
Be curious and attentive, walk a lot. Always maintain a frank and open attitude while shooting at strangers. Avoid trying not to be noticed while pointing the camera to your subject. You could arouse suspects and maybe get negative reactions. Try to avoid photographing people on the street just because they look odd, ugly, old or sick. Do not be tempted to take the “easy” snapshot of homeless or beggar people. If you want to get in contact with them, do it in a respectful way. Leave at home your 200mm tele and go out with a 35 or 50 mm equivalent lens. You have to get close to your subjects, you need to “be in the scene” in order to photograph the scene in an effective way.
If you don’t get involved with your subject, your picture will not be able to inspire other persons. Spend less time sharing your photos on internet and more time visiting photography exhibition of recognized authors. Spend less money in photography gears and more in photography books and travels. Go out and have fun!
Do you think street photography will still be relevant 50 years from now?
Street photography will still be relevant in 50 or 100 years, at least as long as there will be photographers having interest for other people’s life. The day when all the cameras will be pointed backward, just to shoot selfies, that day will be the end of street photography.
See more of Franco’s work in his Flickr photostream.