The premise of my most recent project and book, Being Human, lies within its very definition: to display the characteristics that are unique to human beings while recognising that what it means to be human differs from one person to the next.
For me, being human once revolved around alcohol dependency and an ongoing battle with mental health issues. Sober since October 2014, I have adopted a far more mindful approach to life, with photography playing an integral role in my recovery. Mindfulness is a term often used to describe ‘psychological skills’ or ‘ways to handle thoughts and feelings’, but alternative terms such as ‘noticing’, ‘observing’, ‘being present’, ‘focusing’, ‘paying attention’, ‘awareness’ and so on can also be used. It is in these terms that I find similarities to street photography, albeit in a different context. To practice mindfulness and street photography, one must ‘notice’, ‘observe’, ‘be present’, ‘focus’, pay attention’ and be ‘aware’ of the present moment. With this in mind, it is up to the photographer to capture the decisive moment.
Each of the black-and-white photographs I have chosen for this article and all of those contained within my book, in one way or another, depict human characteristics and will no doubt be subject to interpretation on a litany of levels. This is the essence of Being Human and how one might think about what it means to be quintessentially human in today’s world. What do you think being human means? Is it the ability to show humane qualities, like kindness, empathy and generosity? Is it our capacity for moral reasoning, to choose between right and wrong, or to display natural human characteristics like anger, pity, jealousy and love? Your religion, ethnicity, family background, education and so on all come together to inform your thoughts on what it means to be human.
This is the thrill of street photography. I love to immerse myself in the varied and visceral nature of the street that a keen eye and a candid photograph should portray. If anything, street photography is honest, sometimes brutally so, and has the power to evoke a range of raw emotions about the human condition in the knowledge that we, as human beings, are unique in displaying the characteristics of Being Human.
In my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of street photography is that it is never set up. Indeed, I have not interacted with any of my subjects prior to framing the shot, opting instead for an inadvertent approach up to the moment of pressing the shutter. It is nonetheless important to respect the views of disapproving subjects and to calmly move on, whether or not that means having to tell a little white lie about having to delete your most recent score.
All of these photographs were shot digitally using two cameras. Initially, I worked with my DSLR, a Canon EOS 600D with Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC PZD f/3.5-6.3 lens. Of course, I could have used the zoom lens to prevent getting too close for a shot, but I wanted to avoid this as much as possible. Besides, that would be cheating, right? My current camera is an Olympus PEN-F, a Micro Four Thirds compact system camera, attached to which is an M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens. Fast, quiet and far less obtrusive, this retro-styled camera has a solid feel while being perfectly sized and weighted to make a day on the street more comfortable. My post-production time is dedicated to image selection, basing decisions on personal preferences, such as contrast, composition, ambience and aesthetic value, rather than any outside influences or persuasions.
In my book, I was privileged to have the Foreword written by acclaimed photojournalist and author, John Robert Young. He speaks of street photography and how it has become the emerging art form of the twenty-first century, and how street photographers should photograph at every conceivable opportunity, for the freedom to do so at random in public places is stealthily being eroded. I couldn’t agree more.
The Sunbeam Trilogy (below)
I took quite a few images here, near Charing Cross, London. I was torn between the images to use, so instead of using just one, I incorporated the best three into a trilogy. These were subsequently chosen and exhibited at the Photomonth Photo-Open 2015 exhibition at Rich Mix, London, where I used the caption “Lighten Our Darkness, We Beseech Thee, O Lord…”