Street Photography Magazine has been going strong for an entire decade now. It’s a happy surprise considering how it started out. When Bob Patterson began publication, he had little more in mind than testing out a new publication platform with a subject he was interested in, which just happened to be street photography. He figured in six months or so, he’d decommission it and walk away with a little more knowledge about how to publish a digital magazine – something he could use to help his clients in his web development business. Instead, after only a few months of publication, the magazine took on a life of its own.
What started out as an experiment of sorts quickly became a busy hub for street photographers – a place to discuss the genre, learn how to improve, and get inspired by other street photographers from across the globe. And if it sounds like this publication has turned into some kind of booming big business to you, let me assure you it’s not. Bob gets a little help with audio production for the podcast (Thanks, Russel!) and some assistance from the editor (that’s me), which makes it more of a three-man show, rather than a money-making, content-churning machine. On the contrary, this magazine is a labor of love, and at the heart of it is Bob Patterson, which is why I believe that now, as we celebrate its 10th anniversary, is the perfect time to feature Bob here in its digital pages.
No doubt you’ve gotten to know Bob some over the years, but today, we’re going to dig a little deeper. You’ll learn about Bob’s background, what led up to the creation of Street Photography Magazine, and how founding and running the magazine has shaped his view of street and documentary photography and influenced his personal work.
Almost Inevitably, Street Photography Magazine is Born
After talking to Bob about his early years and how he developed a love for documentary and street photography, I felt like Street Photography Magazine was practically destined to be born and nurtured under his stewardship.
Like many, Bob’s earliest memories of photography can be traced back to his parents’ magazine subscriptions, which included all the iconic publications of that time: Life, Look, and National Geographic among them. Bob says those photos, especially the monochrome ones, of things happening – real life moments – “formed a style in his head.” You can still see it in his work today.
Then came the family Brownie camera. Bob started taking pictures and developing them with a darkroom kit his parents got him. He reminisced that there’s nothing quite like the magic of watching a photo appear on paper in an unlit room while breathing in that unforgettable scent of developer – even if it does take place in the family bathroom.
Another influence not to be forgotten is Bob’s grandfather, his childhood hero, who he describes as a “hardscrabble newspaperman from the heartland who chain smoked Camel cigarettes (which eventually killed him) while pounding on an old manual Underwood typewriter with two fingers at over 100 words per minute.”
It’s no surprise then that when Bob headed to college, he wound up at Ohio University, well-known for its standout journalism program, and majored in Broadcast Journalism. His upbringing, curious nature, approachable manner, and interest in documentary photography all fit the bill perfectly. Somehow though, Bob didn’t end up working as a photojournalist. Instead, he found himself on the tech end of the working world. And although photography continued to be a part of his life off and on over the years, it was the tech know-how that came in handy years later during the financial crisis that started in 2007.
Not long into that economic meltdown, Bob suddenly found himself out of work. Getting laid off in your 50s can be rough, but he wasn’t alone. So, he started a WordPress development business that catered to laid off executives and managers (most of whom were also in their 50s) who wanted to teach online courses, be a coach or consultant, or just sell a class on the internet. The business was a hit, but photography was still on the back burner. Little did Bob know, it was about to bubble over into his secular life.
Just a few years prior, Bob had started getting back into photography. In 2004, he took an excellent class through the Cleveland Photographic Society, a camera club with over 100 years of history, to brush up on the basics of photography. Next was an online course by Jim Zuckerman with lessons, assignments, and evaluations held over the phone. A year or two later, Bob almost signed up for an online class with Ibarionex Perello, but he got cold feet when he saw he’d be required to talk to strangers on the street. Instead, he opted for a street photography class, where he met Joe Wigfall, Ronya Galka, and a few others who he’s kept in touch with over the years.
That class opened Bob’s eyes to street photography as a genre. He found he loved it almost as much as he loved documentary photography. He was officially hooked. During those years, Bob was traveling for work, so instead of dropping in the local bar after hours, he hit the streets, taking photos wherever the job took him.
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place in 2013. Bob had long had his eye on Newsstand, a new platform from Apple. Newsstand meant anyone could use an app to build a magazine. One of the first mags to come out of it was The Magazine, created by Marco Armet. With his background in journalism, Bob thought it was a fantastic opportunity. He decided to make his own magazine. But what would it be about? Initially, Bob considered doing a magazine about managing membership sites, but the idea just felt boring. “Who cares about that?” he laughed as we spoke. Instead, the planets aligned, and Street Photography Magazine was born.
A Few of Bob’s Favorite Photo Books
- The Americans by Robert Frank
- American Cowboys by Anouk Grant
- Women Hold Up Half the Sky by Gerard Exupery
Bob is also an avid photo book collector. His favorites are always changing he says, but these are his top three at the moment.
Lessons Learned from a Decade of Publishing
A whole decade spent getting to know street photographers around the world – their trade secrets, their perspectives, their challenges and victories – can teach you a lot about photography and a lot about people. Bob should know. Besides featuring articles from hundreds of photographers, Bob has interviewed hundreds more for both the magazine and the Street Photography Magazine podcast. In that regard, I would say Bob has reached his objective with this publication. He wrote, “Street Photography Magazine is as much my personal journey of learning as it is a journal for anyone who seeks to capture that one iconic moment. Or at least some good ones that keep them coming back.” Bob’s curious nature helps readers to get to know the lives and works of photographers from a variety of backgrounds. But I wondered, how had 10 years of learning from others affected Bob’s own work?
When I asked Bob if he felt his street and documentary photography had improved over the course of publishing the magazine, he replied, “I think I’ve gotten better, but I definitely have a tendency (like most of us) to compare my work to others’. I still don’t think my photos are good enough to be in the magazine.” He says seeing so much great work come in for the magazine can make it harder to live up to your own expectations. “Still, I’m working harder to just be myself and not worry about it.”
On the whole though, being surrounded by a community of street photographers has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on Bob’s work. He says he’s learned a lot from Harvey Stein, Paul Reid, Mike Ruggerio, and the list goes on. For example, one big lesson Bob has learned from Street Photography Magazine is that personally, his best photos are made when he makes a meaningful connection with his subjects. In that regard, he says he tends to lean more towards the documentary end of the spectrum. He prefers that his subjects be aware of his presence but unaffected by it. After all, it’s still those candid, unposed, usually black and white images he loves the best.
Over the years, he’s found more opportunities to employ that kind of shooting technique too. When I asked Bob what his favorite personal project he’s worked on is, he said it’s the one he’s working on right now, which revolves around a community of jazz musicians in his area. In fact, he was recently asked to be the official photographer for the local jazz society. He goes to jam sessions, meets some incredible musicians, and gets to photograph them fly-on-the-wall style while they play. It’s incredible to watch and has resulted in some truly compelling photographs.
What does the future hold for Bob and the magazine? Time will tell, but Bob has no intention of bringing his journey with this journal to an end any time soon. Despite all the hard work involved in keeping the magazine running, his curious nature prevails. There are still too many fascinating photographers out there who he’s yet to meet and too many new things to learn. “Connecting with others with similar interests is always a learning process,” and it’s one that Bob enjoys immensely. He says, “talking to so many interesting people and seeing others’ work and projects – that’s what inspires me to keep going.”
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