I know you started out as a landscape photographer – how did you get into that?
Starting with my dad’s vintage Kodak “pop out” camera that he took everywhere with him during World War II, I photographed friends, family and pets. After graduating to inexpensive point and shoot film cameras as a teen, I found myself photographing what I referred to as “scenes.” When I founded my landscape business in 1981, I began to photograph everything and I mean everything. This was literally landscape photography-all still on film. I gradually upgraded my equipment and collected boxes and boxes of prints of the landscape installations we did using them for marketing, newsletters, training and state and national competition in the landscape industry. All of the prints became carousels and carousels full of slides in order to save money. About the same time I moved up to a DSLR camera I began to photograph the landscapes where I hiked on my personal “get-away-from-it-all” expeditions to lots of US mountains and canyons, Africa, India, and Nepal. Over time I began to be disenchanted with photographing the same things that everyone else was capturing (vistas, etc.) and began to photograph the culture, the people and the subtle nuances of the way of life.
Did you learn any lessons in landscape photography that you now apply to street photography? (It’s a stretch but you never know unless you ask!)
I learned that while there are gorgeous landscapes to photograph, paying close attention to the feeling experienced while viewing translates directly into noticing those same feelings on the street. The awe experienced in a sunrise or sunset touches exactly the same place in the soul that noticing the interaction between two lovers, a mom and baby, a craftsman creating touches. Looking beyond the obvious in photographing a landscape or a scene is what is important for me. On one of my last landscape photography trips to West Virginia to photograph a frozen environment and waterfalls in the snow I sensed a kind of peace with no sound except the rushing water. In the same setting, I observed the leader of the workshop gently guiding a student to adjust settings on a camera to capture the best shot. The interaction between teacher and student was a profound moment for me. Nothing sweeter than knowledge being shared
“I learned that while there are gorgeous landscapes to photograph, paying close attention to the feeling experienced while viewing translates directly into noticing those same feelings on the street.”
What’s your most memorable experience in street photography?
There have been so many sweet moments of observing and capturing-all in the moment of the unexpected; however (!) the experience I will never forget is on my first walkabout on my own in Havana, Cuba. After spending 5 days one on one with a pro photographer I knew I was ready and prepared to go it alone. Went down my checklist of things I would need heading out: fanny pack, lens cleaner, extra battery, fully charged battery, camera and SD card, cash (no credit cards allowed in Cuba.) I took a pedi-cab to a location about 8 miles from my casa particular, paid the driver and set off to photograph. After spending about an hour in the neighborhood I decided to pedi-cab it to another barrio. Looked in my fanny pack and money were gone. I believe that when I pulled out the change to pay the driver initially, I must have pulled out all of the Cuban CUCs. With no money and no way to get a pedi-cab back to the casa, I walked and photographed MANY different people and neighborhoods thus adding to my catalogue of images for the trip.
On this same trip, another memorable moment. My Cuban pro photographer asked if I wanted to attend the May Day March of the People on May 1. I said, “yes, of course.” He and I walked at 4 a.m. to a gathering place of the parade (in the dark.). Crowds, singing, drinking, dancing, yelling all under street lamps and along the parade route until the sun came up. Would we become separated? Yes, we did. Two street photographers never stick together and after about 10 minutes, I never saw him again until I figured out much later in the morning how to get back to my casa where he was waiting for me. Having a good sense of direction in street photography is essential!
What‘s your favorite street shot you ever took? And why?
My favorite street image became the cover of my first book. Although I photograph all of the iconic scenes, objects on any trip or walkabout, I always SLOW myself down (sometimes even sitting still for a while) to look for the unexpected. After photographing a remaining portion of the Berlin wall in Berlin with the iconic posters, graffiti and paintings, I walked around to the back of it which faces the street. As I walked, I spotted a bored hole in the wall about 10 meters in front of me. As I approached it, I didn’t see anything interesting or unique, just a hole about 1 meter off the ground. I leaned over and looked in. There was a little face on the other side. A little girl was also peeking in to see what was on MY side. I engaged with her putting my index finger in the hole, wiggling it and pulling it out. She did the same. I lowered my camera and with my camera on blast mode got several images of her peeking through at me. All I see is her nose and one eye and half of the other. A brief moment and brief interaction in time between me and a little girl whose identity I will never know. But we are bonded.
What has street photography taught you?
Street photography has emphasized the importance of living in the now (as author, Eckhart Tolle writes.). While anticipation is a part of this effort, stopping and waiting, stopping and noticing, merely stopping to be is a metaphor for how life is best lived. And then there is the appreciation of those moments in time that have never happened and will never come again that nudge me as a photographer to be in appreciation for each moment on earth.
I have also learned to be prepared because those moments come and then they are gone, never to occur again. In landscape photography you can recreate moments again and again because landscapes are mostly static. Adding the element of people and we get pure serendipity.
What has this past year been like for your street photography? Has the pandemic created any opportunities for growth for you?
From 2012-2019 my Lightroom catalogues hold a little over 40,000 images. In 2020 alone I have over 39,000 images. 2020 has been a growth year for certain. Most of my street photography was outside of the country or at least outside of my state/city from 2012-2019. I only picked up my camera when I had an intention to capture something. During 2020 I was out with my camera almost every day (after March 1.). I looked for little projects (shuttered businesses, joyful settings, any people, animals) and I believe my creativity increased. I do not necessarily think I created work to hang on a wall; however, I looked for inspiration everywhere. I also found people on the streets of my hometown to get to know, to speak with, to learn about. I had so many conversations with individuals I never would have met.
I also took advantage of learning opportunities from street photographers who were not holding workshops but were meeting online to teach groups. I was able to experience pro photographers from all over the world and to hear them doing critiques. I learned a lot from them, but also learned to love my own work much more not because it was deemed better than any other but because I came to know it was MY expression and my creativity.
Also, I have made new friends with other photographers through zoom meetings-lifelong friends.
You mentioned you’ve been paying attention to women street photographers lately – do you think women have something unique to add to the street photography genre?
I have been noticing not only style and technique but also subject matter of women street photographers. I believe that both men and women draw upon their feminine attributes to create in the space of photography; however, I do see that women seem to be very comfortable in highlighting those moments of introspection and compassion. I do not want to imitate anyone, but I do believe we can learn from the “eye” of others.
Any women street photographers you find inspiring that you’d like to tell us about?
There are so many contemporary women street photographers whose work I enjoy. Too many to name without fear of leaving someone out; however, I am most intrigued by Vivian Maier who photographed life for years and never shared the work with anyone. And as we know it wasn’t until after her death that all of negatives and rolls of undeveloped film were discovered. In our day of immediate posting on Instagram and Facebook hoping to get “likes” I am fascinated by a creative who never showed all of her work.
Tell us a little about some of your ongoing projects? We know you’re always working on something!
During the time we have been unable to travel a lot, I took the opportunity to start work on my 2nd book. I knew that I wanted to write a book about women entrepreneurs and had though I would interview and photograph women all of the United States. In restricted travel mode, I limited the geographical area to Texas. I have now interviewed 30 women who are in various stages of founding/leading a business. The youngest is college age, the oldest is in her 70s. I have included different ethnicities and backgrounds. The businesses are (by design) all over the map. There are creative types, manufacturing, medicine, service and everything in between. Where possible I photographed them in their business settings but if those were not accessible there are images of them in their everyday life. No formal headshots allowed! The writing is about 50% complete and all of the photographs are done except for the selection. The woman who is helping me with image selection is Stella Johnson who I met while attending one of her workshops. The publisher is located in Denver and is a woman owned business. The printer is also female.
Another project came about through one of my walkabouts in town. I noticed some extremely large street art going up on some ugly walls of an underpass. In stopping and speaking with the artists (4 of the 6 are women) I learned that the project is a joint one with the City and a non-profit. I have met and photographed all of the artists as the work progressed. Although I did photograph the art, my eyes were always on these hard-working muralists who created for hours on end with loud traffic, trains, pedestrians and nosey photographers bothering them. I have donated many of the images to the nonprofit.
Any advice for women street photographers who want to get their work seen?
This can be quite a lengthy discussion depending upon who you ask! I have taken time this year to pay attention to which of the galleries, museums and online forums I want to pursue. There are MANY opportunities to enter competitions but there are always costs involved. I consider the theme and ask if this is my area of creativity. I look at past winners and entries to see what had been selected. I look to see who is the juror or curating to learn of their interest and style. I am fond of local (Texas) galleries and competitions where there will actually be an opening and exhibition. But considering again, that it costs to print and frame and send to these galleries. I hated that I had a piece in the Women Street Photography exhibition recently in New York and I could not attend. For me, it is not only about the show, it is about meeting the gallery owner, the juror and/or curator and expanding my circle of friends and acquaintances. It is as much about the people in this beautiful arena as it is the art.
Recently, someone asked if they could work with me in order to sell more of my work. I realized that to me success is being respected by those whose work I respect rather than just selling prints. Street photography is not the kind of art that hangs on a lot of collectors’ walls!