It seems that the vast majority of street photographers are men. When we have the opportunity to see the work of a woman, the difference can be striking. That’s why it’s a pleasure to have as our first guest a woman who has been shooting on the streets of London, England for several years.
It was a pleasure interviewing Ronya Galka, an urban photographer from London, England, as our featured photographer. Ronya is a native of Germany who moved to the UK in the 1990s after completing college.
Throughout her career she has worked in the corporate world as a marketing manager in the busy city center of London.
To those of us who are not as observant the “suits” that we see in any major city dashing between office buildings have a sameness that tends to make them look alike. But to Ronya who has worked in this world for most of her career, she sees something different.
Ronya moves throughout the busy streets of London largely unnoticed documenting the scenes of city life. Rain or shine, warm weather or snow, in good light or the harsh midday sun, she can be found observing and documenting the lives of the people we often ignore.
Her timing is phenomenal, as you’ll see in her work. She relentlessly walks the busy streets of London, capturing life as she goes. But beyond just being there, she’s able to see as images unfold in front of her.
Below are excerpts from our conversation with examples of Ronya’s work. Enjoy!
SPM: What caused you to be interested in street photography?
RG: It’s a really interesting question. It’s one I’ve been asked quite a few times and I asked myself. I don’t really remember exactly how I became aware of it. It’s quite a few years ago and I was going through some major restructuring at work at that time, I had also just split up with my boyfriend at the time so all of the sudden I found myself with a lot more time than I ever had, both work wise and in my private life.
This is the bit that I don’t really remember how it came about but I started having my camera with me. Up to that point I can’t really say that I was a photographer from a very young age, I mainly took photos on holidays and parties or other events, but I wasn’t really that taken or fascinated by photography until quite later on in life, which in itself was quite interesting to discover something that had such a massive impact on you and your life, relatively late in life, because at some point obviously you feel that you know what you are good at, you know what you like and you know where your skills and talents are. And to pick something up that is so new and different to anything that you’ve tried before and to enjoy it so much was actually quite amazing.
But anyway, I started taking my camera out a lot more with me, I started snapping, up until that point I don’t think I was really that aware of that many street photographers and street photography as a genre and such. But I started taking more and more pictures, I, as you said, started posting a lot on Flickr especially, started looking at all the amazing work that other people were doing there and then from there I just completely got hooked on it and got pulled into it. So, it almost happened more organically rather than me really knowing what I was doing right from the start.
SPM: It seems like most of the people who practice street photography are men and I just wonder how the approach of a woman might vary from a man’s perspective or how they work?
RG: I think it is a very interesting point, certainly of the more well known photographers, street photographers, I guess the majority are men, but even when you go to look at new and emerging photographers, the majority seems to be male colleagues, really.
I am interested and I am fascinated by that, I’m not entirely sure why that is, I think some of it could be to do with their initial confidence and the boldness that you need to walk up to people, stand so close to people and put a camera up in people’s face and then walk off. To start with, it’s a very intimidating experience, I guess, for the shooter, as well as the shootee and I am not entirely sure that’s maybe something not quite so natural to us women. I think those women that I have come across the street photographers, obviously it’s difficult to generalize things, but I think, overall and for me, personally, I have a very emerging approach in some ways, and a very, I guess, subjective way to capture those things that actually are very close to my heart and touch me and touch some of thoughts that might be concerning me at any given time.
I don’t know if it’s the same for other women and I don’t think that you can say that there was more of softness to female street photographers. I think that just overall, there are probably not enough of us out there.
SPM: No, there aren’t enough! I don’t know if you approach people much on the street or you tend to keep your distance, but if you do approach people do you think maybe it’s easier for you as a woman?
RG: Because I’m less threatening while I walk out to people or…?
RG: It could be, but I don’t actually approach people, I get very close to people but I don’t tend to interact much with those people that I photograph. I certainly don’t speak to them before I photograph them, and for the street photography that I do a lot of it is just candid. I’ll get my shot and I’m off.
SPM: Yes, I get that and it seems like a lot of your subjects are business people or are in the business. Is it just because that’s where you were, that’s where you work?
RG: Partly yes, that’s where it starts. It’s obviously very easy to catch those moments in between meeting, lunchtimes, etc. I think, overall, I have a fascination with the work life and with the difficulty, I guess, that we all have when we take on a profession, when we do our jobs 9 to 5, and then some of the feelings I guess that I was feeling at the time before I decided to build my own photography business, there was certainly that sense for me that there are two worlds almost to me, and so this whole obsession almost I have with the corporate world and the documenting some of the, I don’t want to call it, misery, but you certainly see a lot of unhappy moments and unhappy faces of people as they go to and from work, and certainly in the city of London – one of the richest, obviously, economically most promising and most advantaged places – you could definitely sense the shock that went through the city and the concern that was all of the sudden written on people’s faces, and that was a very interesting part for me to document and see how the economic crisis had taken it’s toll on quite so many people and we still observe it now, we’re coming out of the worst of it, so we’re told, but we can still see the concern and the real worry that’s written into people’s faces.
SPM: …Especially with this one photograph – “Rat Race”. We might as well talk about that right now. I just love this photo, I’ve liked it since you’ve first posted it and I’ve come back to it many times. I want to talk about that.
RG: Certainly, I’ve had quite a few contacts about it and it started quite a few different swims of conversation. A lot of people, when they first see it, wonder whether that is a staged photograph, because all those three people, three main characters in this are so beautifully choreographed, with their legs completely aligned and to top it off, with the pigeon actually flying away in the corner of the picture.
It’s one of those images that obviously, to me, wasn’t staged, it was a lucky encounter. It was one of those images that I was happy to receive. I didn’t really wait for it to happen. It was taken on Trafalgar Square, a busy square, obviously, within the centre of London. The main rush hour people, desperate to get home, leave the office or maybe go to the pub for a drink and it was the play of light and shadow that first attracted me to that particular spot.
I positioned myself on the side, took the shot and that was the only shot that I took in that exact space and as so many street photographers will know, you click the shutter and you know when you’ve taken a good shot or when things have actually worked in your favor and have aligned themselves and this was just one of those examples, where all the elements did align themselves and all I had to do, really, was just stand there and press the button.
SPM: Let’s move on. Let’s take a look at another one of your photos. This one I really like as well. The title is “You might need somebody today part 2.”
RG: Yes. And I think that, it’s an example of what I have just said. It’s obviously a picture of somebody who is so deep in their own thoughts that this young lady was really not aware of what was going on around her. It’s one of those moments that you see… I guess for me, what made the shot was this lady looking quite lost and lonely and the couple in the background give it that different context and enhance the title for this.
Sometimes when I when I shoot images or I look at them straight after, the title actually just pops into my head. And this is one of those where I just thought she probably did need somebody to speak to, and it’s those sort of moments that I observe that is probably another reoccurring theme in my work, the urban solitude and the way that, even though we have 8 million people living in London, there are still so many lost souls that you encounter and so many lonely people and that in itself is so fundamentally wrong but yet so natural as well, but it’s something that I’m fascinated by.
SPM: You really captured it here. When you shot this what did you see? Or did it just happen so fast you didn’t think about it?
RG: I saw the girl looking lost. I wasn’t aware of the background at the time. So yeah, it was really just the girl that I focused on and just pressed the shutter.
SPM: Were you pretty far away? Because the people in the back are pretty blurred, were you using a longer lens at the time or just a wider aperture?
RG: It’s a wide aperture that I shot with, yes, so I wasn’t as close as I normally am, but I shot with a wide aperture.
SPM: So it has to be difficult shooting with a wide aperture on the street, because you just may not get it sharp and this is perfect.
RG: Yes, and there are enough images at the same time that never make it, that just get deleted straight away. It’s not an easy process, but it’s worth experimenting, I guess. For everybody to see what works best for your own individual style and I think that’s the one thing changing cameras, and I think changing settings is so important, I’ve found, just to really play around and shoot from the hip and just explore all the different angles that you can, just to really find different processes that work for you, because there isn’t any one perfect setting and one perfect way to capture images.
SPM: One photo I have liked for a long time that’s called, actually you have two from the same position. This one is called “Wish you were here” and it takes place on the Westminster Bridge, walking towards Big Ben and The House of Parliament. And that’s great for people to learn from London, because we recognize those landmarks and there is snow on the ground, I assume you don’t get a lot of snow in London.
RG: No. We have got a little bit more recently, yes, but when this shot was taken it was just one of those days, and certainly when it does snow, the snow doesn’t stay. So you won’t find too many images from recent years where snow has fallen and stayed. And this was actually a snow blizzard that was happening.
It looks fairly clean and clear on the photograph, but I did have quite a bit of snow on the lens. This was shot with the Ricoh and that particular camera doesn’t perform too well with higher ISO, so you can see quite a lot of noise actually in the image, but it’s just one of those, for me, very timeless almost, and classic London images.
This could have been shot 30, 40 years ago almost, with the classic black cab that happened to be driving by at the right time, the couple both, dressed in black walking over the bridge without any umbrellas or without any other aids to shield them from the snow, so it’s is one of those moments. I did have to force myself out. It was a horrendous day. It was wet and it was miserable. My feet were soaked, but it was definitely worth doing.
SPM: I was thinking as I looked at the sidewalk “Boy, you must have been cold” That’s a pretty miserable nasty looking day. But you were still so out there, and you got really, 2 wonderful shots.
RG: Yes. Once again, it’s that moment on days like this, because you know it’s such a passing phase, especially with the snow melting. It’s once again a reminder of how passing and how fleeting this world is.
So it’s very, very difficult on a day like that to know when to stop and when to have a break or have a hot chocolate or whatever it is that you need, because it’s miserable. But it’s just impossible to stop, because you know that you are missing one of the moments if you stop shooting.
SPM: One thing I wanted to talk about is the names of your photos. You have the best titles. Do they just come to mind as you are shooting? What happens? Is it just how you feel as you look at that?
RG: Yeah, I think it’s the same way with “You might need somebody” title, those shots that I really feel and I know that they work for me, they usually have a title almost spring up to mind as soon as I view them.
Those that I can’t think of a title or that don’t evoke certain mood or vibe at me at least, I tend to know that they are not really strong enough for me. I do hunt for those strong moments and feelings and a lot of times, once I have got a shot that works in my own view, something pops to mind and that’s where the titles come from.
I know that there are different views also in titling images and a lot of the time actually, with the way that I title my images, I give them a particular touch, or I position them in a particular way. And that’s just my very subjective way of showing my work and positioning it in a way that I feel where it is.
One example of this is an image that I took, once again, in the city of London. It’s called “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else”. And I guess the image in itself is quite a clean and quite a structured image, which plays a lot on another theme that I explore quite a lot, the light and dark and the constant chasing of light. And in a city like London, with the climate and the weather that we have, we don’t get to see the shadows very often, so when they are out, you really have to be quick and get them in a way.
But this was one of those moments where obviously, this man was leaving the office, to give it more of a personal context, I was also leaving my workplace to go into a much more exciting venture. So this was something that clearly worked for the image, but at the time it also really represented where I personally was pretty well.
About Ronya Galka
Born and educated in Germany, Ronya moved to London in the early 1990s and it is there that she launched her photography career and developed her own style of urban and street photography, extracting the extraordinary from life around her.
The majority of her work is of an urban nature, depicting cityscapes and capturing scenes of urban life- moments of joy, solitude, love and despair. Her intimate images of urban life frequently blend Fine Art with Documentary and are often intriguing, incorporating a degree of ambiguity, triggering thoughts and emotions in the viewer.
Ronya’s images have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines as well as regularly being licensed for advertising. Her urban prints can be found in hundreds of private collections around the world and a selection of her black and white work is currently installed at Newcastle Airport in the UK.