Inside Street Photography

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Friday, 29 Mar 2024  |  Reading time:  6 mins  | Read online
 

Messages

Larry Racioppo

Walker Evans is one of my favorite photographers, and I own several of his books, but not this one:

It’s not actually a book. Message from the Interior consists of twelve Walker Evans photographs reproduced on 14 inch by 14 inch sheet-fed gravure on fine Bristol card, interleaved and bound in buckram, packaged in a protective cloth case.

In February 2024, AbeBooks had 21 copies for sale on its website. Based on several factors, prices varied from a low of $135 for a used softcover edition to a high of $3,500 for a used first edition signed hardcover edition.

It is the portfolio’s title, more than Evans’ elegant and powerful photographs, that has gotten me thinking about why I photograph what I photograph. As I walk down the street filled with people, storefronts, cars, objects, why do I stop HERE and NOW to photograph someone or something?

Did I receive a “message” to do so?

In some strange way, my answer is YES. I really do think that’s how we photographers make personal work. Diane Arbus expressed this feeling very strongly when she said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”

As John Szarkowski has written, "Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding within a frame a portion of one's cone of vision while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.”

All the more reason to trust our instincts when photographing.

In addition to any internal messages we may receive, the street itself is filled with messages. Following are a few that I have received:

Sometimes, it's advice - Brooklyn, 2013
Sometimes, a prayer - Brooklyn, 1994
Sometimes, a question - Harlem, 1992
Sometimes, a warning - Brooklyn, 2000
Sometimes, a test - Subway, 2011
Sometimes, good advice - Brooklyn, 1980

About the Columnist

Larry’s portrait by Anna Delaney

When I returned to South Brooklyn in 1970 after two years in California as a VISTA Volunteer, I was 22 years old with no plans and a $30 camera I barely knew how to use. I took a course at the School of Visual Arts, a job with the telephone company and began to photograph my family and friends. Things worked out better than I could have expected. I’ve been making photographs for over 50 years, and have some things I’d like to share.

 Readers can respond directly to me – larryracioppo@gmail.com.

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Happy shooting friends! ✌️

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