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Posts tagged ‘Robert Frank’

# 13 KATE KIRKWOOD, Lake District (United Kingdom) “Rural” Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Kate Kirkwood, a Lake District (United Kingdom) ‘Rural’ Street Photographer as our #13 guest. Also Leica Liker’s second female photographer!

I think you will agree, when we speak of street photography, the first images or thoughts that come to mind are primarily humans interacting in city centers or city street scenes. Most likely because the majority of people live in cities. So the probability of photographs shot and published are naturally taken by city folk in their natural habitat. And if you are lucky to be living in the countryside or are a roving photographer, you might be shooting some from rural areas. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson who took photos of pigs looking out of their pigsty in Holland, a lone duck floating down a stream in the countryside of France or three geese walking towards an abandoned windmill on the plains of Tralee, Ireland. There’s a few rural life photographers out there. But these photographs are far and few between. Even the Flickr group, “Rural Street Photography”,  has just a handful of members. So when I was introduced to Kate’s work, it was like looking at gems.

Kate’s photographs gently leads us into the intimate life of northwest England, where the landscape is a national treasure. It is also the home of romantic poet William Wordsworth and children’s book writer Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit. Their words and drawings conjure images of bucolic England. Kate’s images aspire to the same.

Surrounded by pure unquieted landscape and animals, where humans are far and few between, the idyllic life has definitely helped shape Kate’s vision of the world. The rich colors and raking light combined with powerful compositions showcases her emphasis of animals and humans living in harmony with nature, giving landscape photography new life. More importantly, she has been able to offer her unique definition of rural street photography.

an·thro·po·mor·phic  [an-thruh-puh-mawr-fik] adjective
Ascribing human form or attributes to a being or thing not human, especially to a deity.

However, what really draws you into Kate’s work is the unique voice she has given to her subjects, especially animals. Kate talks about looking for the “minuscule, heightened moments in rural spaces, where seemingly little happens…” Whether it is two doves having a chat about their day as they cross the country lane, or the silent response to her car light on a lamb caught enjoying a private moment. Subtle humorous moments. Each character has its own secret life.

Through Kate’s eyes, we can see a complex story being lived. We realize that, like humans, animals have a deep intelligence. Their lives are unwittingly anthropomorphized through her lens. And our empathy comes from connecting their daily routine with ours.

When you look at Kate’s work, you can’t help but feel you’ve shared a glimpse of ‘sublime life’. As if to say, as stewards of earth, we have a responsibility to respect all living beings. Perhaps it’s because Kate understands the devastation of prejudice when she and her ex-husband published anti-apartheid literature in their past. Or maybe it’s because she lives in a remote area where she interacts with animals more than with humans. Most likely all of the above. The result is not ‘minuscule moments’ as she modestly comments, but a profound look into the richness of life at its simplest.

Here’s my interview with KATE KIRKWOOD:

Nick Name:  None
Currently living in: The Lake District, United Kingdom
Motto: Never seek what you’re expecting; set your camera and your heart to serendipity.

Street Photographer since: 2007-ish
Do you have formal photography training? No I don’t.  I run a Bed and Breakfast where I live and had some fishermen stay with me who were gear heads. It was interesting overhearing them talk about equipment and techie things for hours, despite most of it going over my head. I try to keep up with developments, but things move fast. I think I have enough basic  knowledge of how to use the camera so I can just get on with actually looking at the world. Perhaps I’m missing some tricks, but my primary pleasure is in fishing for images, trying things out, and then seeing what I’ve caught that day. I don’t mind bumbling along, learning as I go.

Profession/Job: Book production/design
Organizations or Group:  None

Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Simply what I have: A Nikon D60 with a Nikkor 18-55mm lens.
Back-up Street Camera & Lens: Ha ha, my old little Fuji E900 P&S, which is held together with tape. I’m not very good on the techie side of things and find the options and discussions of such things overwhelming. I prefer a simple camera, simple settings (I use ‘Programme’ mostly), and concentrating on subjects.
Favorite photography gadget: A large farmer’s raincoat that I can zip up over my camera.
Favorite street food:  A pocket of salted licorice, if I’m lucky.

Do you listen to music while shooting?   Sometimes, but my old Shuffle went in the wash last week so that’s kiboshed that.
Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: All sorts – Bach; PJ Harvey; Cinematic Orchestra; Mercedes Sosa; Cocorosie; Bill Evans; Lou Reid, Schoenberg Anouar Brahem; the Pixies…. I’m listening to Jocelyn Pooks as I write.
Favorite photo software:   I’ve only ever used Photoshop and I currently have version CS5.

3 Favorite Master Photographers:   Only three? I’d like to mention Helen Levitt, Fay Godwin and Ruth Orkin as there are few women in the usual lists and organisations. There are many whose photographs I look at again and again.  I love Robert Frank, Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas, many others … (and of course HCB goes without saying).

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers:   Only three? How about Pentti Sammallahti, Sally Mann and Josef Koudelka.

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? It would be easier to answer the question ‘Which three prints would you like to own?’ I have wonderful prints from my photographer boyfriend who is one of the best in the street field. Otherwise, I have plenty of well-loved postcards of favourite images on my pinboards – does that count? And a lovely poster of Sirkka-Liisa Kontinnen’s photo ‘Girl on a Spacehopper’, and one by Lee Miller from a V&A exhibition.

Color or Black and White? Colour, though I’d like to play with monochrome.

Shoot Film or Digital? Digital. For me the absolute magic of the immediacy of digital still thrills; I remember very clearly the afternoon that someone showed me a small point-and-shoot in operation for the first time.  It was as riveting and exciting as the occasion, when, as a small child, I saw a zoetrope in action. I began trying to photograph more than just family snaps in the age of digital so it was hardly a consideration, and it’s more affordable and simpler, though I’d love to experiment with older cameras.

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? I enjoy shooting in the first and the last light of day; right at the edges.

How do you define street photography?  Perhaps many genres can be “street” if you don’t determine what you’re going to shoot before hand. A few years ago I had the experience of seeing the best photographic exhibition in my life; was a huge show of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. I was immediately afflicted, I wanted to try this art, street photography, too.  But where I live, I see the postman once a day and sometimes I don’t see anyone else for days. When I go to the city, the best treat is to simply wander the streets. However, because I live out in a rural area, I enjoy what I have, approaching moments and unfolding spaces in rural spaces with the mindset of a street photographer, even though I don’t live in a place with people. I suppose I try for a kind of rural street photography, although I’m also trying to find fresh ways with the possibilities of landscape photography.

Street photography requires an abandoned sense of wonderment, an openness. But you can’t just click away and assume that the act in itself will muster up an image. It’s so rare; it’s that little crucial moment that I think might be symbolized by the way Cartier-Bresson used to pop up on his tippy toes as he pressed the shutter. Seldom, if ever, can I claim to have snaffled what Roland Barthe’s calls ‘punctum’. Street photography offers a kind of slow accretion of modest wisdom. The more you photograph, the keener your observation, the more you notice about the world … perhaps you grow a little wiser each time because you’re in a state of watching out.

Decades ago I was involved with an anti-apartheid publishing house my then husband ran and some of the ground-breaking young photographers of that time in Johannesburg had a dark room at the back of the place and they offered my first understanding of what documentary photography is about. I often consider and puzzle over the difference between documentary and street photography. Documentary photography has a responsibility while street photography doesn’t. Yet it tells a lot of truths. Street brings attention to our foibles and reminds us of delight. It’s lovely to go to exhibitions of street photographers you know and see the public responding to the delight in everyday life.  It’s like enhancing all the little things that happen when we don’t have our cameras.

I’m not so keen on street photography which is malicious, grossly intrusive or that pokes fun at vulnerable people. I prefer and enjoy photographs which are taken with a kind of tenderness and respect. This is a tricky differentiation; I enjoy much of Martin Parr’s work and he’s a great one at poking fun, of celebrating our ludicrious possibilities. Perhaps it should be celebratory rather than derisory, although I strongly believe we should always deride misused or misplaced power….

Some of your images remind us of the comic strips of Gary Larson, where the animals take on human or at least anthropomorphic intelligence. Is that how you see them? Perhaps. I have this one very tame hen that sits next to me when I am in the sun. So I painted her nails. One day a builder was here fixing the chimney and after a cup of tea and a chat he bounced off in his van and ten minutes later he came bouncing back and in a rather matter of fact way handed me the hen through his window. She had got into the van and settled down in the passenger seat when he wasn’t looking. I suppose she wanted a little expedition.  Yes, animals have huge intelligence but it’s of their own complex sort. I love being in a position to try and capture some of that.

Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? To me Street is more an attitude than a genre, a way of encountering the world, without too many preconceptions, wherever one happens to be. It invites intuition rather than rationality; it requires an emotional response before an understanding. I also love the excitement of anticipation, seeing a moment coming.… What I do to earn a living requires planning, organization, parameters, words; wandering around with my camera is an antidote to that. We don’t have to prepare anything, and we don’t have to tell the whole story – suggestion and puzzlement are good intentions.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? The world is a different place when we’ve a camera in our hand. I love having this reason to be out in the world, in the sun and the rain, instead of hunched at my computer where I spend my working day. It’s a bit like taking a dog for a walk. I live a quiet life in the countryside and when I get out the world has a wam-bam! impact on me. I think, crikey! look at what’s going on, look at what all these people or dogs or cows or buses or road signs are up to! What havoc, what strange order, too…Photographing out there is a sort of gesture of love; kind of blowing a kiss to the world.

Is Street Photography an obsession? Perhaps, yes. I drive with my camera on my lap. I feel undressed if I chance out of the door without it, and return in panic to fetch it.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? I find it a meditative practice – if that doesn’t sound too pretentious – best carried out alone. I get into a ‘dwaal’, as Afrikaners say. But I take my camera where ever I go, whether I’m in company or not; I just don’t go on group shoots. I don’t go on ‘shoots’ per se, I just take my camera along in life.

Favorite street photography city: I don’t get about much, and photograph mostly in rural areas. I enjoy the quirky small towns on the coast near where I live, and I get to London when I can.

What inspires your photography? I think everything we encounter can inform our photography; current politics for example. I enjoy all sorts of art and literature and go to galleries when I can, and if I can’t, well, I count myself fortunate that I have Google Search and the Internet, which can be like making a big Christmas pudding every day; loads and loads of ingredients at our fingertips! Recently I saw Grayson Perry’s tapestries; and marveled at the small details of contemporary life he’s observed in them. I also saw Munch’s paintings and was very moved and also inspired by the daring and photographic points of view in his compositions.  Things I’ve read recently? Will Self’s  Psychogeography was big for me, as was Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. Of course I read a couple of blogs, and I try to find out what other photographers are saying, and enjoy their biographies, but mostly I soak up their images, as much as I can and as often as I can.

Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? I suppose the isolation. In the last 4 years I’ve been mostly on my own here. Roaming around the area is very solitary. There is a state of grace to be learned from that. England is a small, crowded place but the gaps of space and silence and minimalism are there. I find it easier to compose with simpler and fewer elements.

When I am in London I like to go out early in the morning. If you go out to somewhere like Oxford street in the middle of the day and people stream by you can invariably dredge up  an image. But perhaps because I am used to country life, I find the empty streets of the early hours more manageable. Maybe it’s a bit of a cop-out, but I find myself doing it.

On the other hand, I have a problem with some landscape photography which is often quite dull or clichéd. Landscape images become beautiful or beguiling or special when something unique happens in them, when the photographer invests some emotional intelligence in her or his summoning of the landscape.  Some of Ansel Adams’ photographs manage that; a small spark, that tiny black horse, a living spirit.

Do you think your work in typography, proofreading and publishing  has an impact on how you shoot and view street photographs? Perhaps because I’m making decisions about color, line and form in the earning work. The world can be compositionally structured through a viewfinder much like the graphics on a page. I work on academic books, mostly about Africa and global issues So I often browse for images for book covers and illustrations, looking through stock photos, finding fresh elements for design.

What do you look for in a good photograph by others and by yourself? A difficult question, often asked. I know the effect of a good photograph: it’s a sort of searing prod, like with a branding iron; a prod in the head or a prod in the heart or even the funny-bone; and then the day is different after that.…

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I do not have a plan or a way of doing things. I just make sure I have my camera and that the battery is charged, and I try to remember to check that I haven’t left exposure compensation on, which I frequently do! I simply take my camera along and don’t feel a desperation to find a shot, to make a catch. I take quite a lot of photos while en route on country roads – grinding to a halt, reversing, causing mahem, plunging into muddy fields ….

How do you go about composing a shot? If there’s time I’ll check if there’s an alternative point of view; an element that could be included, a framing shape I might not have seen at first. I once took a landscape photograph, which ended up in the Tate archives, of a farmhouse and snowy mountains in the background, but I was bothered by some pesky black silage bags and old tyres cluttering the foreground. Then, as I adjusted my position, I realized that filling half the frame with this detritus actually made a better photo. This can happen in street situations, when you take a few shots and then notice that things might line up or juxtapose or create a better shot if you just shift a little. But you need the luxury of time for that. Mostly taking a photo is a sort of blurred panic.

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets): When I got my little DSLR a friend picked it up to admire it and promptly threw the lens cap in the bin. ‘You won’t be needing that’, he said, ‘you won’t take street photographs with a lens cap on’. So perhaps that’s some good advice: throw away your lens cap and get a UV filter to protect your lens instead. Another tip I learned is to carry on shooting even after it feels like a moment is over. I’ve found that if a person who’s in my shot is curious or put out by my including them they mellow if I try find something nice or respectful to say, to explain that I thought they looked wonderful there in that light, or that I liked their nice jumper or that their kiss looked so loving.

Best single advice on how to improve your work: I don’t really like the word ‘work’; people who toil away in paddy fields or down mines or in garment factories do ‘work’. We photographers who’re not doing it to earn bread or rent, are just enjoying ourselves, making our projects, dilly-dallying, learning to look and understand a little more.

Best single advice on how to edit your work:  I spend some of my working time cutting and paring book texts down to the bones, and it’s good to try to do this with photographs. I find it a good challenge to be really strict and honest with myself when it comes to sorting through images. You know that an image is actually not very good, you just do, and it’s better not to try to persuade yourself it is and to just move on. So being ruthless helps. Distilling, from a big fat mush of stuff, just one brief succinct or poetic phrase.

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘get into’. There’s no right way to do it, no club, no certificates. Just walk out with a camera and see what happens.  It’s fun to share the results and learn from others on websites like Flickr, to become savvy and enter competitions and things, but it can get hectic and misleading.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? It’s not a ‘career’, it’s a hobby really; I don’t have grand ambitions. I do take it seriously and am passionate about it, but I have no pretensions to a career. Street photography is not really about that; even master street photographers do mostly commercial work to survive. The delight in getting a satisfying photo is a very rare and ‘best’ moment, every time.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? I haven’t had any ‘worst’ moment I don’t think. Being shooed off down the street in a local town by two big lads who could shout ‘fuck off’ and fire half-eaten chips from their mouths simultaneously was a bit exciting.

Other than that, because I live in a small community, the people, farmers, are all generally wary about being photographed. The older folks aren’t too bothered by it but the younger ones are.

What projects are you working on? With street images things perhaps become projects as they accumulate. I am also trying to start a couple of documentary projects about things that I feel are important and if anything I’d hope to develop in that direction.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? Simply to still be looking, snapping and learning for the enjoyment of it. With perhaps a little more technical savvy and perhaps a project I’m proud of…

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? A small presentation in Amsterdam, and a selection in Life Force magazine are coming up soon.

Leica Liker thanks Kate for sharing her experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on her in the future.

We also want to thank Richard Bram for introducing Kate to us.

You can check out Kate’s gear in “Liker Bags ‘n Gear” here.

Here is Kate’s self portrait.

# 9 ED PETERS, New York Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Ed Peters, a New York Street Photographer as our #9 guest.

I’ve written much about how street photographers try to capture the decisive moment, sympathizing with life of others on the street. This time I would venture to say that we are looking at quite the opposite: we are looking at the emotions of the artist/photographer, Ed Peters, expressed in an artistic way.

Ed is drawn by color. His compositions are impacted by the advertising and commercialism surrounding our environment. His images imply that everything and anything, including a colorful plastic bag, every day objects, can be seen as art. Even pure advertising, whose sole goal is to lure in a customer to spend,  can be seen as art. Something to be celebrated and enjoyed as well as function as a thought provoker.

When you look at Ed’s photos, you can’t help but think: pop, poetic, lyrical. Some of his images are like metaphorical mirrors of our own creation. Others stir something intangible in us. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of a simple and grounded  life against the complex and superficial quality of our society as demonstrated in billboards, graffiti and advertising.

Ed’s images have one thing in common though, they spark our existential imagination. Opening our minds to new ways to look at our world,  color, and anything else that comes to mind. This phenomenon help add a kind of authenticity to our busy daily lives. What a wonderful gift of a man from Patterson, New York.

Here’s my interview with ED PETERS:

Nick Name: None
Currently living in: a suburb of New York
Motto: None

Street Photographer Since: The 1980’s
Profession/Job: Retired photo journalist.
Organizations or groups:

Favorite street camera & lens: Leica M9 with 35mm lens, or Canon 5d Mark II with 24-105mm lens (not usually carried together)

Why do you like the Leica M9? I am not wedded to the Leica, and other cameras intrigue me. When I shot film, I used the Contax G2. I do, however, like the viewfinder of the M9. With it, I can often zone focus, and get the camera to my eye very quickly. The sensor is also good, but you start picking up significant noise when you get past ISO 800. The Canon 5D Mark II is cleaner.

Favorite back up street camera & lens: Canon 5D or Ricoh GR2 (taken only when traveling)

Favorite photography gadget: Plastic freezer bags (purchased in supermarkets). They’re great for organizing everything.
Favorite street food: Nothing special.
Do you listen to music while shooting? Never

Favorite Music When Shooting and/or Editing: My tastes are varied, but unrelated to photography.
Favorite photo software: Lightroom. When I first began working with digital images I used Photoshop. A few years ago I purchased Lightroom, and can’t remember the last time I used Photoshop. I just upgraded to Lightoom 4.

3 Favorite Master Photographers: I couldn’t pick only three.
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: I have to give the same answer, but would like to elaborate on both questions. It’s possible to “name names”, and round up the” usual suspects”, but I think it’s important for photographers to see their work as part of a broader visual tradition.

All too often, photographers mention a handful of well known photographers that they admire. I too have been influenced by many of the same people, but I’ve also been influenced by the work of other artists. Anyone, for example, who wants to see color used in a masterful way couldn’t do better than viewing the paintings of Henri Matisse or Pierre Bonnard.

Which three photographers prints do you own? I don’t own any, but I do own a ridiculous number of photo books. They seem to pile up everywhere. One day I’ll have to organize the chaos.

Color or Black and White? It’s been color for a long time, but I don’t know what the future will bring.
Shoot Film or Digital? Digital. For many years I used film for my professional and personal work. I’m not the most technologically sophisticated person, and it took me a long time to adapt to digital. Once I shot digital, I never looked back. It’s so much more flexible, convenient and inexpensive (no film and processing costs). I know that some photographers are still fans of film, but I’m not one of them.

Is there a special time of day that you like to shoot or is any time good? My preference is for early morning and late afternoon/evening light. Harsh midday sun is the worst.
Do you ever shoot on non-sunny days? Yes, to some extent, but if the weather is really terrible, I probably won’t go out. When it’s sunny, and I can set a small aperture ( to achieve great depth of field) I like to use the M9. If I have to slow things down, because of low light, I prefer the Canon. It’s a shame the rangefinder doesn’t have auto focus. I know that would be a heresy for some, but I just don’t think that a person can manually focus as fast as a camera that has autofocus. I know I can’t.

Why did you choose street photography and not another form of photography like stamp collecting? I find it enjoyable. Otherwise why bother? I like the process of walking, the challenge of making successful images, and the element of gamesmanship involved. If my circumstances change maybe I’ll practice another form of photography – or take up stamp collecting. Perhaps I’d love it.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? Read my previous answer.
Is street photography an obsession? That depends on what you define as an “obsession”. When I look at the work of a photographer I don’t usually care what their state of mind was when they made their photos.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or groups? I’m a lone shooter. I can’t photograph on the street while socializing with other people. There are too many distractions. Yesterday, I was at a parade with some friends, and felt like putting my camera away.

Favorite street photography city: I live in the New York /metropolitan area, so I do most of my street photography in Manhattan. It’s a great place to photograph, but ( like Paris) is one of the most photographed cities in the world. There’s a history of great photographers using New York as their subject, so I sometimes feel that I’m walking on all too familiar ground.

I also think, however, that photographers can approach their subject matter like a jazz musician interprets a familiar standard, and through improvisation, create unique images. The other city that I’d like to mention is Oaxaca, Mexico. Whenever I go there, I always return with images that please me.

What inspires your photography? I guess it’s primarily an interest in the visual arts. I’d also describe myself as a voracious reader, and that’s probably also influenced my choice of subject matter.
Since you look at a lot of photo books, then obviously you’ve seen Constantin Manos and Alex Webb- were you influenced by them or did you develop this high contrast imagery by yourself? I think I saw Webb’s work first, and admired it very much. Maybe he was an influence, but a lot of other people were too. By the time I got to Mexico, where there’s always this dramatic light, I guess there were parallels developing .

That raises an interesting point about the influence of place. The location itself is important. If you look at Alex Webb’s work in Istanbul, the photos have a different quality than those taken in Cuba, or Mexico. And for me? I’m very curious about India. It’s a high energy place, and I’m curious about the contrasts of traditional culture and modernization.

Is there a philosophy or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? I wouldn’t call it a philosophy. We all have particular strengths, weaknesses, and subject matter that we’re interested in. I think my work is quite graphic. That’s not a philosophy, it’s just a quality that it possesses.

How does journalism affect what and how you see? I always practiced street photography. I appreciate the work of many photojournalists, but I don’t see myself going back to that.

What do you look for in a photograph by others and by yourself? That’s not a simple question. It depends on what the purpose of the photograph is. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I just appreciate photos that are well composed, timed, etc.. I also appreciate photos that function on more diverse levels. If you look at a book like Walker Evans’ Many are Called, the individual photos look like haphazard snapshots. In a way, that’s what they are. Evans made those photos with a hidden camera, and didn’t even look through the viewfinder when releasing the shutter. He later sequenced those photos for the book, and it’s in that context that they took on power, meaning, and relevance.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph? It varies. Sometimes I raise the camera to my eye quickly, and there’s only a brief opportunity to take one or two exposures. At other times I can be more deliberate, frame my composition more carefully, and wait for events to unfold.
How do you go about composing a shot? See the above answer.

Best three tips for shooting the streets:
1. First study your camera, it’s potential, and limitations.
2. Be ready for the photo. You don’t want to be fumbling with camera settings, focus, etc. while taking your shot (unless for some reason you have that luxury). Most good street photography requires being quick.
3. Be patient. If you think that there’s a potential for a successful photo at a given location, but that extra something hasn’t arrived yet, hang around.

Do you shoot a lot? When I’m traveling, I shoot every day. At home,, my schedule varies.

Can you give some advice on creating a series or photo essay rather than one off photos? I usually don’t photograph with a fixed agenda in mind. What separates street photography from photojournalism is a certain “open ended” quality. In photojournalism, you photograph a previously defined subject matter. It’s more explicit than street photography. Some people have compared the two genres to poetry and prose. Prose is more specific in it’s meaning; poetry is less precise. This ambiguity invites viewers to more freely interpret an image.

At the completion of either type of project, it’s important to edit photos. I think a good place to start (at least for street photographers) is to look at Robert Frank’s The Americans. When he published the book, he was very aware of how each image related to the others, and what their collective meaning might be.

Best Single advise on how to improve your work: Study the work of photographers, and artists, in various media. As I said above, we’re part of a long tradition. This is one of the most important things that a person can do. An ignorant photographer is probably a bad photographer.
Best single advise on how to edit your work: Look at a lot of photo essays and books.
Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Do it if it gives you pleasure, but don’t expect to make much money from it.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? Nothing stands out.
What is the worst moment in your street photography career? Once again, nothing stands out, and I’m reluctant to use the term “career”.

What projects are you working on? Besides my day to day practice, I’ve begun photographing in Calcutta, India, and I hope to return there before the end of the year.
Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to your street photography? That time frame is too distant.
Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Not at this time, but I might put together something with my colleagues at Street Photographers.

Leica Liker thanks Ed for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. We look forward to checking in on him in the future.

You can check out Ed’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear” here.

This is Ed’s self portrait.

#4 CRAIG SEMETKO, Los Angeles Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Craig Semetko, a published (LL’s first) Los Angeles Street Photographer, as our #4 guest.

Craig is a super busy man these days. It was hard to pin him down because he is in the middle of his new project, ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’, which entails driving all around the United States compulsively looking for the ‘decisive moment’. But when he had to come back to Los Angeles to do a comedy gig, I was able to squeeze out a few hours with him at Mel’s Diner on Sunset Boulevard. Craig is a real trooper. He was a little under the weather but didn’t cancel me. “The show must go on!”

After a few gulps from his cup of hot tea and honey, he was raring to go. All our talk about photography, people, life, cameras, and politics made him quite animated. I was thrilled because you couldn’t stop him. ☺

When I first embarked into street photography, I scoured the internet and bookstores for information and images. I came across the stable of master street photographers  you’ve all heard of, as well as Craig’s work. I also had the good luck to see his images printed and meet him at a solo exhibition at the Phil Stern Gallery here in Los Angeles.

What caught my eye in Craig’s work was his sense of humor in so many of his street photos. They were classically composed, each with a story to tell and harked back to the photos of Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then I learned that they are his heroes. Funny how that is.

Craig talks about depth in his photos: Depth coming from composition, content and emotion. With today’s digital photography and social networking, countless photos are taken and shown without consideration of these elements. But this self taught photographer strives very hard to achieve all three points. Together, these points always lure me in: like fish to bait. I want to know more. I always laugh or cry with the subjects in his images. They have sentiment but aren’t sentimental for sentimentality’s sake. And they often leave an indelible impression. That’s why I can remember so many of his photos, while others I forget immediately after I look at them. In my eyes, that’s a sign of a master in the making.

You can see many of Craig’s classic images in his first book “UNPOSED,” published by teNeues with a foreword by legendary photographer Elliott Erwitt. It was released worldwide in late 2010.

Here’s my interview with CRAIG SEMETKO:

Nick Name: None that I’m aware of. Maybe people call me things behind my back.
Currently living in: Los Angeles. But I have been traveling throughout the United States for the past year and will continue through the end of this year.
Motto: To quote Hunter S. Thompson: “ When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Profession/Job: Professional photographer and comedian.

Street Photographer since: Since 2000, when I went to China on a business trip and thought I should bring a camera. Prior to that I didn’t own a camera.
Websites: and
Organizations or Group: I don’t belong to any group that would have me as a member.

Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Leica M9 and Summilux 35mm f/1.4 (used most often) and Summilux 50mm f/1.4 lenses
Back-up Street Camera & Lens:
Leica MP. Same Summilux lenses: 35mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.4
Favorite photography gadget:
I love the “Thumbs up”. It kind of replaces the shutter cock on a film camera.
Favorite street food:
Any Thai street food.

Do you listen to music while shooting? Only in my head – if I wore earphones I’d get run over. Actually, I did get run over once (I’ll tell you about that later.) The music I listen to is in my head and frequently applicable to where I’m shooting. It’s usually some corny song. For instance, when I was shooting in Savannah, Georgia, I was whistling Dixie in my head.
Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: When I edit I listen to all kinds of stuff-Oscar Peterson, James Brown, Rolling Stones, Ramsey Lewis…lots of jazz, funk and rock and roll.
Favorite photo software: I don’t like a lot of tech because it drives me crazy. But I do like Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 for black and white photos. As for color, you don’t have to do much to the image when using the Leica. Its sensor has vivid colors and high contrast. So I don’t need to futz too much. I just play with the curves a little in Aperture and Lightroom.

3 Favorite Master Photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt and Robert Frank
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: Steve McCurry, Peter Turnley and Aaron Huey
Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own?
1) Herman Leonard’s photo of Dexter Gordon
2) John Dominis’ (Life photographer) photo of actor Jackie Gleason and singer Frank Sinatra at dinner.
3) Vivian Maier’s overhead shot of a soldier and girlfriend holding hands.

Color or Black and White? Both.
For the first 10 years I shot primarily black and white because my favorite photographers shot in black and white. Now I shoot mostly color. And I’m getting good feedback on it. I’m evolving.
Black and white is generally more abstract because we see in color. So it’s a challenge when working with color because it adds so many elements to the picture. If it doesn’t jive then it can look pretty bad.
Black and white is a great way to learn photography. It makes you concentrate on the essentials: form, light, story, information and emotion. Adding color can be distracting if you’re not careful. Depends on your interest and style. I’m just working my way through that right now.

Have you looked at Constantin Manos’ work? He started in black and white and moved to color.
Yes, of course. Constantin Manos’ earlier black and white photos were definitely more humanistic. The people were expressive in the pictures. His color shots are more abstract, but they do maintain a humanistic aspect.
When I shoot black and white, I also usually take the humanistic approach. And I’m applying this same approach to my color work. You know, to be conscious of the color scheme in the photo and how it relates to the people and the sensibility of the image. I really don’t want clutter in my photos, which appears rather easily with color if you’re not careful. In general, I have not made an exclusive change from one to the other. Some pictures look better in black and white and others in color. It just depends. By default, I am shooting in color for my ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (Out of Many, One) project. So it is making me think more in color.

Shoot Film or Digital? I started with film but now I shoot almost exclusively digital. When Leica came out with the M8 it was thicker and it felt too big. I didn’t like the feel. And I missed the click of the shutter cock. So I shot film for a long time while people were shooting digital. In 2008 I was commissioned to do some photography work in Los Angeles. I bought the M8.2 and the more I used it the more I liked it. Since then I never looked back. Very rarely do I use film now. My current project, ‘E Pluribus Unum’ is shot entirely with the M9. As I’m taking thousands of pictures, the time and cost of film and processing would be prohibitive. Now I’ve grown accustomed to the M9 and the ability to change ISO for varying light situations. I shoot primarily 400 ISO because I know the exposure from years of using Tri-X. And it’s great to know if I have the picture by checking it instantly.

If Film, what type of negative? I shot just about everything with Tri-X with the occasional Kodak 3200.
Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? For color, I like the golden hour in the late afternoon. With black and white I prefer overcast days as you can shoot anytime and your exposure doesn’t change.

Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting?
When I first discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson I saw a quote of his that said, “Photography is nothing-it’s life that interests me.” That rung true for me. Taking pictures in the street was just another form of people watching and telling stories.

I think street photography was always a part of me. When I was young, I took drawing and art classes and learned basic composition. Of course I learned a lot more from studying great photographic work.

I’d been a comedy ‘observation’ writer and performer for 20 years before taking any pictures. Comedy is about observing people, characters and life. So is street photography. It was natural that I would pick up a camera and look for people, characters and stories to tell. Comedy is not entirely different from street photography, at least as I see it.

When I went to China on a business trip, I bought a camera and took lots of photos. After seeing some of them printed, I realized I could use a camera as another means to tell stories. And that’s how I started. I looked for drama and characters on the streets. But then I began to study HCB’s photographs, and I realized how complicated his images were compared to mine. He looked for the form first and knew the drama and emotion would follow. This realization made me start concentrating more on composition. I also discovered Elliott Erwitt early. He has a great sense of humor, which strongly appeals to me.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? I want to capture the truth or authenticity of a situation.

W.Eugene Smith, the great photojournalist said, “I’m not interested in the truth of the lens, I am looking for the essence of truth.” For example, take a look at his famous 1958 shot A Madwoman in a Haitian Clinic. In his contact sheets, you see the woman in a room with objects and details behind her. But in his final presentation print, he blacked out the background by burning in the room. He then applied bleach in the whites of her eyes to make them pop. This left a disembodied face that looked freakish. To him it conveyed the truth of the situation: a woman trapped in her own mind. I’m not passing judgment. I’m just saying, it’s about capturing people, life situations and showing that truth.

I gravitate towards the absurd and street photography allows me to find it. I like people to look at my photographs and say, ‘what the hell is that?’ I try to provide the elements of a story and let the viewer fill in the details.

Is Street Photography an escape or an obsession? More obsession than escape. In the beginning it was a burning love, like meeting someone and going through the first phase of lust. Then it settles into a deeper love. I have a different feeling towards it now than when it began. Before it was – ‘I’m going out to shoot.’ Now, it’s my life. It must be a passion or mental illness that is making me criss-cross America for the next year.

Are you a loner or can you shoot with friends of a group? I am a loner when shooting. When I’m with someone I tend to want to socialize or entertain. However, I have grown to see the immense value of having a person with me as an accomplice. I was in Atlanta in a mall with my mother and nieces when I saw an old lady next to Santa who I wanted to photograph. I told my mother I needed her help to get the shot. She didn’t know what to do. I told her to just stand next to me–it made me look less suspicious.
Favorite street photography city: New York! There’s always something weird going on.

What inspires your photography? I’m always reading books, going to museums, listening to music. Rhythm and music inspire me as a comedy writer and as a photographer. Also the work of the masters. I keep copies of books by Erwitt, HCB, Frank and Vivian Meir in my vehicle while I drive around the country.
What do you look for in a good photograph? From others and from your own work?
I look for a sense of geometry, information, and emotion. It has to tell a story or present the elements of a story in a well-composed frame and create some emotion in the viewer.

I expect that from my own photos as well but I am also trying to go deeper. I definitely add humor to the equation. To see something as funny, you have to understand the seriousness from which it emanates. It has to be based on some truth. And I want to show more than just humor. I’ve had people contact me after buying my book UNPOSED to tell me that each time they look at my photographs they see more in them. They might get an immediate chuckle but then they see the seriousness as well – the deeper story. I love to hear that.

I read that you believe photographing does not require too much thinking because it “constipates” things. How do you go about shooting? Thinking can be a problem. When I’m in the moment, I’m not thinking at all. I’m locked in non- thought. The more you think about a shot, the easier it is to lose it. If you’re thinking long, you’re thinking wrong. Sometimes you just have to take the shot.
Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Be fast. Get closer. Work on seeing. Carry a camera, and be aware of your surroundings. If you don’t have a camera with you, pretend you are a camera and blink your eye at the decisive moment. That will teach you to observe. It will help you start to anticipate your subjects’ movements and learn when to press the shutter.

Best single advice on how to improve your work: Study the masters, not Flickr.
Best single advice on how to edit your work: Have someone else do it. It can be a revelation. I’ll give you an example. My most well known photograph was one I never thought of printing or showing to anyone. I had a photographer friend of mine whose opinion I respect look at my contact sheets. He saw the shot of a man pissing at a urinal with pictures of Marilyn Monroe looking at him and laughing. He insisted I print it. I did, and it is my best selling print. So you can have surprises.

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Elliott Erwitt said, “Be an heir and do it on the side.” I believe he was only half joking. It’s a tough road to hoe, so you really have to love doing it. Shoot as much as possible. You have to dedicate yourself to it and go through a lot of shoe leather. Finally, and this is important–try to take pictures that no one else on earth but you could take. This will help you develop a personal style, which is imperative in a world where everyone with a cell phone is a photographer.

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? Every time I press the shutter and know I’ve got a good one. But there is one really overwhelming experience: A friend of mine suggested I show some of my work to a gallery owner in Durango, Colorado. I did, she liked it and told me to stay in touch. I wasn’t very good at staying in touch but six months later she called me saying that she was doing an exhibit of HCB’s work and was wondering if I would like to show some of my work alongside his. You can imagine how excited I was. I remember the day we put that show up and I stood in the corner and looked at the walls. There were 25 Cartier-Bresson prints and 25 of mine. I teared up. I got into street photography and bought a Leica because of him.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? I was run over by a motorcycle in Hanoi, Vietnam. It gave me a pronounced limp for a while.
What projects are you working on and is there a theme? E Pluribus Unum – my project about the United States in 2011/2012. I started off wanting to show the polarities in present day America–economic disparities, political intransigence, etc., with the intent of spending periods of time with families at home or at work. Very soon into the project I realized I was drifting from my personal style. People whom I respect reminded me how important it was to not change my style. So now I am very conscious of not altering it. As a result I changed the way I approached this project. I now shoot in the same way I always do–I look for something that interests me and I take a picture. I will continue the project through the end of this year, and then the real work begins–editing!

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography?
I hope to continue doing candid spontaneous pictures of people’s lives. And finishing up my third book. ☺ Just going with the flow, seeing where life takes me. And I hope that I am a better photographer than I am now.
Congratulations on the last exhibit you had at the Phil Stern Gallery last October. Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Yes, I’m part of a 6 photographer exhibit entitled ‘OFF THE BEATEN PATH’ at the Robert Anderson Gallery in New York City. I’ll be showing three established photos and three new pieces from my current project. The opening night reception is June 7th and it runs through August 4th. One of the photographers is Geoff Winningham. I’m looking forward to that.

Leica Liker thanks Craig for sharing his experience and the inspirational advice with us. We will check in on his E PLURIBUS UNUM in the near future.

Craig teaches at Leica Akademie Weekend. His upcoming workshop will be on July 20th to 22nd in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California. Check out Leica Akademie Schedule here for more information.

You can check out Craig’s gear in Liker Bags’n Gear here.

This is Craig’s self portrait. Notice his Leica M9 🙂

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