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Posts tagged ‘United States’

#19 PIETER TEN HOOPEN, Stockholm (Sweden) Photographer

Quibdo, Colombia

Leica Liker is honored to have PIETER TEN HOOPEN, a Stockholm (Sweden) Photographer as our #19 guest. He is also our very first WORLD PRESS PHOTO Prize Recipient!!!

When I first saw Pieter Ten Hoopen’s photographs a year ago, I couldn’t get them out of my mind. The haunting images drove me to seek out the man; the persona; the eye, behind them.

haunt·ing [hawn-ting, hahn-] adjective 1. remaining in the consciousness; not quickly forgotten

Pieter’s images linger, like a drifting fog. But it’s not a blinding experience, not at all. Instead, he pulls us into his subject’s mysterious and private world, giving us an intimate view of a certain ‘state of grace’ in the human condition.

Quibdo, Colombia

Pieter talks of the importance of stories. And is committed to telling them. It’s what quantifies human existence in a way that validates who we are. When you look into his photographs, you can’t help but feel the depth of a life lived in his subjects –  old or young.

Quibdo, Colombia

Pieter rarely shoots to capture a moment in time, like many street photographers do. He’s not looking for the ‘decisive’ moment. Instead he works hard to give you a complex story of life. The characters he meets and photographs are introduced to us like old friends whether they are news photos or stories he worked on for months.

Through Pieter’s images, we are afforded a rare look into the fragility of humanity. He’s able to present vulnerabilities as a strength, rather than a weakness of the human spirit. And it takes a seasoned and caring eye to capture human dignity and hold it close to the subject’s heart.

Quibdo, Colombia

Here is my interview with PIETER TEN HOOPEN:

Nick Name: None that I am aware of. I am curious what it could be.
Currently living in: I split it between outside Stockholm- in the countryside and in the city of Stockholm.
Motto:  I never really thought about a motto to be honest.
Photographer since: Since 2002- 11 years.

Fargana valley, Uzbekistan/0508. Margilan

How did you get started in photojournalism? Did you start off in photojournalism first? First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a photojournalist. However, I studied photojournalism in Stockholm. I would consider myself a photographer or storyteller. Those are better labels. I do all kinds of photography. It’s a great challenge I enjoy.  I shoot different assignments from commercial to news. I never say no to any photography job. For me, the goal is to finance my books and projects, which are about storytelling.

Fargana valley, Uzbekistan/0508. The city of Fergana.

In the past, I worked for New York Times magazine, Time and some European media. Although, I like to work for Swedish clients as they pay better. Sadly, Swedish print media such as newspapers and magazines are  quitting much of the struggle. It’s a dying outlet for news and stories. Because of this, I had to find other ways to make money to supplement my goal. So I teach workshops, in all parts of the world and Sweden. I also shoot more commercial work for companies these days. As you see,  all different forms of photography. I’ve also been providing visual solutions for clients in both film (moving) as well as stills. At the moment I’ve been filming a lot, which I really enjoy.

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I am also a full member with Agence Vu in Paris. They represent me and resell my journalistic photo stories. They also sell my books but not my art prints. Those are sold through my homepage and some galleries in Sweden.

Profession/Job: Professional photographer

Websites: www.pietertenhoopen.com 

Organizations  or  Group:  Agence Vu

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What was the first camera you started with? I started with a compact camera whch a friend gave as a gift.

Favorite Camera & Lens: Nikon D800E, DX3. I tried all their cameras and lens models and my favorite lens is 35mm these days. Although before it was 28mm. I always work with prime lenses – no zooms. I’m one of the photographers Nikon is sponsoring. I also often use Yashica box cameras as well as the Widelux- which is very sensitive.

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Back-up Camera & Lens: Nikon D800E is also my back-up with the 35mm lens. I always work simple. I work with one set of cameras with back-up in hotel room.

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Favorite photography gadget: I am the most boring photographer. I only use whatever is necessary to get the job done. No more and no less.

In general, I am not interested in cameras.  Being a camera geek was always for the techno insane. But I am slowly appreciating the technology and camera equipment, thanks to Nikon’s sponsoring.

I want to say, photography is about a feeling in my body. That’s why I like to test shoot with many cameras to find that feeling.

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Favorite street food: We don’t have that much in Sweden. I avoid street food because I am picky. I prefer a good restaurant in the evening.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: Never when shooting. When editing- I listen to quite a lot of radio in the background – like public radio, news programs, music as well. A lot of trance- like quiet trancey music playing continually in the background all the time to create the right atmosphere.

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Favorite photo software: Photoshop C6. I work with RAW files. I generally don’t do much post work – just dodge and burn and correction of colors. We’re not allowed to do any post work when it comes to news and journalistic work. I work the same way on my own work. I am quite consequent that way. 

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3 Favorite Master Photographers: I am a big fan of Eugene Richards. He’s my all time darling. His story telling is fantastic. Otherwise, I don’t look that much to photographers anymore. I am more a movie guy. Movies are about effective storytelling. I watch a lot of slice-of-life movies. Not spectacular fantasy, just small little stories. I love to experience the feeling of small things.

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Deliverance was the last movie I watched recently. I have seen it time and time again. I think it is a fantastic movie. The tension is insane and horrible. I love to dig through archives and DVDs and watch them many times. They are super inspiring for my photography.

Balakot, Pakistan

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers:  I have no specific persons whom I follow or see as favorite. I think I’m more interested in film and there I have plenty of favorites, too many to mention I guess.

Balakot, Pakistan

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? I collect a few and exchange with fellow photographers. For instance, I have a print from Erika Larson, an American. I have a bad conscience, I still owe her a print of one of my images. She will get it. I also own a great print of the dead Swedish master of social photography, Christer Strömholm. Another print I have is by Erik Refner a Dane. I also have prints from a lot of Russian photographers. Russia has some exciting photographers. When I do my workshops there I swap with them.

Balakot, Pakistan

Color or Black and White? Nowadays I work 99% in color. I enjoy color way more. Just gives me more inspiration, more options to visualize – I love the relationship to the story. Black and white doesn’t inspire me anymore. If I do something nowadays in black and white then it is an emergency scenario because I can’t fix it in color. Color is more complex and challenging.

Balakot, Pakistan

Shoot Film or Digital ? I love to shoot both. When it comes to commercial clients it is digital. But my new book next year is all film. My Tokyo series was shot 50/50.  I would like to have all the options open. I enjoy film a lot. It still gives such a beautiful warm, imperfect feeling while the sharpness in the digital files has its own qualities.

If Film, what type of negative?  I always use Kodak Portra 400 or 120 iso Professional.

Balakot, Pakistan

Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? If I have the possibility to choose, then late afternoon when the light is soft. Although, I can work in all kinds of light. You’re not always able to choose.

How do you define photojournalism? It doesn’t matter how it is defined. I think the term was born in the US. It is very American.

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Why did you choose photojournalism and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? Storytelling. Simple as that. I chose this line of work because I enjoy communicating with my stories. It is like movies: there are so many ways of telling and making perfect stories. If you look at my “Tokyo stories” series you’ll see I love to work closely and intimately with people.  I like to tell the poetry of daily life.

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How do you choose a journalistic subject? Depends on the story. For instance in Tokyo, Jay is a friend of mine. So it was a natural. In the story, the others are friends of his. In other stories you might use ‘fixers’: people who are on the ground who can help arrange the meeting of people for you. In Montana, I just did a lot of door knocking. So it all depends. You have to seek out any opportunity that works with the situation. You have to be flexible.

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What motivates you to photograph in general? Pure storytelling and to pay my bills. I do my specific things, but I have to pay bills like anyone else. Sometimes it’s poetry and sometimes it is just a job.

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What motivates you to photograph difficult subjects? They may be difficult topics but they are important issues ‘of our time’ and important to communicate. We need to cover them because we need to make the atrocities against humanity or to nature official.

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Is Photography an obsession? It is not. I think if it is an obsession it tires you out. It has a strange vibe that makes it difficult to deliver high quality images. You have to be sharp and strong to work the material. If you work in top form, you are really focused. I enjoy it a lot. I am good at it. You have to be so good in the field in the thing you are doing. It would be like a soccer player walking with a soccer ball all the time. I need to be able to focus and relax. So I never carry a camera around when I am not working.

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Do you always develop a relationship with your subjects? By developing a relationship, are you trying to make yourself invisible to your subjects? In my line of work, you are very close to the subjects because you work in the same space. You photograph everything they do. It depends on the story you are working on but it’s clear you are part of their life during the period of day, week, or month. I am not invisible, but the aim of my presence is to make myself non-intrusive and not distracting to the subject.

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How do you approach a subject to develop such a relationship? You explain who you are.  In Montana, I spent over 10 years documenting. You must be very straight forward as to who you are and what you want to do. You tell them you want to tag along. If they don’t like it in the beginning then they won’t like it in the end.

Favorite city to shoot in: I love Tokyo – it is one of my favorite places to be. I love the Japanese people. It may sound strange but I feel relaxed in that city. I love to walk there. I love Istanbul too.

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What inspires your photography? I like paintings. It’s very important for what I do. I studied other photographers but I find studying paintings gives me much more. I always look at the Dutch maters because of the light, even if you don’t like the subject but the light is fantastic. I also love Egon Schiele’s work.

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Is there a philosophy, concept  or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? The aesthetic changes based on the mood and atmosphere of the story. Every story has its own character, temperament and feeling that determines what it will be. It is not a philosophy but a fact.

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When you shoot, do you come with preconceived ideas or a specific point of view of the subject, or do you let events unfold? When it comes to stories, I need a clear picture of what I am going to do there. It costs too much money to do these projects, so I can’t afford to have it not pay out. You can pitch it to a newspaper and magazine; you contact people; you have to do a lot of research; and the most important part of the story – you have to research the ins and outs of the topic you are working with. Once you’re on the ground you continue researching. This is where you have to let things unfold before you. You’ll often find that your previous research might have given you a specific view. But when you get there it is not what you envisioned and it turns out to be nothing like you expect it. You have to be able to recognize that and go with the flow and not stick to your initial point of view. Positive or negative.

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The magic thing about doing stories is you constantly have to adapt to a new situation. If you go into the story with a specific vision and force it, you will be bored. That’s not saying it’s not frustrating when it first happens when things don’t go the way you envision it to go. But it’s liberating when it happens because you have to adapt. It is part of the fun.

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Can you elaborate how you develop a complete series for the media like New York Times? Is it any different when you develop a book? The two are distinctly different. The photographic material for news must fit to the text the reporter is writing. There are specific details you have to communicate. When it comes to a book, then it is a personal choice and very emotional.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others? I don’t look that much for aesthetics. I look for emotions in other people’s work, a good body of work. I want to be touched, either positive or negative. Most importantly, it must communicate it successfully.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by you? I don’t think that much in single images, I think in a series. A series is difficult when it comes to my feelings. It has to do something to me. It has to trigger me in some way. It has to create curiosity, awareness, beauty and poetry. It must be emotionally compelling. I see movies in the same way as my photos – you take the viewer into this little trip. The art is to keep people involved in the whole trip – otherwise they are not good enough.

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How do you go about shooting a photograph?  I tried for many years to blend in and it doesn’t work. I have a big camera and I am quite tall. I gave up that game. Now I just work. I don’t care about other things, I just focus on what I have to do.

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Can you describe the entire process of photographing these photos, from preparation to when you pressed the shutter button?

From the series: Kitezh in Russia. This is a story about my search of the invisible city of Kitezh from an old Russian myth about sacred waters. I never found it so I decided to take pictures of the people I came upon in my search in Vladimirskoe. I used only the late afternoon and evening light during the work on this series. I love to continue working this way. The light becomes like silk helping to create a lovely atmosphere in which to shoot. The story won the First Prize in the 2007 World Press Photo Daily Life Stories.

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Kitezh

Nikolaij

Kitezh

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From the series: Stockholm- Book. This picture was taken during the time I worked on my Stockholm book. A dear friend called me and told me his father had died of cancer and wondered if I could photograph them saying their farewell. I remember this moment clearly as it was very peaceful.  The family was close as they gathered during this moment of grief. Before it was normal in our culture to photograph family members who had died. But I think this has changed in the modern society where we don’t want to be reminded. For me personally, this was a very intimate situation and moment to be part of.

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From the series for New York Times Magazine: ER Kabul This is a picture taken in a war hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was doing a story for the New York Times Magazine about this hospital. I spent a long time in Afghansitan working on different stories but this one in particular was important to me. We worked most of the time in the emergency room and did follow-ups once the patients were doing there rehabilitation. Most of the men and women who come here are injured by mines or bullets. (see photos below) This young man was badly injured and he died some days after this image was taken because of complications. Before he came to the Emergency war hospital he was mistreated and wrongly diagnosed in other hospitals. So the damage was to very bad when he arrived.

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ER Kabul: Man with pink gloves I shot this during the same assignment for the New York Times Magazine as mentioned above. The man works for the Italian war hospital emergency. One of the biggest suicide attacks in Kabul in years killed 80 and injured hundreds of people. The injured and the dead were all driven to this entrance at the hospital. There were literally lots of body parts coming in.  The man in the gloves is gathering the body parts which were laying on the street.

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I cannot remember really what I was thinking during this shoot. When you come upon a day like this you work and work harder just so you can cover (shoot) it all. This goes for mentally and physically too. The only thing I remember was a brain laying on the street,  an image I shot after this one. It was a child’s brain which was laying in perfect shape on the street. The moment I saw this, it hit me how horrible it was. I could not really let go of the image and thought of it for quite some time. Still today I think back to this moment often. Many children died this day after this big explosion resulting in many lost body parts. Most are injured for the rest of there lives.

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Prostitutes in Damascus The story is about Iraki women being forced into prostitution in order to earn money to support their children. It was a longer reportage and all these women had lost their husbands during the war in Irak. And because of the fact they can’t show a death certificate they are not entitled to get any financial support from the government.

Prostitution in Syria

The story was mostly shot in the area where Irakis were displaced during the war. Most of the women suffered from physical and mental problems because of the work they do. Most of them had been badly beaten up by their customers… I had problems to photograph the women but it was made more problematic because it was a big project to gather all the women to be able to make it work.

Prostitution of Iraqi women in Syria

The story was published in Swedish media and was shot for a TV show which was assigned by the EU. After the publication I was called both from Damascus and from the Syrian Embassy in Stockholm. I was told that I’m not welcome in Syria anymore. The reason for this was not that I had shown a sensitive or forbidden topic but the fact that the newspaper which published the work was pro Israel –  so they told me. This is not true. It was published in one of Sweden’s most respected and best newspapers.

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How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? You have to ask what is the story about. You come home to 1000’s of raw files. You reduce it to 200, 100. When you are done, you start over again to see if you made the right decision. Books take weeks or months for me.

Prostitution of Iraqi women in Syria

Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: 1) Everything is about the light- choose your light. It is extremely important. 2) Feel the place, feel the topic. 3) You need a full stomach. It’s hard to work with an empty stomach.

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Best single advice on how to improve your work: Just shoot. Like any other sport, if you want to be good, you have to practice. It will come – you need to spend time with raw material- you need to know what you are shooting. Spend time with your images, in a meditative way. Go through your work in order to understand your work to see what you are doing right or wrong. I do a lot of workshops and teaching. So many students spend a half day with their work and think that’s enough. You have to show respect to the week or month of photography.

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Best single advice on how to edit your work: You have to spend time with your raw material to be able to undertand what is in front of you. Selection is about making large edits. It becomes smaller every time until you reach the storyline.

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Best single advice for someone who wants to get into photojournalism: Well, you have to enjoy what you are doing. You don’t have to be a professional. The joy of the work is extremely important. Don’t go for the quick fix. It is a marathon. Breathe. Having a long breath is what counts.

What’s the best moment in your photography career? I have no idea. Yet to come I hope!

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What’s the worst moment in your photography career? Shooting in misery about misery. It doesn’t make you happy- it has its impact on you. It makes you grow old so you have to be aware.

Once, I had an assignment in Cairo after a man in California made a movie that was seen as against the Prophet Mohammed. I was shooting people on the streets protesting. Some guys took my iPhone which can happen. They were hooligans going crazy and attacking journalists. Religious demonstrations are normally peaceful, but it’s stuff like hooligans that create the large headlines dominating the protests at Tahrir Square. I have to say, journalists are experiencing more and more problems there.  It’s not a good thing for freedom of press in Egypt.  But a job is a job. I rarely do short news assignments anymore. I normally do long projects, so there is a balance between the stories.

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What projects are you working on? A book on Hungry Horse, Montana  titled “Hungry Horse”- next year. I have been working on it for 10 years with 1-2 trips a year.

What’s your next assignment? Will be working in northern Kaukasus this autum but a short trip will include Stockholm. It’s been a busy year. But I would love to work more at home.

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Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to photography? I am already where I want to be – I do my books and projects. I would love to produce more books. – you can’t make a living on photo books, you need commercial assignments. They normally cost you money. It’s a love.

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? I will show my Hungry Horse book in New York and also the multimedia work produced in cooperation with Mediastorm in NY.

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You can view Pieter’s WORLD PRESS PHOTO prize winning entries below:

WPP 2007

WPP 2009 -1

WPP 2009 -2

Pieter teaches workshops. You can check them out here from time to time.

As of posting, Pieter’s short film KITEZH – VLADIMIRSKOE, was accepted into competition at the Stockholm Film Festival. Congratulations Pieter!

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

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

This is Pieter’s self portrait.

Pieter SelfPTH_01

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#18 RUI PALHA, Lisbon (Portugal) Street Photographer

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Leica Liker is honored to have RUI PALHA, a Lisbon (Portugal) Street Photographer as our #18 guest.

As you might guess, I often scour the web in search of images that touch my heart. I will drop whatever I am doing to find out more. I distinctly remember seeing the image below on Flickr. It instantly drew my attention. It was like a movie still.

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The director couldn’t have done a better job, starting with the window frame and the scratched and worn glass from which we look through. The actor’s hand in pocket, the other holding a newspaper, keeping it close to himself; The hunch – something weighing heavy on his mind; The backlight putting him in silhouette giving him an anonymous feel – perhaps it’s what he’s feeling;  People ignoring him – what life often is about – you’re on your own… I was moved by its simplicity and its complex emotion of loneliness.

So I was thrilled to find that it wasn’t just a one hit wonder but part of a whole body of work from a true humanist.

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Rui’s images seem to be devoted to that independent soul. He is drawn to the loner, the one who stands out from the crowd. Man or woman against the environment; against the world.  The underdog. Rui has a connection to them. It’s deep in his Portuguese soul.  And he wants us to share the humanity of his “people”- the way they conduct their lives.

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When I spoke with Rui, I asked him about this recurring theme. He told me indeed it is something he yearns for. He believes solitude is a prevalent condition not only in Portugal but throughout society. People are generally lonely in crowds. It’s a sad fact of life. A state of affairs that we must live with. There’s even a Portugese term for it – “Fado” which literally means ‘fate’. It’s a Portuguese national symbol really.

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FADO: a type of Portuguese singing, traditionally associated with pubs and cafés, that is renowned for its expressive and profoundly melancholic character.

The singer of fado… speaks to the often harsh realities of everyday life, sometimes with a sense of resignation, sometimes with the hope of resolution. – Encyclopedia Britannica

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What I admire is Rui’s ability to juggle between street photography and street portraiture.  He’s able to give us the beautifully lit and composed master shot- the overall observation and then come in for the close-up – to catch the quiet humanity of a person.

Most street photographs and portraits convey something of strangers in the moment. But many of Rui’s images come from deep empathy and sharing of an unforgettable life. I love to see them as a collection because together, they tell us a story that transcend the photographic medium and gives us a glimpse into precious souls.

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Here is my interview with RUI PALHA:

Nick Name: None
Currently living in: Lisbon, Portugal
Motto: Live the day like it was the last day.
Street Photographer since: Photography has been a hobby from 13 years of age, with great interruptions up to 2001.  Since then, I have devoted myself to street photography almost all the time.

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How did you get into photography in the first place? I loved photographing since I was 13 years old. I even had my own dark room. Many, many years ago I invited all of my colleagues to photograph with me in the streets. Over the years working, I saw my friends become mad, become crazy. I ran away to escape. Instead of watching tv or going to the movies, I photographed the streets. I always worked with multi-disciplinary teams in my main job (mainframe computer technology advisor). I created a union between us via photography. I organized the groups to walk the streets during the weekends or breaks from hard work using the same type of film – after we developed the film we met to see the results of the images of the same place – small places. It is always amazing to see the results of shooting in the same place. It’s different from each person.

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Profession/Job: Retired data processing and technology adviser

Websites:
http://www.ruipalha.com/
http://1x.com/member/ruipalha
http://www.fineart-portugal.com/author/1405
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ruipalha/
Book: “Street Photography”

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What was your first camera? I remember very well… a small Minolta 16mm. The negative was small and very thin. I was 13 years old and I loved that camera. I learned a lot using it. I wrote down every shot, time, hour, sunny or not, the exposure and afterwards I developed and saw the errors I made- lots of errors. We only learn from errors. I make them still. It’s awful. You spend a whole day in the streets. You think you can’t fail and when you put up the photos in the computer they all look terrible. You can’t fix every shot or moment that was important for you. As a result, very often I would delete the whole card because all I wanted was that moment, which I didn’t get. Fortunately we are not perfect. Otherwise life would be too boring.

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Favorite Street Camera & Lens: I don’t have a favorite street camera. I use several cameras in the streets depending on what I pretend to do each day. Lately I have been using a Sony RX1, I am testing it. Sometimes I use a Nikon D800 with a 20mm or a 35mm, other times I use a Fuji X100 (with a 35mm) or a Fuji XPRO1 with a 27mm or a Leica DLUX 5.

I want to say, any camera is fine. I test cameras a lot. What matters is to use very good lenses. The most important thing is your eye. Because, in the end, all gear have the same qualities. And most people, me in particular, don’t use the digital camera’s full abilities. To be honest, I don’t know 90% of the menu on my Nikon D800. I tend to use the camera the same way every day.

I have a big passion for rain: My favorite weather for photography. Every one goes home but I go to the streets. I’ve lost many cameras in the rain. I think there is always special lighting on raining days. It provides me reflections and refractions on every surface. Some people call me the “rain photographer”.

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Back-up Street Camera & Lens: When I use the D800 usually I take with me a Fuji camera (X100 or XPRO1) or a Leica DLUX5 or the Sony RX-1. If I don’t use the D800 I don’t have a backup camera. I take just one with me… the Fuji XPRO1 or the Sony RX-1

Favorite photography gadget: I don’t have any gadget.
Favorite street food: Black coffee and water.

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Do you listen to music while shooting? Never. In street photography concentration is fundamental. It is necessary to “see” every moment and to “listen” for every street sound. Sometimes listening the sound allows us to anticipate a moment. This is fundamental.

Favorite music when shooting and/or editing photos: When editing… always jazz.

Favorite photo software: FastStone Viewer and Paint Shop Pro with b/w Styler as a plugin.

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3 Favorite Master Photographers: Henry Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand and James Nachtway

3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: James Nachtway and Sebastião Salgado…

As well as Henry Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand , they will be my favorite eternal contemporaries…They never die…

Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? None, unfortunately.

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Color or Black and White? Black & white… always.

Shoot Film or Digital ? I love film, I belong to the “old school”. I used film for many years and of course, I had my own darkroom. Now I only use digital. It’s cheaper, faster and as I don’t have darkroom anymore… I think whether digital or analogue, it is mandatory to develop the films ourselves. I don’t like to send them to the commercial labs. To be honest I never liked the darkroom work, I always prefer to be in the streets “pressing the shutter” …

Also, I only work with jpeg and never use raw. As mentioned earlier, I can fail with lighting measurements. When I fail, the photo is basically garbage. I don’t like raw because I don’t like to post process. I have thousands of photos. Had I shot them in raw, I would have no room in my small house to store it. I prefer to work the lighting in-camera. I then convert to grey scale and the photos turn out pretty nice if I shot it right.

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Do you remember the first sensation you had when you took photographs and then saw them after you printed them? Yes- it’s fantastic- I remember that time. I use to spend many hours in dark room developing and print my own film. I never liked the work but when I saw the image appearing in the tray was simply magical, developing and printing, It’s hard work but fascinating too. I haven’t developed my films for many years now. I prefer to walk in streets and capture the moment.

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How has digital changed your way of seeing compare to film? It’s curious, because in the beginning I was very disappointed in digital. In film you must be disciplined. 36 fotos take 2-3 days to shoot. Now 36 take ½ hour to 1 hour. But when this sensation goes away, you become disciplined again. I am more worried about controlling the light than to press the button. I can see with digital, how some people can make 100 clicks in one second. It doesn’t cost more to click more. But you lose sight of the composition and content.

I use film philosophy to guide my photography. Now I take around 60-100 photos per day. Of course there are exceptions. For instance, one time I was surprised by a street performance by a group of rappers. In 1 hour I took 150 photos. I shot for them and for me. I sent them the photos afterwards. When you photograph the streets, you are photographing for yourself as well as for your subject. Often I come back to the same place with copies of photos to give to the people I took pictures of. You’ll be surprised it’s like a door opener.

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Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? When I can choose the time, I always prefer early morning and the end of the day.
But, since I can’t choose all the time, I have to shoot under any conditions.

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How do you define street photography? I think there isn’t a “formal” definition for Street Photography. I agree completely with Eric Kim when he says:

“There is not one definition which defines street photography. Depending on who you ask or where you find your information, you will come upon conflicting responses. Some street photographers will say that it is about capturing the emotion and expressions of people, while others may put a higher emphasis on the urban environment. However I believe that the most effective street photographs are the ones that synthesize both the human element as well as the urban environment. To capture a moment in which a person is interacting with the environment or in which the environment is interacting with the person is a true mark of a skilled street photographer.

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But when it comes down to it, it is basically taking photos on the streets. So instead of chasing sunsets and exotic creatures, you look for ordinary places and ordinary people and creatively compose them in a clever way. Anybody can take a good picture of a sunset. Although there are many technical details, which go into capturing a perfect sunset, anybody can simply point their camera and capture a sunset, which is inspiring. But when it comes to street photography, you must constantly be looking for contrasting elements in the environment, which make a photograph interesting.

Simply put, the main focus of street photography is taking the everyday and the mundane and making it into something unique and beautiful.”

It’s the way I “see” it…

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Henri Cartier-Bresson said photography is like “…putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”.

We have to be able to anticipate, to understand, to “see”, to “feel” a street scene in a fraction of time and we must capture that moment in a meaningful frame. The composition is also fundamental. Not only is it about the capture of the moment. It’s also the perfect combination of having your head, eye, heart…and your finger in the same axis. I think this “axis”, this characteristic, is indispensable to be a street photographer and not an ordinary “street shooter”.

Here is a very special Robert Capa quote that I try to follow in my photography work: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

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Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? Street is Life. Street is always different every day. It is always surprising. I never know what I will find and that attracts me. I love to walk; I love people; I love life. I need the street & people to live.

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What motivates you to photograph the streets? First of all I like People: real People. Second, I am always looking for THE moment, I never captured and, probably, I will never find. Third, I like low light conditions – rainy days and problematic places.

Usually I walk on foot about 10, 15 to 20 kms a day… walking, talking with strangers, photographing what I can and what I feel. Sometimes it’s easy, other times not.

Many times I repeat the route. It is always different in-spite of being the same…the people always change as well as situations, lighting, sounds … It is and it will always be a challenge to try to make something different when exploring the same places. It’s fundamental to be innovative in the same spots. The “glance” the “way to see” must be creative every day. It’s a challenge, not only for me, but for everybody who also shoot at “my” favorite places… I am always hoping that someone can see something I never saw in my usual spots. Creativity is so important, isn’t it?

My type of photography is a little bit solitary. But I always feel accompanied by the world that surrounds me.

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Is Street Photography an obsession? Completely. It’s a way of life… my way…

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group? For me street photography is a solitary task. I can’t do it in groups. I always do it alone.

I am often invited to be with more people. When we talk, they are surprised to find out I don’t have my camera. I tell them I have to concentrate and not talk when I photograph. So when I am with them I am also equally as concentrated to talk to them.

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I also like to walk into dangerous places. If I go with other people I can’t predict how others will react in situations. I had experiences with foreigners who want to walk with me and things became complicated. I recall one interesting visit from a guy who lives in England. He came to Lisbon to meet me. He asked if I liked dangerous places and if I could take him there. So I took him there .. to a “not very dangerous place”… He was scared and shaking all the time…

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Are you an invisible photographer or visible? Many times you must be invisible. Be part of the scenery…this will allow you to be more aware of what’s going on. It allows you to recognize any kind of problematic situations. Hopefully none. But you never know. Other times you have to establish a fantastic connection with “street People”, talking with them, hearing them, respecting them.

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I just want to say, we are here to learn and you have to share what you learn – it is the way. It is the only way to grow up. If people are too confident then they never grow as a person. It happens with everyone everywhere. In my data processing days I talked IBM, UNIVAC (Unisys), ICL languages. In order for others to learn this new language from me, I had to write down my experiences. I had to in order to share. People who left my company would leave no instructions. So it was difficult to correct errors. Just like in life- you have to share, analyze the experience. Compare notes. And you have to love people. I can’t accept those who don’t like people on the streets. It’s impossible! You can’t be a street photographer for more than one or 2 hours max. I know some of these people. I call them street shooters. They shoot everything that moves- they don’t think about the emotions.

Favorite street photography city: Lisbon and Paris.

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What inspires your photography? The work of photographers I admire and the People.

Is there a philosophy, concept or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? Of course! Everybody reflects his own personality in the Art they can produce. Photography is a reflection of our souls, of our way of being in this world and our own individual aesthetic sense.

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Can you describe your style? Your aesthetic? I don’t know if I can describe it. I think others can describe better than me. Only thing I can say, I’m always searching for the special moment. I don’t like to shoot just to shoot. Sometimes in my sleep, I dream about a special framing of a place where I go many times. I see a composition I never saw before. Then I go to the spot of my dream the following day. It turns out weird and surreal.

Lisbon is a very beautiful and small town with a special light. It’s challenging to see something new when you walk the same places all the time. I repeat the same route day after day. But it always looks different.

I do think when it comes down to it, photography is a challenge to yourself. It is self portraiture.

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What do you look for in a good photograph by others? As in any piece of Art: emotion. I don’t have to explain why I like some photograph. For me it is enough to be emotionally affected, to feel all my senses revving up… and chills in the body.

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Can you describe the entire process of photographing these photos, from preparation to when you pressed the shutter button? For me, this is a very emotional photograph (below). I do not know the old man. He is a very poor man who collects pieces of paper to sell afterwards. He is rather famous in this particular area, because everyone would say he is a bad man. At first I was a afraid to photograph him, but I could not resist. Then I saw how the dog loved him and vice versa. I took 3 shots even though I thought maybe it would be my last photograph. At the time I was thankful he didn’t see me.

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This area is called Cacilhas where the river is in the middle. I went back with a print for him and discovered he had died. I found the family and gave them photograph. They cried. This kind of situation happened to me many times, especially when I photograph old people.

As for the composition, I can tell you the area in itself is not beautiful. It’s difficult to shoot as here is only the wall. At the time I instinctively knew how to frame it and shoot it. I have never thought about it until you asked me. Now that we are talking about it, the man on the right made the composition although the emotion speaks for itself. Up until now, something made me push the button.

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How do you go about shooting a street photograph? I have my favorite spots, as everybody has, I am sure. The composition is very important as well as to get “THE” moment framed in a composition that attracts me.

I try to present myself the little scenes of the streets in which the people and the typically southern urban environment built by the people, form a perfect unity. Cobbles, walls made of stone, graffiti, children playing carelessly, old people reading newspapers or playing cards, etc.. In my photographs I present all people as unique and the most important part of my photographs. I try to gain an insight into their feelings, and thoughts with the help of their gestures, motions…

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How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? First the image must attract me provided it has achieved the following aspects: It has to be emotional, the lighting has to be just right, the composition is perfect and there is a story behind it. I usually shoot during the day. While at night, I look over the photographs. I give a quick look and try to choose one or two that I like more over the others. To be honest I have some thousands of photos I have never seen.

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Best 3 tips for shooting the streets:

Always be alone.

Always be concentrated.

Always try to anticipate the moment.

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Best single advice on how to improve your work: Always carry the camera and use it. Always be very critical with yourself.

Best single advice on how to edit your work: Less is more…

Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Choose a project and never forget: Love and respect People.

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What’s the best moment in your street photography career? The most important is the friendship and respect I feel everyday from the occasional “street models”. Usually I try to give the photographs I made before to the people I photograph.

Besides this I think it was very important here in Portugal that my first and only book “Street Photography” book was the winner of the award of Authors 2011, sponsored by the Portuguese Society of Authors in audio-visual category, for the “Best Work of Photography”.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? When I arrive home and I don’t like any photograph made during the day.

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What projects are you working on? I have always a sociological interest on my street “work”. I am involved in some social projects in problematic neighborhoods of Lisbon. I always look for real People and I learn a lot everyday with the anonymous people in the streets.

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? In this world, doing exactly the same I am doing now, so help me my legs…

Are there exhibitions planned in the future? Maybe, if my sons and my girlfriend will oblige me…

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

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

This is Rui’s self portrait.

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#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: http://semetko.com and http://semetko.com/blog/
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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