Tag Archives: street photography

Eva Skalakova

I discovered Eva Skalakova’s work last night while I was browsing through the Sony World Photography Awards shortlist. She is a Czech photographer and I so wish I had discovered her work while I was working towards assignment two – Elements of Design. Her compositions are a cornucopia of design elements and delights. The first images that I came across were featured in the professional photographers shortlist for the Sony World Photography Awards. Her series is entitled “Landscape touched by a human” and comprises a set of minimalist landscapes, which are absolutely amazing. The subject matter is so banal and consists of mainly of man-made items, (pipes, fences, electric wires, ladders, telephone poles, etc.) but the way she composes her photographs turn them up quite a few notches pushing them totally to a more serene level, almost ethereal. This series is in black and white and many are done in a high key way, with highlights either totally blown or almost blown out, but this doesn’t distract from the image at all, rather it enhances it, drawing one’s attention to the other elements in the frame. She composes with low horizon lines, right to the edges of the frame and makes such striking use of diagonals, triangles, leading lines, points, s-curves. I particularly liked her image of a horse in a pasture which can be seen here. Even though the image is calm and serene, there is a tangible energy emanating from it from the diagonal lines of the electric pylons and the paddock fencing which seem to resonate off the horse’s trot downhill.

Skalakova does a lot of street photography as well and her elements of design are evident in those images too. I think she has to be a very patient street photographer, probably selecting her vantage points carefully and then waiting for the right subject to walk into her frame as compositionally the images might seem to be thought out beforehand.  Even in her street photography her placement of the elements in the image are quite dynamic. She makes great use of high and low placements in the frame, as well as light and shadows to complement the elements she has chosen to photograph:

She is quirky and has a good sense of humour in her street photography, gently taking the mick out of her fellow townspeople, which really engaged me and kept me up half the night as I did not want to stop looking at her work. Rather like picking up a page turner book and not wanting to put it down until it was finished! I found it really inspirational. There were no images that I did not like, but here are a few fun ones:

She has another interesting series on her website where she has photographed people, and these are posed portraits, against interesting backgrounds. What makes this series interesting is that the people are wearing complementary clothing that in some way or other work with the background. For example, in one image the background, an architectural wall, has vertical stripes with interspersed colour blocks and she has photographed a person whose shirt in the same colour scheme has horizontal stripes also with colour blocks. Obviously a lot of thought and planning went into this series.

I think I might just try out a few of her techniques. Find an interesting backdrop or mural, sit and wait for the photo to come along and see what happens.

References

Eva-Skalakova [online]. Available from http://www.eva-skalakova.com/fotogalerie/ [Accessed 25 February, 2015]

 

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Faces of Humanity: in black and white – An Exhibition by David Bong

I notice a brand new exhibition being hung yesterday while I was downtown, so I decided to take a look at it during my lunch hour today. I had noticed that it seemed to be a lot of portraiture work going up so I was quite interested. The exhibition was at the Pendulum Gallery in the HSBC Building on West Georgia Street in Vancouver and features work by David Bong. David Bong is based in Vancouver and is a fine art photographer. He is originally from the island of Borneo and spent his early childhood years in a small village in the rainforest where his father traded with the local natives. He was very influenced by their unpretentious and happy way of life.

In Faces of Humanity Bong sets out to photograph people from all walks of life, concentrating on exposing their ‘essence, or spiritualness’1. The images can be seen on Bong’s website and I will comment on the first four photographs in the series. All the portraits are head and shoulders images. Interestingly the first image in the series is of a well dressed woman with a wide brimmed hat. Bong shoots with a very wide aperture in the majority of his portraits, but in this photograph, his obvious focal point is on the hat. The rest of the woman – her facial features and clothing – are softly blurred and begin to blur into the beautiful bokeh of the background. She almost looks like a shop’s mannequin. Her eyes are averted and she is looking down, disconnected from the viewer, in her own world.  Bong follows this image with another image of a beautiful, young girl who is also looking off camera. However, her face is more open to us as there is no hat obscuring our vision of her. Even though there is no eye contact, we can see she is deep in thought or rather sad. She also appears larger in the frame than the previous subject, thereby emphasizing the contrast between the two.  She is also not as elegantly dressed as the first lady. Her hair is untidy and we can’t really see the detail of her clothing.

The next pair of photographs are of two men. The first is a young man, sitting on a chair. We see that he is dressed in a vest to show off his muscles and are left to imagine the black jeans with the studded leather belt and chain and the Doc Martin type boots lower down. His arms and neck are covered in tattoos of images that look like a conglomeration of bones and teeth to me. Possibly his way of showing the world what a ‘hard’ character he is. His hair is extremely close cropped and he is looking defiantly at the camera. His alter ego in the following photograph is that of a man about twice his age. He has scruffy, long hair and a grey beard and is wearing a crocheted cap which is beginning to unravel along the brim. He is warmly dressed in a lumberman’s jacket which is open in front revealing a checked shirt. Homeless? Maybe, but under that rather earnest expression on his face, there seems to be a bit of a twinkle to his (camera) right eye, so I would say no. Suffered a few hard knocks in life? Most definitely.

Bong places all his subjects squarely in the middle of the frame and they all face the camera straight on. The backgrounds are all blurred out and it is this lack of background information that lends a sense of mystery to his images. His subjects come from across the gamut of social classes. They are male and female, young, old and middle aged. His focus is on their eyes (with the exception of the first in the series) and the gradual fall off of focus away from the eyes and his use of black and white underscores the emotions that we see from the expressions on his subjects’ faces. One might compare Bong’s Faces of Humanity series to Richard Avedon’s Portfolio: In the American West, although personally I find some of the characters in Avedon’s Portfolio rather unsettling; most of them a stark contrast with the purity of the background they are standing in front of. With David Bong’s work, there is a softness that draws me in, inviting me to make the acquaintance of his subjects. These are the people I might bump into on the streets of my city. While on the one hand they are ordinary, at the same time they are extraordinary – they all have a unique story to tell. I find myself echoing John Berger’s sentiments in The Suit and the Photograph when he asked ‘What did August Sander tell his sitters before he took their pictures? And how did he say it so that they all believed him in the same way?’ (Berger, 2013, p36). I might ask what did David Bong tell his subjects …?

 

References

Berger, John. (2013). Understanding a Photograph. 1st ed. New York: Aperture Foundation

1. Bong, David. David Bong Photography [online]. Available from: http://www.davidbong.com/new-page/ [Accessed 12 June, 2014]

Richard Avedon [online]. The Richard Avedon Foundation. Available from: http://www.richardavedon.com/ [Accessed 13 June, 2014]

Exercise: A sequence of composition

The brief:

This exercise will help you to think about the practical process of composing an image. For this you need a situation which involves people – ideally out in the street. The idea is to record the way you approach and shoot a subject from the moment when you catch sight of a possible photograph, to the final best image you can make of it. Ordinarily, you would only shoot when the moment seemed just right, but here you will record all the moments that are ‘almost’ right. …take pictures as you go along. They will be a record of how you moved around and found the best images – a sort of stop-frame movie of your shoot.

After quite a few attempts at this exercise and with some glorious sun shining, I have finally managed to get enough images in one shoot to make up this exercise. I headed downtown to the city centre with my 18-55mm lens where I was sure to find interesting faces and something happening. I heard music while I was walking along one street and followed the sound, realising that it was coming from the Art Gallery. I came to the crosswalk (figure 01).

Figure 01

Figure 01

I crossed over and came across the hat vendor who has her stall on this corner (figure 02). I’ve photographed her many times and she always seems to have a newspaper in her hands.

Figure 02

Figure 02

I walked on past the hat vendor – a few interesting faces and gestures (figure 03).

Figure 03

Figure 03

Ah, the puppet man!  I’ve photographed him (figure 04) on several occasions as well, although he doesn’t usually sit here. Perhaps he has moved his location because of the construction around his usual spot.

Figure 04

Figure 04

I found the source of the music. I took a wide angle shot to capture the whole scene (figure 05).

Figure 05

Figure 05

I noticed the people sitting on the steps of the Art Gallery and moved in closer to get a shot of them (figure 06).

Figure 06

Figure 06

I stepped back to get a closer shot of the band, but I wasn’t crazy about this angle (figure 07). I recognized the band. Its one of the local carnival band – a real motley crew of people who take part in every single parade that happens in the city.

Figure 07

Figure 07

So I moved in closer and changed my viewpoint slightly (figure 08). At this stage I was wishing I had my 55-200mm lens with me. The man with the brightly coloured jacket was just begging for a close up shot.

Figure 08

Figure 08

Another shot to get the other half of the band (figure 09).

Figure 09

Figure 09

I moved over a bit and went vertical – better – now their limbs aren’t amputated (figure 10).

Figure 10

Figure 10

Keeping it vertical I shifted slightly again to include the band leader, but that yellow basket on the bicycle above the female drummer’s head was bothering me (figure 11).

Figure 11

Figure 11

Then I noticed this band member standing well back and she was talking to another photographer (figure 12). This was better. The couple were engaged, the background wasn’t too bad. The figures were sufficiently separated from the trees. This is definitely the best of the band photos.

Figure 12

Figure 12

I turned back to the band again (figure 13) to catch a fairly lively sequence.

Figure 13

Figure 13

I changed position again and noticed that the band had chalked a message on the sidewalk. I took a wide angle shot of this with the band in the background (figure 14).

Figure 14

Figure 14

The band leader was making some jokes, trying to get the audience to depart with a dollar and I turned around to capture some of the expressions (figure 15).

Figure 15

Figure 15

Not finding my ‘eureka’ shot with the band, I decided to head down the street towards the old theatre row and came across these three lasses on the street corner, dressed in green with the green sign of the Lennox Pub (an irish pub) in the background (figure 16).

Figure 16

Figure 16

I headed down towards the theatres and saw this interesting lady approaching (figure 17).

Figure 17

Figure 17

I managed to fire off another shot as she approached and she made contact with the camera, although I don’t think she was aware that I was taking her photo. I think this is the best image of the series.

Figure 18

Figure 18

I got to the end of theatre row and after trying to get a few shots against some interesting window signage, sadly without success, I decided to head back when I came across these two couples walking on either side of the Entertainment Hall of Fame medallions in a mirrored fashion (figure 19).

Figure 19

Figure 19

Down at the corner of Granville Street and West Georgia was this homeless girl and her dog (figure 20). I thought she would make a stark contrast to the carnival band who were also collecting money.

Figure 20

Figure 20

I then turned around and noticed this container on a lamp post, with the young man sitting on the bench in front of the sign – a bit of a double entendre.

Figure 21

Figure 21

I found that I took my time and thought more about some of my shots than I usually do. I sat and waited in front of interesting backdrops for the right scenario to play out, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. If I had had my 55-200 mm lens with me, I probably would have been able to do the entire sequence with the carnival band, as I would have been able to zoom in for detail shots. I had deliberately left that lens at home as I knew I would have to work harder to get closer with the 18-55 mm lens and I didn’t want to take the easy way and take any shots from across the street.

Vendula Ralkova – Street Photography: The Imaginary, the Tangible and the Obvious

When I attended one of the local photography colleges here in Vancouver, I was privileged to have Vendula Ralkova as my instructor (and mentor) for street photography. Vendula hails from Prague, got her Bachelor’s degree in Photography at Emily Carr University, a Master’s degree from Milan’s Fine Arts Academy in Italy and she did an internship at Magnum Photos Agency in Paris, France, working closely with Josef Koudelka on his catalogue raisonné. Vendula is so passionate about street photography and made street photography come alive in class. This is one of her lectures given to a non-photographic (technical) audience about street photography which I attended. Each time I hear this lecture I learn something new about the history and genre.

In the lecture she takes one on a journey through the history of street photography, criss-crossing countries and continents explaining what street photography is, the origins, introducing the fore-fathers of the genre, discussing cross cultural similarities and differences, and finally ending with a small sample of her work. After having read the first chapter of Wells’ Photography: A Critical Introduction, I find that I understand her lecture much better and I’m sure I will be coming back to it again with fresh eyes later on.

Lecture, Vendula Ralkova – Street Photography: The Imaginary, the Tangible and the Obvious [webcast, online] Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, Canada, 21 January, 2012. 1 hour 5 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZfQInz-nSk (accessed March 18, 2014)