- I am easily seduced by a street cliché. Ultimately I guess you shoot for yourself and if you enjoy what you have produced, cliché or not, I don’t think it matters a diddly squat says Jo Wallace, one of the two winners of the first prize of the Street Photography Now Project SPNP.
This interview with Jo has been done by email. Questions are posted by Anne Leroy and Olav Njaastad, who have also picked photos from his contribution to the SPNP to follow the interview.
- Can you tell us your personal Street Photography story, how did it all start for you?
- About a year before starting SPNP I was shooting a fair bit on the street. I just went out with the camera and took pictures of situations and people that seemed interesting to me; probably in a more documentary style without any concept of what street photography was all about. Then a month before the project started I bought the SPN book and was spellbound by the amazing moments captured in the images. During the first few weeks of SPNP I felt a bit lost without feeling any sense of direction but then after six weeks the enthusiasm and commitment of people on the project gave me a real lift. At that point I was completely hooked and I was shooting every spare moment I could get.
- People in the project have described it as addictive. How has that happened do you think?
- Completely addictive, firstly just photographing on the street feels such a creative outlet and maybe in some subversive way it appeals to the child in me that wanted to be a secret agent. The ultimate frustration is probably noticing situations on the street that you miss and not having my camera would require a month of intensive therapy. Secondly, the SPNP Flickr community is very addictive; the feedback you get and seeing what other work is being produced provides an incentive to get out and “shoot de street”.
- When you are out with your camera, are the impulses triggering your shutterfinger mainly generated by the head or by the heart?
- I would like to say the heart but probably my default setting is to just tune into the interactions of people and I tend to lose sight of other aspects of street photography. I feel I have a lot to learn, and an intention to try and explore longer term projects, such as thinking about the identity of a place and how I could produce a body of work that holds together in some way.
- Can you mention certain photographers that inspire you?
- Obviously a lot of SPNP photographers, I can easily think of twenty participants who are very inspiring. Also giving attention to an established street photographer each week during the project and the involvement of Mimi and Ying Tang amongst others has definitely been an inspiration. The story of Vivian Maier not long after getting into street photography has been inspiring for her work and her personal story. My first interest in street photography, although I didn’t know it at the time, was through a photographer – Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen who documented areas of the North-East of England. Many of her photos are wonderful and provide inspiration to photographically explore the identity of a place.
- How would you define street photography?
- Are you trying to get me in trouble? I’m really not much of a thinker in terms of defining street photography. Is it a reflection of society or some personal expression? I don’t know and don’t have an opinion really. All I would say is, if the photo makes me question what I am seeing or provides a feeling that life is not so easily defined, and is taken in a public place then I’m not going to argue.
- How do you view the use of clichés in street photography?
- I am easily seduced by a street cliché; although I try not to have a preconceived notion of what I am trying to capture, probably most of my shots are some kind of cliché. I don’t look at a street photograph and discount it because it fits some idea of a cliché but how I respond to the individual photograph. Ultimately I guess you shoot for yourself and if you enjoy what you have produced, cliché or not, I don’t think it matters a diddly squat.
- Describe the feeling when you think you have taken a good photograph.
- Like nothing else matters.
- Which camera(s) and lenses are you currently using to do street photography?
- I use a Canon 5D mark 11 with a 24mm fixed lens. I started with a 28mm lens, experimented with a 17-40mm lens and am now happy with what I am using. I wish it was smaller but I like that I can have a high ISO to shoot fast and the image quality stays fairly good.
- What makes a street photographer “good”?
- That’s a tough question. People talk about a good photographer having their own style which makes some sense but I don’t think it is the defining measure of a good street photographer. I guess you have to be interested in people and seeing life from different perspectives whilst there are the creative and visual practicalities of photography. Sorry that’s the best answer I can give.
- Does your professional life in some way inspire or influence what you shoot and how you publish?
- Maybe as a Social Worker and having an interest in people translates in some way to my photography but it is not anything I am aware of as a direct influence. In some ways I like the creative process of street photography because it is separate from my work life and that’s what makes it enjoyable and therapeutic.
- Did you run into problems when shooting, and if you did, how do you get out of them?
- I think with my close up shooting style I tend to get a fair share of negative responses and I have learnt to ignore people, stay in my own zone or just apologize. I used to end up arguing my rights with people but this seemed to exacerbate the situation so I tend to apologise and walk away as quickly as possible.
- Where is your favourite place to shoot?
- Living in London I have taken a lot of street shots in Greenwich because it is where I pass to and from work and there are always lots of people about. When I have had more time the area near Liverpool Street Station always has a lot going on but favourite places tend to be where I haven’t worked over too much and there is a sense of freshness to the place. I would love to go to New York and shoot for a week without any distractions, dream on.
- Any advice to beginners in SP?
- Join SPNP. Get out on the street and watch people a lot. Shoot a lot. Edit a lot.
You can see all of Jo Wallace’s photos for the SPNP here: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/38791739@N02/sets/72157625006312955/with/5161130774/]
Two participants shared the first prize from the SPNP. The other winner is Jack Simon.
You can see his contribution to the project here:[http://www.flickr.com/photos/jacksimon/sets/72157625152679607/]