Minimal Approach To Street Photography

· 30.July.2017

We have all heard the axiom that photography is everywhere and we are bombarded by thousands of images per day, resulting in us having to sift through the ordinary in order to find a few that speak to us. Of course there has been variations of this claim over the years but ultimately it is quite negative. I urge you to challenge this notion. I too try to steer clear of this way of thinking and for very good reason. I want my photography to be a process of hard work and also more of a journey. I avoid negativity that tries to prohibit my photography from bleeding into various areas of my life and vice versa. This blending of photography and life makes the whole experience that much more intimate and fulfilling.

I was very careful regarding the title above. I used the word minimal in order to avoid using the word minimalistic. I would be a fraud if I were to say that these images are in fact minimalism. They borrow traits from minimalism but ultimately they are not. I’ll explain why in just a moment.

It can be somewhat cumbersome to unpack and convey certain concepts and reasoning surrounding the creation of certain types of photographs because it demands a degree of objectivity. With that being said, I hope to be as concise and as objective as possible while I introduce my processes, the emotions involved, and artistic aesthetic as well as technical approaches.

I should probably take this opportunity to point out that these are my experiences and thus, my opinions. The beautiful thing about humans (very often in the art world) is that we are all different and that’s refreshing. Our personalities determine our varying paths of creating. I hope that what I am about to say somehow resonates with you.

Background of minimalism

Let’s first have a look at what minimalism actually is. Minimalism has its origins in New York around the early 60`s among artists who basically thought that art of that time had become very stale and academic in nature. This led them to challenge conventional boundaries between different materials. Upon doing my research, I couldn`t ignore this sense of rebelliousness that these artists demonstrated. It was definitely a bold statement. One of the fundamental principles upon which minimalism was built on, was this intentional omission of the artists` identity within the art work. They wanted to create art that was less personal but rather more substantial. Their reasoning being that a work of art should only refer to itself and not to the artist.

Preparing yourself

I mentioned before that I was very careful to avoid the use of the word minimalism when referring to this particular style in my photography. It should now be evident that the photographs shown here do not, in fact, follow the purist principles of minimalism. But I definitely do borrow some of the aesthetics from minimalism. Now that we know what it isn`t, allow me to explain what, how and why I choose to create this of photographs. I`ll start with the “why”.  I live in the dense city of Seoul, South Korea. It is incredibly difficult to avoid making “busy” or “cluttered” photographs. Documentary forms of street photography has its place, but it`s a practice I don`t always wish to participate in. I do occasionally get a bit bored with a documentary style of street photography. Creating mood, drama or even simplicity in my images is a great outlet to reduce the stress of living in a congested city. Hopefully it also serves as an outlet for whomever views the photographs too.

I think it`s a good time to speak about inspiration, now. The best thing I could have done was learn to understand myself regarding how and when inspiration affects me.  I gravitate heavily towards non-photographic forms of inspiration. I spend a tremendous amount of time on a website called Brain Pickings. It contains various writings on art, philosophy, opinions on society and also self reflection. This helps to maintain my curiosity towards people and human nature in general. I feel more connected to my surroundings. The best essay I came across was from a Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. He`s been labelled as one of the best authors of all time. He wrote an essay titled What is Art? This changed my whole perspective on what I thought art was. To summarize, he stated that art was not purely about aesthetics, not an expression of man`s emotions by external signs, not only the production of pleasing objects and above all, art is not pleasure. He believed that art was a union among mankind, joining them together in the same feelings and helping them progress toward the general well-being of individuals and humanity in general.  This made me realise that people more often than not, enjoy viewing art or photography because they can relate to it somehow. It`s personal. Dare I even say that it is an escape for some? I enjoy using music as a source of inspiration too, but only to a certain point. This is dependent on where my mental or emotional state is at the time. I try to avoid soundtracking my walks, though. I enjoy being as present as I can wherever I`m shooting or exploring.

I approach with extreme caution when viewing photographic material as inspiration. I view it up to the point where it is enough to get me out of the house and onto the streets or even just enough for me to brainstorm ideas of my own. It`s very easy to slip into a state of imitation without realising it. I much prefer to view photographs with an attitude of appreciation and respect towards the photographer.

The act

Down to business. If you are reading this, there is a great chance you already own an X camera. They are remarkable little machines but best of all they have been designed to make you want to pick them up. You want to feel it in your hands and take them on a journey. This is exactly what I felt when I had both the Nikon and Fuji system. I noticed I would grab the Fuji far more often than the Nikon. Technically I couldn’t fault my Nikon D750. It is a camera that gets the job done without any problems. But that is not what I wanted or needed. I felt completely different when I had the Fuji (XT-20 at the time). I felt more excited and still do. Suddenly, I found myself not only getting the job done, but having a great time getting it done too. I now shoot with Fuji gear exclusively. The X camera range struck a beautiful balance of not only having its presence felt by the photographer, but also being transparent enough to get out of the way to allow the photographer to be closer to whatever he or she is making a photograph of. Muscle memory is often an overlooked ally when in the field. I made a point of knowing where every setting is on my camera. I even went as far as sitting outside a cafe for 2 hours and just holding my camera in my hands after I bought it. Turning the dials, feeling the buttons, trying to see if I could change settings without looking at the camera. I was trying to force muscle memory to kick in. To make things even easier, I am shooting in aperture priority 90% of the time while adjusting aperture and exposure compensation. I see no reason in romanticizing over shooting in manual. I am well aware of the inner workings of exposure, so I only see a need to override camera settings when the camera isn`t getting it right to my liking. What on earth would camera settings have to do with shooting minimal photographs? I have two reasons for shooting in these semi auto settings. First being that there are so many things happening around me that I cannot afford to waste valuable seconds on dialling in exposure settings if I see something. Secondly, I cannot allow numbers to distract me from thinking creatively.

I mentioned before that I live in a densely populated city. It helps to know your surroundings. I sometimes wake up and feel the urge to shoot very cold and sterile images. I know for a fact the best place to find an environment like that are the financial districts here. Lots of straight lines and geometric shapes. Diagonals create wonderful energy in a photograph. One element that I absolutely love complimenting shapes with, are shadows. It pushes the mood factor tremendously. It also helps me to isolate my subject. I could say with a degree of certainty that I would use shadows and lines as a reference when exploring. Depending on the scene, I would finish it off by waiting for an interesting character. Human elements are sometimes necessary.

It is also worth noting that it is always refreshing to allow a presence of spontaneity to guide me. Otherwise it just feels like work. I enjoy leaving room for moments to unravel by themselves. It makes things more authentic. By doing this, I also safeguard my journey and love for photography from becoming less spiritual.