SPIMBY – Street Photography In My Back Yard

· 25.August.2017

It was 1970. I was a young man, only 17, and I had bought myself my first SLR, a Konica. I was not alone in this, almost all my friends bought cameras. It became just like a fashion to have a camera on the shoulder when hitting the city and when we met we took photos of each other. Most of my friends did this for one summer, then they got tired of taking the same photos of the same friends, so they left their cameras at home. But I started to take photos of situations and strangers, people I met. I became a street photographer without knowing what that was, not knowing that this was maybe the oldest genre within photography. 

A few years later I met an established and educated photographer. I was a completely uneducated amateur, but when he saw what kind of photos I tried to take, he introduced me to photographers like André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Eugène Atget and others, and I was totally lost. He opened my eyes to a whole new world of photography for me, and for a while I wanted to become a full time photographer. Remember, this was long before Internet and I grew up in a small town. Photo books were hardly anything seen at these latitudes before I met this photographer.

Karlstad 1974 (Konica Autoreflex). An early photo. I had an addiction for people on bikes for a while.

35 years passed by. I got my MBA university diploma and I had a successful career as a management consultant and IT project manager. Through all these years I nursed my interest for photography. The Konica was switched for a Canon A1 and later I wanted auto focus so I bought a Canon EOS 5. The cameras traveled with me on job trips as well as in daily life, but I never had the chance to devote myself to photography. When chances was given I hopped into a pair of worn jeans and brought my camera to town, but that was too rarely.

Through all these years I was mainly a b&w photographer, as all my heroes from the past was b&w photographers. But occasionally I tried one or two Kodachrome rolls. I was not fully comfortable in color, it was a different kind of photography. And I still feel the same way today.

New York 1997 (Canon EOS 5 analogue). One of these occasions when I had a day off. This time with Kodachrome in the camera. I did this b&w conversion with an object kept in color as an experiment. In fact I have a whole series from that photo day in the same style.

One interesting thing with old photos is how low quality it was, compared with today. I have printed the old photos in 20 x 30 cm prints, but larger than that doesn’t simply work.

2005 was a year for change. I decided that enough was enough. I sold my business, no more consultancy work. Instead I wanted to go ‘all in’ with photography. Not just any photography, but street photography. My passion since the day I started to take photos.

Now I also had an idea with my street photography, and that idea came from my intense traveling during my years as a consultant in combination with what one old photographer once said to me. I was simply very tired of traveling and the old photographer said that traveling abroad in purpose to take photos was like taking photos in a salt water fish tank. What he meant was that when you get abroad everything is new and exotic to the eye, everything is fascinating and everything feels like it’s worth photographing. But it will easily be tourist photography.

I decided I wanted to practice my street photography on my home town, and later narrowing it down even further. This was the start of SPIMBY.

These years was also the tipping point when digital photography became technically good enough, so I didn’t just decide to take up photography full time, I also decided to go digital. At that time I was a loyal friend of Canon cameras, so my first digital camera was a Canon EOS 400. This was a small and user friendly camera, that was easy to bring along in the city. As IT had been in my everyday work as a management consultant, the challenge to switch from analogue to digital photography wasn’t gigantic. Photoshop was soon a much better friend then the dark room.  At that time, I also joined a small image agency. It was a very good school to learn how to handle digital image processing.

One late night in Stockholm. In 2011 the beggars hadn’t yet been so common in the streets, so it was quiet a strange sight finding them sleeping on the under heated pavements. (Canon EOS 5D Mk II)

I loved the handleability of the small EOS 400, but soon the pursuit of better quality ended up with me buying a Canon EOS 5D Mk II and a number of Canon L -lenses. Now it started to be really bulky. This was not an idealistic combination for street photography. I realized I had jumped on the wrong train. Back at the drawing board I started to investigate the compact camera segment. I bought a Canon G10. That was a much better friend in the city, but it had a motor zoom and it was slow.

My dog saw this first, he saw another dog. I saw the faithful dog waiting for his master. (Canon G10)

Then came the day I laid my hands on my first Fujifilm camera, it was the small and compact Fuji X10. That camera was the starting point for a transformation from Canon to Fuji, a journey that took 5 years of anxiety and indecisions.

The X10 became very fast my ‘go to’ -camera when I was heading for the city, but despite the lovely look and feel and the manual zoom, that camera had limitations. So my next camera became a Fuji X-E1 together with the nice 18-55 zoom and the 35/1,4. Now I had two different camera systems and absolutely no idea where that would end.

About in the same time I started ‘The Street Photography Group’ (Gatufotogruppen) in Stockholm. I gathered just over a dozen photographers with different experiences, sharing the same passion for street photography. We started with monthly meetings and five years later we are stronger then ever.

Just a thin sheet of glass. (Fujifilm X10)

A dog that can’t find any grass. (Fujifilm X-E1)

As I photograph on an daily basis the database of random street photography grows. But from time to time I decide to do projects, exhibitions and books.

My first big project was about a traffic carousel in Stockholm called Slussen. This place is a sluice for boat traffic from the lake Mälaren to the Baltic sea, but also a traffic solution for cars and subway, in short it’s a very important and very characteristic traffic hub in the middle of Stockholm. Due to 30 years of neglected maintenance the construction had to be demolished, but before that  started I spent more then a year walking in all nooks taking photos to document the place before the excavators took over. This became my so far best selling book and an exhibition that lasted for two months in the Gamla Stan (the Old City) of Stockholm.

Two photos from my Slussen exhibition called “An old beauty beyond salvation”.

The Slussen project got me into the next project called Strövtåg I Gamla Stan (Ramble in Gamla Stan). Everyone that have visited Stockholm have walked in The Gamla Stan (the Old City). I decided to do the same, but not just focusing on tourism. I decided to also visit people that lives and works in this tourist magnet. It became a book about a barber with a very interesting guest book, an antique dealer with a grand piano in his shop, and so on. This project also ended up as a book and an exhibition.

Two photos from my Gamla Stan exhibition called “Ramble in Gamla Stan”.

During 2016 I participated in a total of 6 exhibitions, two of them was solo exhibitions. When all of that was over I decided that 2017 must be an exhibition break. I was tired and the audience was tired as well.

But that didn’t mean that I stopped photographing. Instead we have something very interesting and very SPIMBY coming up in my street photography group (Gatufotogruppen). We have decided to run a project we call Mina Kvarter (My Blocks). The idea is to start photographing just outside our front doors. The closer to home, the more blind are we to what happens, the harder we have to see what’s worth photographing. I have a dog that I walk several times every day, and as I never leave home without a camera I take a lot if SPIMBY. But for the rest of the group it has been a challenge. Hard but also interesting. A lot worth photographing happens just where we are.

SPIMBY close to where I live. One thing about this project is that we decided to go for color. Outside my comfort zone, but I’m working on it.

As this is a Fuji-related site I think I shall mention a little more about my current gear status. Since starting with Fujifilm I have bought and sold the X-E1 and a X-T1. Currently I use a X-M1 and a X-T2. I also have a number of lenses, but mostly I use 18-55 or just the prime 18. I like the wide angles and I like the low weight. I have sold the old 14, 23 and 35 in favor of the new WR 23 and 35. I lose one aperture step but there’s a lot to win in terms of speed and weight. I also still have the X10, but that old friend resides in the cabinet most of the time.

I prefer camera gear to be small. The X-T2 is almost too big, so the somewhat slow X-M1 with the 27 is a frequent friend. It’s a little sad that Fuji stopped developing the M series, but I’m still happy for the X-M1 that I have. When I compare the X-T2 with the Konica Autoreflex T3 and the Canon A1, that I still have in the camera cabinet, they are almost the same size, but the old cameras are heavier. It’s interesting how I look at that nowadays. In the old days I never thought of those cameras as big or heavy. The expected X-E3 will probably be hard to resist, even if I think the X-E-series is very ugly. The X-Pro – series will I never buy as these cameras are too bulky for me.

During my digital years with Canon I always used RAW format, but after converting to Fuji I have more or less stopped using RAW in favor for JPEG. Most of my photos ends up as b&w conversions, done in NIK Silver EFEX Pro2. I still find it hard to use color as color makes the beholder of the photo look on details rather on the whole scene. I try color, but my heart says b&w. In the b&w conversion I have Ansel Adams and his zone system in mind. Today’s fashion prescribes that b&w images should be very dark, but I’m out of date so I prefer a more nuanced gray scale.

And what happened to all my Canon gear? The analogue Canon cameras (A1 and F1) with FD lenses are kept, but the EOS cameras (5D Mk II and 7D) with auto focus lenses are all sold. This is the first and probably the last time I have sold off a complete range of gear and I don’t regret it for a minute. For me as a street photographer the Canon EOS gear was the wrong way to go, and as an old photographer I love the Fujifilm retro design. From Konica to Fujifilm feels like a full circle.

Finally, some random street photography from my walks in my home town, Stockholm.

The books can be found on Blurb, but better and cheaper on BooksOnDemand. Just go to the Bookshop and search for Hans Wahlgren, or follow this link. The three books relating to the street photography subjet are:

  • Stockholm 1 is a typical street photography book without any subject, besides it’s all about Stockholm.
  • Slussen and Strövtåg I Gamla Stan (Ramble in Gamla Stan) are mentioned in the article.

All three books are bilingual, Swedish/English.

A sequal to Stockholm 1, imaginatively named Stockholm 2, will probably be presented on BoocksOnDemand late 2017.