Street Portraits in Asia

· 4.May.2016

I shoot fashion. I am not a street photographer, at least I don’t consider myself one. Nor would I consider myself to be a particularly apt travel photographer. I am, however, capable with a camera and I had a vacation looming on the horizon so I decided it best to part ways with the labels I had assigned myself and simply be a photographer regardless of location or circumstance. With that settled, I began preparations for my trip which, in this case, involved departing Germany for Hong Kong, jetting off to the Philippines the following day and a week later returning for another brief stint in Hong Kong before heading back to Berlin. I have flown quite a bit over the past several years and although this is certainly not the most demanding itinerary I did feel an overwhelming urge to travel light. Enter Fuji.

My introduction to the Fuji X System was something less than intentional. Up until this point I had worked exclusively with SLR’s. I began my journey into photography with a Canon 550d, stepped up to a 5d mark ii and then the mark iii, and for the past year and a half I’ve been using and abusing Nikon d810’s. The heft of that full-frame body compounded with the additional burden of pricey, overweight lenses made for a less-than-ideal travel kit. This dawned on me not too long ago and as a result I went in search of something smaller and lighter-weight that would be my primary camera while wanderlusting about. In my mind at the time, there were two contenders that would fit the bill- the newly announced Sony RX1Rii and the Leica Q. My affinity for full-frame sensors and my preference for the 28 and 35mm focal range dictated that one of these two cameras (and only one of these two) would meet and exceed my borderline-snobbish image quality expectations. Unfortunately for me, these cameras proved so niche, expensive, and minimally produced that acquiring one was a pipe-dream and, grudgingly, I marched myself into my local camera shop and picked up what the online reviews said was the next best thing- the Fuji X100T.

I’m writing this under the assumption that everyone reading it has some experience with Fuji’s X-Series and possibly even the x100t (or one of its predecessors) so I will waste no time extolling it’s many virtues except to say that the x100t is hands down the best camera I have ever owned. It’s not full-frame, it lacks weather sealing, and it houses a fairly modest 16mp sensor and, despite my prejudices based on these perceived shortcomings, I fell in love instantly. So in love, in fact, that I promptly rushed out to add an XT1 to the mix and declared my travel kit complete, relegating the corpulent d810 to the storage kit beneath the bed.

I took off, x100t and XT1 in tow, now fancying myself a street-photographer, a title validated in my mind by the fixed lens and manual control dials of the x100t. I quickly realized, however, that I had no idea what I was doing. My shoots are well-planned, well-lit, and well-organized. The situation I found myself in upon arrival, however, could be described by none of these attributes. Add to this the fact that I am fairly awkward, mildly shy, and deathly afraid of conflict and you have a personality better suited to a librarian than a street photographer. Despite my apprehensions and self-imposed hindrances, however, the little Fujis made my transition into this foreign genre unimaginably painless. Their understated, minimalistic design and their physical diminutiveness made me unobtrusive and allowed me the opportunity to participate in and document a scene without disrupting it. I quickly felt in my element and soon realized that, without much conscious thought, I was approaching strangers and photographing them in a way I had been too timid to attempt at any time previously. I meandered about Asia for the next several weeks photographing anyone and everyone I could, and not once did I lament the lack of a full-frame sensor or the 36 megapixels that come alone with it. The x100t was attached to me at all times (a feat my DSLR’s never accomplished) and because of that I was able to make portraits that I otherwise would have missed and ultimately regretted, which to me is far and away the most important attribute any camera can have – a desire to have it with you.

I understand that this was neither a camera review, nor a description of my purpose and motivations in shooting what and how I did. But it wasn’t meant to be. This article was meant to explain my introduction to the Fuji X-Series, my unintentional indoctrination into it, and most importantly my reasons for sticking with it. The photos I have included in this piece are ones of which I am particularly proud. Not because they are necessarily my greatest works but because they are representative of an evolution in the work I do and how I do it. In all honesty, I was exceptionally nervous leaving the country without a DSLR as a fallback plan. I have become so accustomed to their use and so comfortable in the quality of images that they produce that placing the photographic integrity of my trip in the hands of crop-sensor mirrorless cameras was fairly unnerving. What I hadn’t accounted for, however, was the pure joy I get out of using my Fujis. There is some indescribable and magical quality about the photos they produce and their design and form factor has reinvigorated my desire to shoot in a way no camera before them has. My travel photography kit is now a no-brainer and the way I shoot has been permanently altered. I still might not be a street-photographer but I’ll be damned if I dont keep trying.