Street Photography: An outsider’s view



David Mantripp, one of our readers in his opinion of our Magazine, had some pretty interesting comments on Street Photography and Landscape photography. I sent him a few questions to learn more about him and how he views Street Photography.


David, Please tell us a bit more about yourself


I'm 51 years old, I'm nominally British, but I was raised in Belgium and these days I live in Switzerland. I spent a long while working as a research scientist, but these days I work in IT.


What inspired you to become a photographer?


Difficult to say, really I drifted into it. Initially I considered photography as raw material for illustration and multimedia, but eventually it took on a life of its own.




What purpose does it serve for you?


Well, I've often asked myself that question! Apart from giving me an excuse to read gear reviews, and generally soaking up all my spare time, there must be some reason it being such a big part of my life. And actually, I've come to realize that in some sense, there is a strong undercurrent of purpose to my photography which is sometimes more obvious, sometimes less.




It seems that through photography I'm trying to build myself some kind of narrative for my life, trying to create a context to live in. It's not easy to explain, and I know it sounds contrived and pretentious, but it's not a conscious thing and it's only fairly recently I realized it was happening.


Where in the world are you located?




I live in southern Switzerland, the Italian speaking canton of Ticino, about 4km from the Italian border.


Let me ask you about a statement you made “I’m finding published landscape photography more and more tame, repetitive, formulaic and sterile” (and you put yourself in that batch) Why do you think that is? Do you find it's the opposite for street photography?


Well, as I say somewhere on my website, take it all with a pinch of salt! But yes, I do see a huge amount of repetition and copying in landscape photography. You'd think the world has enough over saturated sunrise / sunset long exposure shots of deserted beaches, yet every print and online landscape photo magazine can't get enough of them, and they're guaranteed fave-magnets on Flickr. As for 500px, well, if you're into black & white street, just don't even go there, you'll be months in therapy.




Nature photography is extremely competitive, dominated by gear-obsessed alpha males, all basically flexing their metaphorical muscle through sharper than pin-sharp, ultraVelvia renditions of epic locations that, to me, suck the soul of the subject they're apparently trying to portray. Obviously I'm exaggerating for effect, but really, there seems to be little place these days for a more considered approach which might create photos you could live with for a while.




As for street, well, to absolutely frank, I can see some signs of that going in the same direction, there's an awful lot of derivate work cropping up, but nevertheless my impression, very much as an outsider, is that diversity, experimentation and a personal approach is much more valued. I would say that a problem with street is that too many people seem to think that bad composition and total lack of technique is a virtue, and a huge amount of stuff which the photographer probably thinks channels Frank, Winogrand or HCB is actually just a waste of bandwidth.


But even if I don't consider myself a street photographer by any stretch of the imagination, I find a lot of inspiration there which is applicable to my own style and areas. And as an avid consumer of photography, these days I find street photography far, far more interesting to read about and look at.




Looking at your Flickr history, you are slowly but surely moving away from pure, classical landscapes to a landscapes with street photography elements in it. Was that a conscious decision? What influenced that change?


Really? Hmm. I'd say that my Flickr history is more of a random walk than anything. And it is just a touch self-mocking at times. Actually, probably it went through a more experimental phase around 3 years ago, but now it's settled down. Basically I'm an opportunistic photographer, and what I post on Flickr tends to be out-takes of edits of whatever / wherever I'm recently be photographing. I use Flickr like a sort of inboard where I stick stuff up to see if it works. Often I'll suddenly decide to post something, on a whim. There's no plan. Flick's a social network that just happens to use photography as the glue.


But I've always been a bit of a genre-hopper. If I really had to choose one and only one category, I'd go for “travel”, probably because that can mean pretty much anything. This is just me, I've always hated being categorised. However, I think I am gravitating more towards landscape with a human element, even when out in the wilds. The portfolio galleries on my website tend to confirm this. I don't find the idea that landscape has to be pure nature interesting. In fact I'd say it is very artificial. Even when indulging in my obsession with polar regions I look for the human element, although my way of doing that is to look for elements that people have left behind, rather than people themselves. I'm absolutely hopeless at photographing people, but it also feeds back into this thing I have about constructing imaginary, intangible narratives.




Are you satisfied of the direction you are going, photographically speaking?


I have no idea what direction I'm going in! Well, ok, yes, one area I've been trying to get better at is editing and creating series. I feel I'm making some progress there.




Do you feel that street photography is primarily about the human element and his surroundings?


Yes, I'd agree with that. There's a point where street becomes urban landscape, although that has probably as much to do with technical approach than subject matter. But street photography, to me is fundamentally about people and relationships between them, although I guess it can be indirect.


Two photographers I follow on the web are a good illustration, I think. Wouter Brandsma and Gianni Galassi both photograph mainly in monochrome, both with compact cameras, both mostly in the urban environment, but to me at least Brandsma is quite clear a street photographer, and Galassi an urban landscaper. But they're both inspirational, great photographers.




Street photography is one of the most accessible forms of photography, what keeps you from jumping in cold turkey?


Several reasons. Actually in my everyday life, it's not all that accessible, in that street life in these parts is a bit dull. Or maybe I'm blind to the opportunities, but anyway, I rarely find much to inspire me in a traditional “street photography” sense. Another reason is that my range of subject matter is too wide as it is. I do think that over-specialization kills creativity, but over-generalization can make you completely directionless. And perhaps most significantly, while intellectually I get street photography, emotionally I don't, so it just doesn't come as a natural creative process for me.




What do you find most interesting about Street Photography?
Well there are many answers to that question, but I particularly like how good street photography can work on several levels. A photo can at the same time convey a strong sense of emotion and place while also presenting inventive and attractive composition. It can mean quite different things to different viewers, depending on what elements they are sensitive too. This is much harder to achieve with landscape / nature photography, but my feeling is that spending time as a consumer and student of street photography can be very beneficial towards refreshing creativity in other types.




How do you intend to incorporate certain of these elements in your work?


I'm not sure I have a definite plan, but certainly getting a better feel for the infamous decisive moment is very important. I guess it is omething which applies as well to wildlife photography, which I dabble in but not too seriously. I think the biggest benefit that I can get from looking at, and trying to do Street photography is to get better at instinctively reacting to a juxtaposition of elements, and try to get away from the more static approach of landscape work, which can cramp creativity. One obvious point is that I'm starting to welcome, and use, the presence of people in landscape and, especially, urban landscape, when before I'd try to completely avoid it. It's not easy to make this work well, but it's an enjoyable challenge.




What camera are you working with currently and why?


Finally an easy question! The longest relationship I've had with a camera is with the Hasselblad XPan. I find the wide format very natural to work with, and it's one I always come back to. I should do more street photography with it – it's great, people have no idea they're in the frame when you're pointing it 45 degrees away from them!


On the digital front I started using Olympus gear over 10 years ago and I've never seen any reason to switch. Although ergonomically they've never again reached the heights of perfection of the E-1. I've also used Ricoh GRs for many years, but at present am without one as my GRD IV was stolen last year. Finally, I'm really getting into the Sigma DP Merrills. So, yeah, pretty much non-conformist 🙂


Thank you David, for your answers. I truly enjoyed this conversation and your candid answers. I wish you the best and thank you for being a reader 🙂


[highlight]David Mantripp[/highlight]

Please check David's blog and his Flickr

About The Author

3 thoughts on “Street Photography: An outsider’s view”

  1. A very interesting interview David (and Olivier). I don’t see myself as a street photographer too. More I am a landscape photographer, and I still love making landscape photographs, who happens to photograph much of his work on the street. Not the genre, but two themes are the main reasons I photograph.
    1. Nothing is obvious in life
    2. There is no perfection too
    What fascinates me is how people still think and act like everything is pretty obvious and still like to make or even consider much perfect.

    You talk about bringing that juxtaposition, people and landscapes, in your photography, which is exactly what I try to do too. Although it is mostly a lot more about how I feel about it all. The way we see and interpret our surroundings is so much influenced by how we feel at the time of the day. And sometimes it is more liberating to ignore everything we learned and to see more free again. Don’t go for the obvious and perfection, whether it is the composition and or genre. That is what I like and helped me to ease my gained knowledge and experiences over the years.

    What you call “travel” photography, because it can mean pretty much everything is what I like to define as “stroll photography”.

  2. Pingback: INSPIRED EYE | The big, fat list of all things Street Photography

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