The skill in street photography is not only the ability of thinking on your feet to capture an image at the perfect moment, it is also the ability to connect the viewer to the subject through empathy, humanity, intrigue, and humour. The viewer’s connection with the subject depends on many elements – a sideways glance, clever framing, juxtaposition of elements, or the choice of gaze. The visceral nature of allowing the viewer to seek empathy and understanding of the subject, becomes the major responsibility of the photographer working on street portraiture.
Unknowable beneath his beard and cap, an unnerving portent from an enormous cut-out moth seemingly provides him with heavenly wings. We see the image of a man, apparently transfixed, while his distracted companion glances nervously at something more inviting. A story of aging loneliness, heavy with threat emerges, and allows us to wonder about our own mortality.
A tailor, with the tools of his trade in the background, appears amused.
The lens immediately asks us to like him for his engagingly ruffled hair, inner glow, and gentle smile. A closer look finds exhaustion reflected in his eyes, and the story of the brutal hours worked by Abu Dhabi’s independent tailoring community is only tempered by the humanity and generosity of spirit that the image captures.
Three elements contribute to the humour and intrigue of the waving man at the top of the steps. While happily engaging directly with the photographer’s lens, the man is watched closely by a street camera, while the reflected face of a pretty young woman appears to simultaneously mock him and side with him.
Unaware of her, his girth is emphasised by her perfection and the juxtaposition is nicely captured by the presence of the street camera – all seeing but devoid of judgement.
In a small booth close to a Mumbai beach, an indulgently groomed moustache becomes the prime, joyous element of this image. The man’s story is immediately apparent. From the deferential angle of the shot we learn about pride, dignity and honour. Neatly arranged bottles, a classical seated position, and a pleasing superiority over the photographer provides an uplifting story of commerce, personal industry and entrepreneurship that inhabits every corner of Mumbai.
We don’t know if the woman in the wheelchair and the figure in the foreground are related but the humour in the image lies in how the photographer connects them through their reflected actions. Both appear to be busy with ice-cream though we only know this for sure of the figure that we can see. Prominence is given to the retro sunglasses, an exotic tropical tattoo, and a plastic Tesco shopping bag hooked to a wheelchair. These elements place the couple in a British demographic so exact, that we could write their story from this image alone.
A grizzled pensioner, cigarette clamped cheekily between his teeth, engages happily with the lens, his spectacular motorbike and leather jacket dominating the image. Antiquity in the background provides humorous companionship, and the reminder of an enduring charm that often comes from the juxtaposition between youthful pursuits and old age.
The man in the kilt appears defeated somehow – comical though, with his clown hair, rosy cheeks and tightly downturned expression. More questions are asked than answered in this image. Further examination reveals a small phone on his knee and it is intriguing to wonder why then, he waits so closely to the public coin phone. Perhaps this is the clue to such a dogged demeanour.