Working the Street


A guitarist I know was telling me about a gig he had done last weekend, a memorial event for Kirstie MacColl.

During rehearsals Phil Jupitus had come up to him after hearing again a riff from the broadcaster’s youth. “You are the reason I started playing” enthused Jupitus. The guitarist was so pleased that he had influenced another player and I yet again made the connection between photographer and musician: Between the soundtracks of one’s lifetime and the split moments we remember forever.

I’ve had chance encounters with a photographer whose classic pictures have themselves been the reason I started strumming a camera – the beginnings of ill-timed and ill-composed pictures never seen or published.

You might identify a true street photographer by their pavement choreography. On Piccadilly the other day, as the sinking sun aligned itself with commuters’ faces, I again spotted the lanky, gentle-looking man with cropped hair and a camera strap wrapped around his fist like a Kray twin knuckleduster. He was meandering and pausing, thinking, waiting, smiling, shuttering and walking on. I’d seen him there before but though I know his name I certainly wouldn’t have wished to interrupt. It’s enough I think, that I know his pictures.

In sixties Manhattan, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and new colorist Joel Meyerowitz often met as they crisscrossed the sidewalks where the tempos of that city collided with split-second dramas, each giving us some of the most important flashbacks in modern photography. Meyerowitz says about his Out to Lunch series that he keeps so inconspicuous his subjects rarely perceive his interest in them, let alone make their acquaintance – something he calls “bruising the situation.”

In rare film of Cartier-Bresson working in the street, he can be seen performing balletic jumps and twists, darting in and out of Parisian eyesights. We see a beautiful and decisive master of form and timing. And as Kerouac said in his foreword to Robert Franks’ The Americans, “.. He sucked a poem out of America onto film .. I now give this message: You got eyes.”

The highest of compliments.

The contemporary street photography genre seems to be coalescing once again through digital and social media. A broader crop of young practitioners are pacing the pavements with renewed verve and awareness, distributing and publishing collections of dystopian themes. Under the guise of suspecting photographers of staging a recce for plotting terrorism, last year saw police forces taking Section 44 stop and searches too far. But the prospect of having one’s cameras unstrung under public order laws have given the fraternity new springs in their heels and the newly-published Street Photography Now gives an inspiring lecture on idiotically funny landscapes.

It had been a slow morning and even Cafe Nero hadn’t helped accelerate my senses for the incongruous on Charing Cross Road. But after leafing through its pages in Foyles, I headed outside to where panels of colours and audio played before me like an infinitive of storyboards.

I suddenly had eyes.


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