There is a lot to read here, so pick a couple based on people who look interesting to you and check them out. There are fascinating stories throughout.
This was the best way I found to present it all, but I originally wanted to just show the photos together with no text, so we could get a sense of the quality of them all next to each other with no distractions.
It’s amazing how much stronger this set of portraits are overall than much of the previous portrait work that’s been done, even though there’s been a ton of fantastic portraiture already.
Everyone looks comfortable, real, in their element. There’s a lot of nuance in these photos.
I believe nothing can improve you as a street (or non street) portrait photographer more than showing genuine interest in your subjects. And this can clearly create some incredible experiences for you as well.
I’m going to keep my commentary short on this one. What can you really say that the photos here don’t already say on their own?
Clearly, one major skill that will improve your photography is better noticing the light and its qualities. And I think looking through these photos will certainly stimulate that.
I have tremendous fun organizing the images, although I’m sure I miss and leave out some great photos in the process.
I separated the selects into two groups, because in Lightroom I picked out an initial 45 photos and then another 45. But looking through after organizing these and they’re both pretty equally excellent.
Hope you find this inspiring! Next week I’m hoping to get to the portraits and stories.
And I’m psyched to see all the LOT photos already. My feed looks like one big parking lot and there are a lot of fantastic photos already. Get some portraits, get some detail shots, find quirky things, amongst everything else!
Please don’t forget to submit your photos for the Light and Story Challenge to [email protected] with the title ‘Challenge #6.’ The deadline is Sept 7th. And please send them all at once in one email if you can. A max of one portrait/story and up to 5 light photos.
Next week’s post will be all about the next project challenge coming up. But before that, I wanted to use this week to share my Speedway project and how it came about.
The development of my previous project, Luxe City was an organic process. It grew as I grew as a photographer. The story, the idea behind it, were all based on things I was feeling at the time and I had to learn those feelings and figure out how to express them.
Similarly, this is what I’m trying to do with my Quiet, Brooklyn (or Painted Flowers) project. I don’t even know the name for that now. I’m similarly figuring it out as I go along as I feel out the story that I want to tell.
100 Greene Street on the other hand was half organic and half figured out. I was naturally drawn to the street and kept going back over and over, but it took a few years to realize that the street itself could be a project on its own. And once I realized that, it got even more exciting to go there, and it continues to be.
Speedway is a crappy gas station down the block from me. It stands at the intersection of an $89 hotel that was just converted from being used as a homeless shelter, a police station, and a school. I cross through the gas station every time I walk to the subway.
I had taken a few good photographs there as part of my general photography, but one day it dawned on me that this place was a microcosm of a certain portion of the city. If I waited long enough there, it seemed like anything could happen.
This subsection is the opposite of who I was photographing in Luxe City. And strangely enough, I’ve only been turned down by one person so far for a portrait – a guy who wanted $50. I will pay $20 if necessary or if someone clearly needs it, but that’s my limit. This man did not need $50.
This gas station is not a place you’d expect people to be easygoing about letting you take their portrait, and yet they are. They seem like they get. It just shows that you never know.
The goal is to use this small but vibrant place to tell a larger story about the city – and to do it before it turns into a luxury building, which I’m assuming will be the final portion of the project.
I’m trying to mix traditional candid street photography with more formal portraits. I use the Fuji X100 when I walk by frequently to head to my jobs in Manhattan. Then when I have free time, I bring the GFX and focus on portraits.
It’s an interesting puzzle to try to figure out how to put that all together but still have it feel cohesive.
On one hand, I want the project to feel loose and relaxed. I want it to feel fun. I want each photo to be a little story in the life of the city. Some of the photos I take quickly and try to compose quickly to get that feeling. But I also want an aspect of it to be more formal. So for other photos, I spend a while composing. And I hope they balance each other out.
There are rock dividers on the sidewalk that are great to sit on in the sun. The first few times it felt weird, but now it’s frankly very relaxing to go for 30 minutes at 5pm and watch this crappy gas station run with the sun on your back. When I have the time I like to hit either the 9am rush or the 5pm rush.
So I sit there and wait for the right people to get out of their cars or to walk by and then I go talk to them. Sometimes I feel too uncomfortable and chicken out (yes, I still chicken out), but more often I’m able to get myself to go for it.
I’m starting to see the same people over and over again and now saying hi to a few of them. I’m starting to feel like one of the characters in the story almost. I went out again the morning of writing this looking for Mango but I must have just missed him because the birds were crowded around eating.
My buddy Scott Wyden-Kivowitz, who helps me with some of the behind-the-scenes work on the site, just started a new photo podcast called Photo Breakdown – where we talk for 20 minutes about the Mango portrait and the project in general: https://scottwyden.com/photo-breakdown-with-james-maher/
You can see the current form of the project at this link. Click on the photo so the lightbox comes up and then use the arrow keys to scroll through. Pay attention to the details – there’s some fun hidden stuff. https://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/speedway/
We’ll talk much more about projects, sequencing, and everything over the next few months as part of this next challenge, but start giving it some thought now. And there’s going to be an added surprise that we’re going to do as part of the challenge that I’m very excited about.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve all been able to get some time off this August.
Nearly ten years ago, I reached out to a local neighborhood blog asking if I could do a new feature for them, stopping, interviewing, and photographing people on the street.
What followed was a weekly 5.5 year project of nearly 200 interviews called East Village Stories. The project became an oral account of the last handful of decades in one of the most vibrant communities in the city.
Complete strangers opened up about their past and the neighborhood, took me around, and many even took me into their homes and businesses. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.
I’m sharing these stories to give you some motivation, and an understanding that people want to open up. This is fun for them too.
My most exhausted days, where I would want to do anything but stand on a corner harassing people for a story, often led me to find the most incredible people. Pushing myself to do it turned into the most wonderful experiences. A couple of the people below I would start to see all over the neighborhood and have many more conversations.
Now of course your stories don’t need to be this involved. And to keep your attention, the few stories I chose below are some of the most unbelievable.
I don’t want you to think this is what you need to do. Everyday people have fantastic stories. And just getting a person to open up for a short bit will often help to yield an incredible portrait.
The camera is just a tool. It’s just a tool that will give you an excuse to meet someone.
Give it a go, push yourself a bit, and you will create some memorable experiences.
The mundane challenge, like a few of the others, was a building block challenge for your photography. Similarly, I want this challenge to be the same, and it seems like a good time to do this during the doldrums of summer (and winter).
There are two parts to this challenge and you can feel free to do one, do all, or do none.
First of all, I really enjoyed the photobook talks we had recently. I learned so much about The Local from all of you.This is going to be a regular feature coming up.
The next book meeting I think we’re going to schedule a few site-wide hangouts to make it work for people in different time zones. I’m thinking of alternating these book meetings between the group meetings and site-wide as I’d like to balance the group dynamic with also having flexible meeting times for everyone.
Now lately we’ve been covering a full range of topics surrounding street photography, especially how to do this in quiet places, suburban places, in your home, etc.
But I don’t want to leave the more traditional street photography out – the candid people photography, the decisive moment, the serendipitous, whatever you may call it.
Here are some thoughts and ideas that I wanted to talk about regarding this aspect of street photography.