Do you consider yourself a street photographer?
If so, you are not alone…
Whether you like it or not, they are snapping away on a mobile phone, through to shooting ‘old school’ 35mm black & white film on a Leica, they are owning the street & recording our modern life for posterity.
A Cartier-Bresson, every single one of them…
The argument of whether street photography is even now an art form, will be an ongoing debate amongst all the purists out there. Even then, there will be a debate about that debate.
Who actually are the purists and who decided that they were the purists in the first place!
Paparazzi of Strangers.
Last weekend (or the technical term ‘wochenende’), I was in the German capital, Berlin for the 2017 EyeEm Festival & Photography Awards, which was held along the River Spree, near the East Side Gallery in a huge converted factory. The morning session was pretty good. Some great speakers intensely covering artificial intelligence, neuroscience and extreme photography.
After downloading my brain onto a hard drive during the lunch break, I returned to the venue and literally walked straight into a street photographer who’s work I had been admiring from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for a while.
In fact, I kind of just guessed it was him, because you know how it is with social media, you’ve only ever see somebody’s eyes, mouth and a small part of the face in their profile photo and never the rest of them. In this case the head, covered by a Yellow Cab baseball cap and to the toes double denim, his Canadian Tuxedo. It had to be Daniel Arnold, the self-styled ‘Paparazzi of Strangers’, after all, he was the keynote speaker listed for later in the day.
For me, the opportunity to ask, was too good to miss. Not only did he look like a character out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel, but he was so immediately engaging and open, that I had to take that chance. I took my chance…
Fear And Loathing In Berlin.
As I hurriedly grabbed my Mamiya 7ii out of my camera bag, I explained to him how I have been following him for ages, before even his rather large spat with Instagram. We walked round the building, so I could find a suitably industrial and Berlinesque location to place him in.
He looked a bit taken aback, that I was under the impression that he was successful.
“I am really not successful…”Daniel Arnold
As he swung his knackered Contax, pendulum style, from it’s strap, Daniel explained to me that he was making no real money, apart from the commissions from the New Yorker Magazine & Vanity Fair.
They had come along, as a consequence of years of walking miles and miles photographing the natives of New York City each day and as a consequence his Instagram account blew up.
Obsessive Photography Disorder.
Daniel had had a very high profile print sale via his Instagram account, which was basically to enable him to get on his feet, as he had been struggling financially. It was very successful from what I read and it was then, that I learn about him and his obsession with street photography.
Being a street photographer myself, I am completely aware of how difficult it is to go out and take photographs of people, who are totally unaware of your presence and why I am compelled to do so. It is never done for financial gain. If you are good enough this will come later…much later. Personally I am compelled to do so, because I am a real people watcher. I like to see humans being funny, amazing, cool and alarmingly stupid. So I record that.
London has always been a very difficult city to make it in and the people do not make it easy. I have photographed in Daniel’s adopted home of New York City (he’s from Wisconsin) and I found it as difficult, so I really enjoyed following his journey, because of the kind of photographs he comes up with and knowing the boundaries.
Mobiographers Of The World Unite.
The now mobile phone toting general public still can be really hostile towards street photographers. The distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ still is huge. This is simply because they don’t understand why photographers are motivated in taking photographs in the public street and assume immediately that they are up to no good. Victims of a fear mongering media, projecting false truths.
The funny thing is that, these are the people, who, if there was a major incident that was newsworthy, or something funny was happening in front of them, are the same people who would hurriedly get their mobile phone out of their pocket, photograph or film the incident in question and immediately post it to social media, to show their friends and family.
Perhaps, a street photographer is going to steal their soul from them? Or, God forbid, they, with their camera kit worth thousands and an inability to hide in plain sight, have an unhealthy interest in their children!? Either way, the street photographers in particular are on the front line or that discussion.
Blink 182 Times.
We both compared mental notes and agreed, that if you just keep on your toes and you keep moving quickly enough, you actually are almost invisible to the public. People are unaware of you, because they are so busy…especially in a large city. This enables you to get in, take the photograph, get out, ‘blink and you’d miss it’ style.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Nothing really new there to street photographers! But, this is where Daniel is really different. He uses flash. You are always going to elicit a massive reaction from somebody, if you stick a camera up and bang a flash off. The surprise value of it for some people is sometimes too much to take…so Daniel’s imagery & strategy I really hold in high regard. In addition, he photographs on 35mm film, so the images are not available immediately to post onto the Internet and shared. The process there is far slower.
One insight I learnt from him was that whenever he receives the email notification from his lab that his film & scans are ready for download, he literally drops what he is doing on one of his many walks and returns home to sit, view and edit his catch for the rest of the day. Although, developing the film is taken out of his own process, he is still totally engaged and obsessed with the imagery that he has captured and the curation part of his process is key. There is still ‘the big reveal’ that is so compelling for all photographers out there…
Using his background as a writer, his storytelling ability for me, is key to his success. It makes his process unique amongst a peer group bulging at the seems with talent. His vision and humour. Also, his tenacity, is something that any young street photographer, who is at the beginning of their career needs to emulate and not be caught up in building up an Instagram following. The key ingredient being the content produced, not a hashtag created.
As he described in his EyeEm keynote, the young people he encounters want an instant online hit with their photography, without actually putting blood, sweat and tears into the work itself and creating something longstanding and therefore tangible for future generations.
Follow You, Follow Me.
Daniel Arnold can be found mostly on the streets of New York City & on Instagram
Hit him up & give him a follow!