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How to show a city's soul through street photography?

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Ayertosco says:

So i was in Rome for two days last weekend and i was shooting the streets and having some thoughts and doubts about "how to show a city through street photography". When i reviewed my images i found a lot of candids and urban landscapes but i was asking myself if a series of these photos could describe well to a stranger the city's soul and i doubted so. Since it's my actual goal for the next places that i'll visit, i wanted to ask you what photographers succeded on doing this, and what books i must see to learn something and get a proper education.
1:58AM, 6 May 2014 PDT (permalink)

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Giovanni Pascarella says:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlbK4WhMoQ
63 months ago (permalink)

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one black line says:

"if a series of these photos could describe well to a stranger the city's soul and i doubted so"

Why? And what defines a city's soul for you personally? For example, having lived there myself, Moriyama's images of Shinjuku are amazing to me, but I know many people who can't connect at all with them.
Originally posted 63 months ago. (permalink)
one black line edited this topic 63 months ago.

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Giovanni Pascarella says:

In my experience 2 days will never be enough to achieve anything meaningful and significative if you are visiting a new place, especially if you want to go deeper and reach the heart of it.

Many photographers who managed to do what you say went back many times over the years in the same place whenever they could (I'm thinking about Haiti for Gilden and Webb but there are so many other examples out there).

Besides, I think there is no book that will teach you to do what you're aiming at.
You should just study, shoot, improve your skills as an observer/hunter when you're in the field and as an editor of your own work once you're back home. The rest will come (maybe).
Originally posted 63 months ago. (permalink)
Giovanni Pascarella edited this topic 63 months ago.

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Ayertosco says:

The problem that i found was that a lot of street that i did in these two days was about the people but less about the city around them. I found less problematic finding the right balance on a city like Berlin that maybe is less touristic then Rome that's often full of people that arrive and go away, not living really in it but only visiting the hot spots. Yes, it's always a part of Rome's life but i felt like disconnected and far away from my real purpouse, as some important pieces of the puzzle were missing, not reaching the real face of the city. Maybe it's only a matter of time spent in it...too short...but i feel that watching some great works of some great photographers can help me out expanding the way i look to a city.
Originally posted 63 months ago. (permalink)
Ayertosco edited this topic 63 months ago.

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Adam Dzieciolkiewicz says:

Perhaps try to describe yourself instead?
63 months ago (permalink)

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krameroneill says:

That's such a grand pronouncement of intent I can't even get my head around it. It's certainly well outside the possibility of street photography 99.999% of the time. The singularly talented David Simon has spent his entire adult life trying to reveal some kind of truth about his native city through various forms of expression, and I'm sure half the citizens of Baltimore consider his work unrepresentative nonsense.

So to make it really general: walk before you run.
Originally posted 63 months ago. (permalink)
krameroneill edited this topic 63 months ago.

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Sixft Whiterabbit says:

agreeing w/ Kramer. The rare few photographers who have succeeded in depicting the 'soul' of their place did it apart from their original intent (I'm thinking Atget, that remarkably humble man) and from the position of being themselves deeply imbedded there.
63 months ago (permalink)

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Vinay Ingle says:

I think that street photography is a lot of self portraiture.

I don't think a single moment frozen in time can really get to the soul of a place -- maybe a person, or a group, or a setting, but not a whole place. Atget and Walker Evans and even journalists like Bourke-White come closest in my opinion, but it's less about overall soul and more about details of things that come together to form the whole. The only way to come close is through a set of images, so that you can accrue details, but even then, everyone is going to experience and respond to different things. And Rome is an impossible topic because you're shooting against a background so divorced from its current participants that I'm not even sure that you have access to its "soul."

One thing that also affects that feeling for me (which photography doesn't have access to) is smell. Many cities smell so different to me, but there are plenty of "urban" shots that you can take in almost any city that would look like they were taken in any other city. So even getting details doesn't always guarantee access to what makes the city unique.
63 months ago (permalink)

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dan culberson says:

Echoing what others have said. Not only can you not depict a city's "soul" in a couple of days of shooting, but you can't even really know what it is, imo. What you can show is what you saw and depict a little of the impressions you had. Work on getting that right, and then when you spend more time in a place your impressions become more accurate along with your photographic depictions of them.
63 months ago (permalink)

tangible branch [deleted] says:

How would you define the soul of any city? It's people, locals, tourists; its pace, energy? Cities are so diverse, so ever-changing and evolving that you're not so much as capturing it than you are keeping up with it. I think what matters is what a city means to you and not what you think it should mean and depict for others. I would want to see a city through your eyes, to see what you made of it. So perhaps it's not a question of capturing the soul of a city, but showing us what a city means to you, and in the end, it's your soul we're really seeing.

Capisce?
63 months ago (permalink)

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Ayertosco says:

Well...a lot of interesting replies from you all, and i caught the overall message thanks to your examples. After reading and thinking about it, i must admit that, as you say, giving your own view to show a particular place maybe is the only possible way and that there isn't a correct...or complete form of expression to do so...too ambitious for just one life.
Going through my photos i was really critic because i thought that if they were taken on a different city and not in Rome, no one could really notice and so, what's the matter to put them on a series, or a project ,based on a city if they don't reveal nothing of it?
But in the end, maybe life is a lot similar in every place we visit and my photos are just small pieces of a giant puzzle...i can't add more than my personal eye so, on the next city i'll think less and shoot more. Thanks to all.
63 months ago (permalink)

helpful cars [deleted] says:

Giovanni Pascarella:

Jesus! Thanks for making me want to spend 54 Euro!!!!
63 months ago (permalink)

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Marc Todd says:

"Truth is a pathless land."

-J.D. Krishnamurti
63 months ago (permalink)

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ian_taylor_photography says:

Takes more than a few days to figure out a place, let alone capture its 'soul'.
63 months ago (permalink)

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justinsdisgustin is a group administrator justinsdisgustin says:

holiday snaps are all well and good, and are an excellent keepsake of a time well spent. However, the idea that some toursit visiting a city for a couple days, or even weeks, is going to capture anything more than that is pure hubris. My advice is just enjoy yourself, take a few photos if you are so moved, but live life. Make memories. Your photos will likely be intersting only to you, anyways.
63 months ago (permalink)

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Steve {{--}} says:

Martin Parr moved to Hebdon Bridge, lived there for a few years and became part of the community. He got to know them; they got to know him... Did he capture the soul of the place? Well, decide for yourself, but if 'capturing the soul' is indeed possible, this gives it a good go imo. I'm sure he captured a cold - the weather is bloody lousy up North.

I'm with Justin. Visit and enjoy...
Originally posted 63 months ago. (permalink)
Steve {{--}} edited this topic 63 months ago.

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Giovanni Pascarella says:

paulosousapinto:

You're welcome, anytime ;)
63 months ago (permalink)

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Briggate.com says:

I am surprised at street photographers being so dismissive of first impressions.

Earlier this week I heard David Bailey (on radio) remark that whenever he arrives in a new place he begins taking pictures immediately because after 5 days it has all become familiar and you don't notice things in the same way. The same idea crops up in an essay on Istanbul written in the 1980s by John Berger - that the impressions during the first few days in a new place are incomparably valuable and that after a week one simply can't see in the same way.

On the other hand, I am deeply suspicious, or sceptical even, of the idea of the 'soul' of a city. Cites don't have souls. They are always complex, multiple, layered. They always belong to inhabitants and visitors, including tourists.

Rome ? compare the grainy, contrasty 'Rome' of Anders Petersen with the garish, saturated 'Rome' of Martin Parr. It seems (from the Amazon blurb on Petersen) that the city of Rome each year commissions a leading photographer to have a go at capturing its 'soul'.
62 months ago (permalink)

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justinsdisgustin is a group administrator justinsdisgustin says:

Briggate.com:

I am deeply suspicious, or sceptical even, of the idea of the 'soul' of a city. Cites don't have souls. They are always complex, multiple, layered.

You could say the same thing about people. I personally dont believe people have souls either, but we can discuss theology elsewhere.

EITHER WAY, not to dismiss the opinions of Berger or Bailey, but a fashion photographer and an art critic are not exactly end-all be-all authorities on Street Photography.
Originally posted 62 months ago. (permalink)
justinsdisgustin (a group admin) edited this topic 62 months ago.

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Sixft Whiterabbit says:

at any rate, the notion of 'soul', like that of 'guts', is too vaguely quantifiable a notion to have much use as a descriptor in photography. The manner in which I may recognize one or the other as being present in an image may be totally different from another viewer, and depend on a whole range of personally held values. This is where TCD and I got into it so violently.
Originally posted 62 months ago. (permalink)
Sixft Whiterabbit edited this topic 62 months ago.

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pipeclayed (adam) says:

Interesting discussion about visiting a place / being able to get good photos.

As a teacher I get to travel quite a lot (holidays) and generally use photography as a way to explore a place... beats the hell out of traipsing through the 'must see' sites most of the time.

Anyway, I have pretty mixed feelings about the topic. I think sometimes the outsider perspective does allow you to see things that might otherwise be overlooked, but generally being an outsider is unhelpful - you see the surface not the soul (although I also have issues with the word). I recently went to Iran and by far the best stuff I got was thanks to the unprecedentedly friendly people who welcomed me into their homes, showed me their places of work, took me to see things that most tourists wouldn't see... it made a huge difference and let me take, I hope, better photos than I would have done otherwise, just walking around the major sites.

Quality of photos aside though, even in other places I think I've got a better 'sense' of a place by walking the streets aimlessly and taking photos than I would have done by following a guidebook.
62 months ago (permalink)

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Briggate.com says:

Justin, I wasn't quoting either as authorities... Just surprised that any street photographers should be so dismissive of first impressions or the value of ones initial engagement.

I wasn't quoting either as authorities, I just recalled their words... But neither should be dismissed in the terms you have...
62 months ago (permalink)

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justinsdisgustin is a group administrator justinsdisgustin says:

I am a firm believer of knowing the place that you shoot. Familiarity breeds intimacy. You feel otherwise, that's fine. I get the idea of a new place being exciting and that excitement acting as inspiration, It is in my experience that the better photos come later.

"neither should be dismissed in the terms you have... "

Why? This is a Street Photography forum. Neither of those guys, as far as I know, are Street Photographers.Their opinions, as you quoted them, contradict my personal experience.
62 months ago (permalink)

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Briggate.com says:

Justin, I agree with you about the value of really knowing a place. (Wish the the place I know was NY, Paris, Berlin or anywhere with distinctive image, vibe... a bit more soul...) Just doesn't seem necessary to pose those two kinds of experience (initial / prolonged) as alternatives between which one has to choose. Like I said at the outset, I was just surprised that everyone was so dismissive of the value of initial impressions.
Originally posted 62 months ago. (permalink)
Briggate.com edited this topic 62 months ago.

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Poagao is a group administrator Poagao says:

The organizers of the Hangzhou festival where I just exhibited recently wanted me to present some photos of Hangzhou in addition to my Taiwanese photos. It was very difficult as I only had a limited time, and I usually like to let my photos sit for at least some months before I process them. I managed to spend a few days in the city and got some decent shots, but I really only scratched the surface; if I managed to get anything meaningful it was by accident, as a true portrait of the city would require months, if not years. I gave them 12 shots, and they chose four for the exhibition, as opposed to about 50 of my shots of Taiwan, and I asked them to add an explanation that I only had a few days' time for the Hangzhou shots. Even if initial impressions are valuable, one needs at least some distance and time to be able to judge them properly.
62 months ago (permalink)

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Briggate.com says:

Good point
62 months ago (permalink)

humdrum earthquake [deleted] says:

Briggate.com:

Some of the greatest photographers were able to make a very ordinary place, a place you may dismiss as being without "soul" absolutely extraordinary. Excitement of a new place can be inspiring, but it's usually your usual stomping grounds that make for extraordinary images. Sometimes we just need to train our eyes to see it.
62 months ago (permalink)

tangible branch [deleted] says:

When I got to Venice, I didn't take anything initially. I wanted to step away from the photographer's eye for a while and take it all in, although of course, by day 5, I was itching to get something and although I had shot off about 15 rolls of tourist / family stuff for prints for the photo album, my lady gave me two hours on my own. Did I get the soul of the place? Nah. I got about five frames out of a few rolls that I'd already told Charlie was the amount I was expecting to come home with.

London however, am I capturing its soul? Not at all, and I don't seek to, and although I'm on my own path and agenda with regards to what I want to achieve in SP, I think chasing the 'soul' is problematic and an oversight, as said before, place and people constantly evolve.

Having said this, I believe you can capture the heartbeat of a city, and it is within that heartbeat of a place that infinite possibilities exist; the heartbeat is the people, professions, class systems, attitudes, excitement happiness despair and so-on, and they are there on every street and in every place, be it exciting to you or not; moving along to their own pulse for you to document ... The soul perhaps doesn't exist, and if you're trying to get to it, you're possibly missing all the stuff that really matters.
62 months ago (permalink)

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justinsdisgustin is a group administrator justinsdisgustin says:

well put.
62 months ago (permalink)

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Briggate.com says:

well put - wish Flickr had 'likes'... or just a way of indicating read and noted
62 months ago (permalink)

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400_grain says:

If, in a few days, you are able to create a meaningful set of photographs about one fragment or aspect of a place then it was a success.
62 months ago (permalink)

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|| ||| || ||| | ||||| says:

When a person claims to capture the soul of a thing, they are really just putting their own innards on display. A wise man understands that all photographs are, in a way, self portraits.
62 months ago (permalink)

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justinsdisgustin is a group administrator justinsdisgustin says:

"all photographs, are, in a way, self portraits"

That holds up for about three seconds.
62 months ago (permalink)

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|| ||| || ||| | ||||| says:

Try to keep your brain engaged just a little bit longer.
62 months ago (permalink)

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pipeclayed (adam) says:

|| ||| || ||| | |||||:

Fatuous, pseudo-intellectual comment followed up with a personal attack - well played... superb level of maturity.
62 months ago (permalink)

tangible branch [deleted] says:

|| ||| || ||| | |||||:

Tempted to steal all your concert shots, had it not been for your watermark.

Damn.
62 months ago (permalink)

tangible branch [deleted] says:

|| ||| || ||| | |||||:

A wise man understands that all photographs are, in a way, self portraits.


Then based on your work, you must be one ugly fucker.
62 months ago (permalink)

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Philip Ward says:

Who the hell is this wise dude anyway?.
62 months ago (permalink)

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!Jinju says:

It takes much longer than 2 days. Even 2 years wouldnt be enough. People spend whole lives shooting in one location and they still don't achieve this.
62 months ago (permalink)

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wide open source says:

i guess if all photos are self portraits then so is all art. this is probably true of student and very amateurish work but i'm of the belief that great art, once put out into the world, has very little to do with the person who made it. the dialogue between the viewer and the photo/art thingy makes or breaks it. as for capturing the soul of something or someone (whatever that means), could take 1/1500 of a sec or a lifetime (or never).
Originally posted 62 months ago. (permalink)
wide open source edited this topic 62 months ago.

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Moochin Photoman says:

All you can ever do really is capture the essence of a city never the soul. A city will be as different in the commercial centre as it is across the points of the compass. Photographs are after all fragments of time frozen in the camera. Perhaps over an extended period of time 5+yrs min a consistent set of images might put across something of the city (the essence) but never the soul. You can certainly capture the arse (souls) of a city but not the soul
62 months ago (permalink)

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daversion says:

For anyone interested in city and soul I recommend the archetypal psychologist, James Hilman (who has been described as an artist of psychology), as an interesting place to start. (preview) Hillman believes that cities, like people, suffer depression, joy, celebration, breakdown, growth spurts, disease, hunger and poverty and links 'soul' to all things imagistic: to experience, imagination, understanding and desiring.
For me the notion that I'm trying to make visible in some almost intagible way aspects of the soul of the places that I visit as a tourist is one of the ways that I jusify my street photography to myself. 'Visit and enjoy' is a good maxim but when I'm aiming my lens overtly at strangers and 'other' cultures I sometimes struggle with the idea that perhaps its a purely selfish, exploitative form of creativity. For me the 'social documentary' add-on is a useful justification......but on the other hand 'art for arts sake' sounds fine (and soulful) too.
Originally posted 62 months ago. (permalink)
daversion edited this topic 62 months ago.

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captainkickstand says:

Moochin Photoman:

All you can ever do really is capture the essence of a city never the soul.

It could be argued that 'essence' and 'soul' are synonyms for the same intangible thing.
62 months ago (permalink)

far-flung birds [deleted] says:

Giovanni Pascarella:

wow, what photographs!
62 months ago (permalink)

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