Discover more from Saved by Street Photography
Saved by Street Photography: The Yeller
Issue 05: February 2023
“What role are you playing?” t.rich
We’re all playing roles in this story called life. And anytime we find ourselves playing a role we don’t appreciate, the potential for change is there. I am always out to improve upon my photography. And there is always room for improvement. Such is life…
There’s something about holding an actual camera that inspires me in a way that no cell phone has. When I pick up my camera I’m motivated to go out and create photographs. I’m interested in playing risky with my settings, expanding my knowledge of the exposure triangle, and growing as an artist and social photographer. I am prompted by my camera to see the world from a range of perspectives that I would not otherwise see, to talk to people I probably wouldn’t get a chance to, and to get artistic with ideas such as chasing light and playing with contrast in composition. To walk, explore, connect and maybe even share a laugh or two. And to stay curious about this wonderful and unpredictable place, our world. A camera impels me to dedicate specific time to photography, where an iPhone doesn’t.
So I’m in the East Village playing a role that I can’t play enough; the role of the documentary/street photographer. And while practicing, I see a man wearing a traditional Chinese Liangmao (cool hat) walking down a closed off section of St, Marks Place with his dog. As if on instinct, I raise up my camera and snap off a few shots. The man immediately starts yelling at me, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO ASK!” he barked (with a few choice expletives). And as I tried to explain that I was attempting to capture a “candid” response, to try and encapsulate that real-life-feel of the city, he cut me off with a few more obnoxious obscenities. Taken slightly back by his outburst, all I could think to say as he grunted past me and towards Tompkins Square Park with his obedient hound was, “I love you!” This was the first time (aside from a few sideways looks) that I had ever experienced such an objection to my street photography. I never posted the photo.
Later that year as autumn pushed towards winter, I found myself back on the Lower East Side. It was a bit brisk, but the sun was playing its role and on full display so that anyone who wanted to get out there and enjoy the day, could. The art infested neighborhood was bustling. This is life in New York City and it’s nothing short of amazing.
Part of what I love about documenting the streets is the unpredictability. I never know what it is that’s going to grab my attention and entice my to raise my camera. And there it was! A deep red leather aviator hat with what looked like rabbit fur trim, pressed up against the brick red backdrop of a classic front stoop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I raised my camera and made my move. I snapped off a few shots as I came around to face my subject, snapping photos all the way around, and just as I snapped the money shot, our eyes met. It was the same damn guy that yelled at me! But this time he didn’t yell. “Oh no” I said with an unenthused grin. “Yes” he said, “and you know what you have to do with that picture, right?”
Now as I mentioned in Issue 01 of Saved by Street Photography, I do adhere to a code of ethics in both my personal and professional life, and what these ethics state simply is, “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” and “Do no harm.” With that, I’ve made the personal decision that if someone asks me not to publish a photo, I won’t. Unless I felt there was some judicious reason why I should, which has yet to happen.
But this photo had everything! It captured the character of this interesting New Yorker sitting alone on a stoop. It captured that feeling I’ve felt so many times while exploring theses inner-city neighborhoods. It captured the city itself. And it captured me, the photographer who was in the right place at the right time in order to bring it all together within the four edges of a frame. The city too was playing its role that day. And I LOVED this photo! I decided I was going to try and talk this man into loving it along with me. It was of him after all.
I brought the photo up onto my camera’s three-and-a-half-inch LED screen, and when I saw it I thought, who wouldn’t want such an iconic photo of themselves in such a setting? I was certain I could convince him (lol). I told him I would send him a copy. I even offered to send him a free print so that he could have it framed if he wanted. I was confident that once he saw it he would appreciate, not only the photo, but what I was doing. He would finally understand! I was so sure of this that I told him, if he didn’t love it I would delete it. This was a mistake because he didn’t love it. In fact, he barely even glanced at it and said, “No! Delete it.” So I did.