LONDON — Urban photography — or “street photography” is a phenomenon that gained traction in major cities across the world since the introduction of handheld, mobile cameras. Capturing the living and breathing essence of a city through candid and often bluntly realistic moments that are built in to the everyday workings of an urban center is something that inspires photographers of all ages. Photographers have even more opportunities than ever before to create, edit and publicize their work through a combination of new technologies across digital (DSLR) cameras, editing software and social media outlets. Every stage in the process of digital photography has evolved, and general interest in applying these steps to capturing urban life has only continued to grow.
Before coming to New York for college, I had never picked up a camera, nor even considered there to be an artistic bone in my body. Since then, I have shot for rappers, models and products, and spend almost every day exploring whichever city, state or country I find myself in with my camera. As I first began to explore the city during my freshman year, I saw countless moments constantly unfolding around me that carried too much meaning and gravity to not be documented. I found a sense of inspiration through New York that I had never felt before.
Two years later, I find myself in another personally uncharted urban center with the chance to study abroad in London, UK. I have had the chance to shoot hundreds of photos in the city, as well as get my first formal teaching in street photography. Many urban photographers are completely self-taught, so it has been a dream come true for me to spend half of my class schedule practicing and theorizing about my passion. A focal point in one of my first lectures was “the self as a spectator, ”which I think is a great explanation for one’s vision as a street photographer. In any city, photography is about observation — being a fly on the wall while witnessing all of the moments that capture your attention. What’s great about photography is that a second, can be captured and kept alive forever.
The main difference between shooting the streets of London compared to those of New York is the physical experience of simply being an observer. In New York, it’s easy to disappear behind your lens and feel completely invisible. Part of that comes with the fact that New York is essentially the urban photography capital of the world, as one might expect, but the primary difference is the attitude of the people towards someone walking around the city with a camera. In comparison to the non-stop, every man for himself attitude of NYC, London moves at a much slower, more patient pace.
At first, I felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb carrying around a camera and looking for the best possible lighting, angle and subject matter to document. As opposed to simply snapping candid moments, I find myself asking the permission of strangers to take their picture when I see someone who would make for an interesting portrait. When moments like this do come up, people are extremely friendly and willing to take time to pose. One of my best examples of culture shock during my time here is when I was shooting photos of a subway station and was approached by a police officer and forced to explain my reasoning behind my photos and even show my student ID because of wariness of terrorist threats. It took five minutes of talking for him to even let me keep shooting.
Overall, it is the pace and vibe of the people here that make for a different experience as a spectator. These differences completely change the attitude I bring to my photography and the feel of my final product.