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Reviewing My Own Street Shots with People

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

You know, critiquing your own work can be trickier than picking apart someone else's. Take Johannes Brahms, for instance, the classical composer who was as self-critical as they come. It took him a whopping 21 years to finish his first symphony. Not only did he have to live up to the public's hefty expectations set by Beethoven, but he was also deeply committed to his craft. His music is sublime, and he's one of my all-time favourite composers. His philosophy has left its mark on me, especially the part about being relentlessly self-critical as an artist.


Now, I'm no Brahms, just a humble photographer. But the least I can do is review my own work with honesty and respect. Today, I'm diving into some of my street photography pieces that I hold dear. I want to share the stories behind them and, of course, analyse them with the utmost critical eye I can muster.


In a nutshell, my street photography tends to uncover the authentic facets of people – their candid gestures, fleeting facial expressions, and genuine moods. I thrive on capturing individuals in the midst of their everyday activities, often in moments of quiet unawareness, revealing their unfiltered, natural selves. Now, I know this might sound a bit like something a stalker or serial killer would say, but rest assured, it's more of a humane observational experiment aimed at unveiling the hidden truths in people. Maybe a tad dramatic, but that's how it goes.


In truth, my emotional disposition often dictates my subjects. I'm a bit of a sentimental soul, you see, heavily influenced by my feelings. As I reflect on my body of work, a recurring theme emerges – a sense of solitude. Loneliness, to be precise. I find myself drawn to those solitary figures, playing with the interplay of light and shadow, capturing pedestrians' silhouettes as they navigate the urban landscape. It's quite amusing how these moments materialise when I'm out on the street with my camera.


Melbourne, 2021
Melbourne, 2021

What do you notice in the photo above? An elderly man playing the violin, right? Yet, he plays away, and no one seems to pay him any mind. This photo was taken during the COVID lockdown in 2021, a time when people began to drift apart. This is what I aimed to capture in this image. Despite the many good things around us, we often choose to ignore them. You could argue that the old man's playing isn't exactly a symphony of joy, but from a critical standpoint, it may not be my absolute favourite work. However, it still conveys a powerful message about the disconnection that has grown between people. Just take a look at those folks in the background, completely unfazed by the old man. I'm not here to pass judgment, merely to highlight a stark reality.


Melbourne, 2022
Melbourne, 2022

The photo above was taken during my commute to work, a day when I decided to lug my cumbersome Pentax 67 along. It turned out to be a one-time affair. In this shot, a woman appears deep in thought while waiting to cross the road. I find observing people lost in their thoughts to be one of my favourite street photography pursuits. Please, I'm no voyeur; I simply take a moment to observe before I press that shutter. What's on their minds? What's their life story? Are they content, or are there concerns weighing them down? This photograph isn't particularly abstract. I've included it in this post because I appreciate its straightforwardness. It captures a universal experience - being lost in thought. We all go through it daily, and it's a moment that resonates with everyone. So, here it is.


Melbourne, 2022
Melbourne, 2022

Here's another shot I snapped while wandering the streets. I find this photo rather amusing because everyone in it is engrossed in their phones, adopting the same posture. Now, let me make it clear, I'm not passing judgment on people spending a lot of time on their devices – truth be told, I'm guilty of that too. The reason I've included this photo here is that there's a curious alignment among the people in it, almost forming a diagonal line. I'm particularly fond of the play of shadows from the benches and the pole in the bottom right corner of the frame. Again, I want to emphasise that I'm not being judgmental, but I can't help but notice the disconnections between people these days. Somehow, I feel this disconnection comes through in photos like this one. Technology connects and disconnects us. It happens to be one of my favourite street shots, and I even submitted it for an exhibit at Hillvale Gallery earlier this year.


Fitzroy, 2021
Fitzroy, 2021

Here's another photo that, at first glance, might seem like a critique of human addiction to technology – but that's not quite the case. You may have noticed that the man in this photo is out of focus, and that was my intention when I took it in Fitzroy in 2021. At the time, I had just acquired my first medium format camera, a Yashicaflex Model C. This particular shot was from a test roll, meaning it wasn't meant to be something serious; it was just a casual, stress-free test of the camera's functionality. I've included this photo here because I like how the man appears to be the subject of the photo, yet he's deliberately out of focus. In essence, shooting this photo was a bit of an experiment, considering it was part of a test roll. I'm particularly fond of the composition, where I positioned the man on the left side of the frame and the other side of the street on the right. This creates a layered illusion, especially when the main subject is out of focus.


Melbourne, 2023
Melbourne, 2023

This photo was taken at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne after my commute. I spotted an elderly woman leaning on one of the station's pillars, engrossed in her phone. People and traffic moved busily in front of her, and the station clocks hung from the beam above. This has become one of my recent favourites because it evokes a strong sense of longing. It resonates with me because I believe that everyone is waiting for someone in their life – a lover, a friend, a soulmate, who knows? It might be a romanticised notion, but I prefer to see it this way because it makes life feel more worthwhile.


Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 2023
Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 2023

I captured this photo when I returned to Hong Kong in 2023. It's quite unusual to find a scene in this city with just two people in the frame, given how densely populated it is. While there might be a sense of loneliness in this photo, the individuals in it were actually an elderly couple, patiently waiting to cross the road. On the other side of the road, there were dozens of people, but on this side, only the two of them. It's almost like a scene from a movie where the hero is outnumbered by the villains but remains determined to win – a bit ridiculous, I know. But art is all about imagination. For me, this photo conveys a lot of love. I wonder, how much have this couple gone through to reach this stage? What's their secret to everlasting love? This shot is actually a rare piece in my street photography portfolio that captures love and relationships. In this photo, I don't see any fancy compositions, technical highlights, or specific tricks. What I see is simplicity and purity. When I look at the couple's shadows, I can't help but admire the passion, love, and beauty they radiate. After all, having someone by your side, especially as you grow old, is a truly precious thing.

Melbourne, 2022
Melbourne, 2022

If my memory serves me right, this photo was taken during a protest in support of Mahsa Amini in 2022. I admire the dedication and focus of everyone present, united in their fight for justice. The boy in the photo is clearly the central figure. He appears to be gazing into the distance, standing out amidst the crowd. To me, this photo symbolises that young people are the future of society; they hold a significant stake in shaping its direction. This photo holds a special place in my heart, possibly due to my personal connection to it.


I'm about to conclude this self-review, which isn't a formal critique but rather my genuine, introspective thoughts on my work. In my view, a review doesn't have to be judgmental; it can be a heartfelt sharing of one's experiences. Some might see this as a revisit rather than a review, and I'd say it's a bit of both. It's allowed me to revisit my older works with a sense of reflection and growth, both artistically and personally. Personal experiences undoubtedly shape our worldview more profoundly than we realise. To nurture both personal and artistic growth, one must engage with the world actively. I often wander with my camera, even if I may not take any photos. It's an intriguing process that hones an artist's keen eye, involving training, trial and error, self-reflection, and practice.


Perhaps my next self-review will explore a similar theme, or I might delve into the realm of portrait photography.


Until then, keep creating.

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