and why street photography is so hard
I’m constantly amazed at how some people make what they do seem effortless.
Federer and Messi are the two that come to mind from this past year. Both at their most sublime moments seemed like they were bending the sport and the world to their bidding and doing it with beauty.
David Foster Wallace called it “Federer Moments”, watching the 25-year-old play at Wimbledon:
Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.
Dave Matthews was the reason I first started playing guitar. Before I knew what he was doing, it seemed like he was barely doing anything on the guitar—his right hand kept a consistent and elegant strum while his left hand was twisting and gliding along the fretboard playing intricate, percussive guitar lines that defied music theory or logic, all the while singing a song that was completely independent to what he was playing. It was effortless. It was beautiful.
An image has a certain way of being effortlessly beautiful. The most iconic photos seem almost obvious in how it was captured. The perfection is in the inevitability of its existence. Even if the focus or composition is slightly off, there’s a sense that that’s what it always should have been. This is true in all different disciplines of photography, may it be portraits, nature, journalism, etc.
But street photography (which was what I attempted with the two images above) are, in my opinion, the extreme sports version of photography disciplines. You step out the door for the day opening yourself up to an infinite number of factors that are completely outside of your control, and attempt to capture a moment that feels inevitable, existing in the way you intended it to be seen.
In my attempts, the chaos I captured were the way the three men lined up with their arms and bodies and the colors of our sneakers on a random morning commuter into the city.
The hardest part of street photography, or I’d say photography in general is in the seeing and noticing. To the observer, it may look like the photographer is barely doing anything. His eyes scanning from left to right, his head swiveling back and forward, then he lifts a camera, slowly or quickly, to his face or to his chest, and his finger makes presses a button and he’s back to looking around. After a while he walks to another spot and does the same thing again.
But underneath that effortless beauty is hours and hours and hours of practice and repetition and attention. I haven’t played tennis or soccer, but I have played guitar till my fingers bled and I’ve pressed the shudder hundreds of thousands of times.
A final match, a concert, or a photo gallery is the culmination of all those hours shone in its most condensed form. The paradox is that what seems most effortless and beautiful came out of a lot of confusion, doubt, failures, iterations, and persistence.
But in the end isn’t that’s what it’s all about? Isn’t that what we should hope we end up doing with our time? Because when we find that which can compel us to spend all those hours of practice, all of it starts to feel effortless.
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