Book Review: The Street Photographer’s Manual

Review: David Gibson. The Street Photographer’s Manual. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

As I said in the previous post, I began doing a little street photography before I knew the terminology for it, and before I saw any books about it. Yes, others were doing it, and they knew what they were doing. Some of them had published books like The Decisive Moment,and The Americans. But I was busy with family and career and was unfortunately ignorant of all that. Now times have changed. There is so much interest in street photography that Facebook has automatically generated a page with the title. (I didn’t know they do that!). The book Street Photography Now was the first I read that was specific to this movement. Now others are being published as interest expands.
David Gibson is one of the founding members of the international collective of street photographers called In-Public, which was founded in 2000. This book draws on his wide personal experience with this genre as well as his acquaintance with its history and with other practitioners. In fact there are pages with representative photos from twenty other photographer interspersed throughout the text. This book would be a wonderful introduction for a street beginner, and I wish I had seen such a book 20 years ago. However, the more experienced and inter-mediate level shooter will also enjoy it both for its suggestions and its examples.
The book is laid out in five chapters with simple one-word titles: Busy, Quiet, Abstract, Still and Subjects. Within each chapter are what he calls Projects. These are the meat of the book. They suggest a wide spectrum of types of photography that suggest the truth of the dictum that street photography is just photography. This is not a book about equipment or the technicalities of the art. Very little is said about cameras after a few brief statements. The pictures, and there are many, do not give f-stops and camera information. Gibson does not consider this a how-to book despite the fact that the 20 Projects in the book provide a good set of starting points for anyone interested or engaged in this genre of photography. Still, there are some technical suggestions offered from time to time. Each Project concludes with practical tips, so the person looking for some how-to advice will not be disappointed, while the person of experience who just wishes to engage more of the community of street photographers will be benefited as well.

Argentina, 1987

In 1987 I was not conversant with the terminology of street photography. Yet before I knew the language I was beginning to practice the form. Thinking about this lately led me back into my files for street type pictures that I took on a three week trip to Argentina in 1987. This was in the early phases of the rise of democracy in that country, and a substantial religious revival that spread throughout the land. Much of what I took (hundreds of color slides only a few of which have been scanned to digital) involved following these religious meetings through seven cities beginning in Buenos Aires.
Santa Fe was also on my agenda.
The meetings were often in the open air attracting dense crowds and included all ages even late into the night.
An outdoor Christian worship service in Argentina, March, 1987.
Argentina, 1987
Some meetings were indoors, often at facilities generally used for athletic events. Emotions and personal engagement were often intense.
Argentina, 1987
Argentina, 1987
When possible I focused on individuals and I was interested to see how the children participated and observed these meetings.
Argentina, 1987
Argentina, 1987
Some of the action was on construction sites as efforts were made to build new facilities sufficient to house the new religious communities.
As I look back it now seems to me that this was my first significant introduction to street photography before I was aware of the vocabulary, or had even begun to reflect on the subject. It was an intense experience that helped to shape both my photography and my views of human life.
Man in prayer at a church in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Argentina, 1987
“The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing.” — Ecclesiastes

Cameras I have used for “Street Photography”

Others have observed that no camera is perfect, and none is forever. That is probably more true today with the proliferation of digital variants than ever before. So I got to thinking about all the cameras I have used for street photography since I began that type of work. I began with what I had on hand, a Nikon D700 with a 28mm lens.
At that time I also had a Nikon D7000 that I used once in a while for street. But the more serious camera, one that I bought specifically for street was the Fujifilm x100. That camera was my true introduction to candid street photography, as I believe it remains for many.
After a while I switched to Sony cameras. I began with the NEX 5 and quickly moved to the NEX 6 and finally the NEX 7 that was used for these two shots.
Grey bearded man on bench, uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.
MATTIE'S DINER, Charlotte, North Carolina.
During the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was using mostly the Fujifilm XPro-1 with which I took hundred of pictures during that week and beyond.
Wells Fargo building, uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.
Still experimenting, I tried for a while to use the Sony A99. It is a fine camera with an excellent sensor. However it proved much too bulky for my taste. Here are some samples nevertheless from that system.
Street corner preacher in Albemarle, North Carolina.
One of the best cameras I ever used for street photography was the Sony RX-1. It shared the same full-frame sensor as the A99 but with a much more compact design and a fine fixed 35mm lens. I used it extensively during some trips to New York City. In silent mode it is a true stealth camera.
Old Army veteran on the Statin Island Ferry, New York City.

Today I use the Nikon Df and the Leica M(240). For now I am very content with these friends.(As there are dedicated pages for each of these cameras on this site I will forgo posting any samples from these here) Between them, with an assortment of lenses they meet all my photographic needs. The moral of this story is one you have probably heard a hundred times. Ultimately it is not the camera that takes the pictures. It is the photographer. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for experimenting until you find the camera system that suits your tastes, your budget and your style of shooting. That is why no one, no matter how much experience they have in the field, is qualified to dictate to others what camera they should use for Street Photography.

[I plan soon to review here two recently published books on street photography, so come on back to check that out.]

The Gossamer Envelope in Which We Live

Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
The earth’s atmosphere is said to be 300 miles thick, but most of it, the part that interests us the most, is just 10 miles thick. Current estimates suggest that there are between 100 and 200 billion galaxies in the universe, (some estimates say 500 billion) each with hundreds of billions of stars. In all that vastness just possibly there is another world with an atmosphere like ours, but maybe not. Maybe we are the only place in that vast expanse that has skies like ours. Or if there are others, perhaps we are the only one with people who look up and admire the wonderfully changeful sky.I look up a lot, and I photograph the sky a lot. Mind you I also look down, and I find both directions fascinating.
Dragonfly, resting.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Today we had one of those weather patterns here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina that produced constantly changing skies. These are the days made for artists. The ten miles of atmosphere that displays the beautiful cloud formations we love to look at is but an insignificant diaphanous film even within our solar system, not to mention the entire cosmos. Yet what beauty, what fuel for the imagination, what magnificence!
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.
Clouds, sky during weather changes in Piedmont of North Carolina.

All of these sky photos were taken today with the Nikon Df and the Leica M(240).