I am a nature photographer. The implication being that the bulk of my work concentrates on documenting and working with the natural world around me. Now one can make the claim that human beings are very much a natural part of the environment. But over time, our uniqueness as a species and our unique way of life has created a strong distinction between ourselves and the natural world which we inhabit (and so often destroy in the process). My work as a professional photographer means that I usually find myself far from civilization and in rather remote locations, working with subjects that are either natural landscapes or wildlife. Once in a while, I get the opportunity to visit places that are very much the embodiment of human society and history like the Mayan Pyramids in the Yucatan, ancient Greek cities in Greece, or Roman ruins in Turkey.
And such architectural photography is in itself a new challenge, because of subject limitations and trying to make a subject that has been photographed countless times before into something fresh. And yet, it is not this style of photography that I am going to talk about today. For there are times when I will find myself in the middle of a busy street that is living and breathing, unlike the Ozymandian ruins of yesteryear, whose narrow streets have long lost the bustle of organic daily life.
Now before I go on to describe my dabbles in so called street photography, I will state that by street photography I do not imply photographing modern day streets of modern cities. That is a challenge that I think I will never truly succeed in. I think my lack of comfort and enthusiasm for most of modern day life and society holds me back from being able to capture its true essence with an unbiased eye. Which leads me to the location of my experiment, a 2013 visit to the capital of my home country of Israel, Jerusalem.
One of the oldest cities in the world and probably the most disputed over, Jerusalem is a city of contrasting flavors and it is this myriad of tastes that gave me the confidence to try and try my hand in some street photography. I concentrated on the old city of Jerusalem, where the confines of the 15th century A.D. Ottoman built walls and house the key sites of religious importance for Muslims (Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque), Jews (Temple Mount and Wailing Wall) and Christianity (Church of the Holy Sepulchre). The interaction and balance between the three religions and their followers is what adds a certain timelessness to Jerusalem.
I find that as a nature photographer, there are some aspects that you can borrow (especially from wildlife photography) for street photography. You need a good sense of timing and anticipation of certain events and wildlife photography helps to fine tune the senses.
Here is an example of one such case where the experience with anticipation really paid the dividends:
It was a Friday evening, and because of the importance of the day, there was quite a massive movement of people towards the Dome of the Rock/Wailing Wall compound. I was stuck in the rather unproductive backseat of a very small rented vehicle that also happened to have an unopenable back window. The truth of the matter is that I was not interested in photographing anything and was waiting for a family member. But as I waited, I noticed a group of young boys of Arabic descent going up and down a narrow cobblestone street, using a gradient-like hill to ride their bikes down. They kept going up and down and in such moments, it pays to keep an eye for behavioral patterns. After a few minutes, I noticed a Hassidic Jewish man in authentic garb walking down the street that my car was situated in and that was tangential to the alleyway which the boys were using. Quickly I pulled out my camera and set it to the lowest aperture and highest ISO. But then came the realization that the window would not budge and give in to my demands of a clear view of the scene. And so, I decided that at worst case I get a totally useless photo and took the shots through the window. As the man neared, I waited for him to walk across the boys as they came down the street and got the shot. It is not a great shot, I honestly cannot even judge street photography in the more objective manner by which I can judge nature photography, so I will let the viewer be the judge. And in the end, photography, much like art, is subjective. But I think a lesson that can be drawn from the experience is that a good analysis of a scene is imperative to capture it at its most dynamic and that getting a car with a working back window is a good idea.
Here is another scene in one of the many crowded “shuks” (market in Hebrew), or more accurately, a street market. There was a young boy that was selling candy to the many buyers that crowded the narrow market. And so I positioned myself in a way that when one of the buyers was paying for the candy, I purposefully cropped it so that just his hands are visible as he pays the boy. This is another case of where my compositional ideas from my wildlife photography of leaving one of the subjects rather ambiguous played into how I composed the shot.
A third shot, that I feel has many imperfections, but in my opinion passes the atmosphere of the scene quite well, is from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A group of Eastern European women visiting the city were placing candles and I quietly positioned myself behind them and waited till the woman facing me was about to place a candle in the stand. I now wish I positioned myself more to the right and angled it differently to include less of the floor. Though I do like how the second woman comes from the left-hand side.
Here, I found a store seller taking a siesta during the hot afternoon hours. Again, I feel the angle could be improved upon, but I tried to capture his posture along with the shoes and colorful mattress:
And lastly, a photo that I quite liked, of a lonely bread seller in the morning hours on a quiet street corner. You can see that the shops behind him have not yet opened, and I liked how lonely he seemed under the beautiful architecture of the street. Again, such a shot takes elements from other photography, where often I like placing my subject quite small in the frame and thus showing more of the internment around them, giving a great sense of place.
For me, street photography is still as much of an unknown field as it was when I first started my photography. I specialize in nature photography, something that has become my full time profession, but street photography is another thing altogether. Being an award winner in one genre does not mean I am not a rookie in another. But I enjoyed dabbling in it, and I hope to get another chance in the future to explore and play with it. I do feel that there are some similarities across all fields in photography and that knowledge in one can help greatly in working with the other.
And here are some more photos from my few in Jerusalem. And if anyone has any questions about Jerusalem or needs some tips, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below.
This guest post was submitted by Dvir Barkay. To see more of Dvir’s work, please visit his website.