When I was a kid, in lieu of hiring a babysitter, my mom would just plop me down in front of the television.
I think I learned more about life from Mike and Carol Brady than my own parents.
In fact, at the time, I looked a lot like Cousin Oliver, who was brought on the “The Brady Bunch” to boost sagging ratings, but, instead, only helped the show jump the shark.
So, where am I going with this trip back to before the remote control was invented?
Well, it isn’t because I caught the photo bug from the episode where Greg Brady inadvertently made a shot of a key football play while photographing his cheerleader girlfriend, but because I think I was subconsciously inspired to do street photography by another show I watched.
You see, my local public television station in Chicago would occasionally broadcast a syndicated program about photography.
Each week, a different thirty-minute episode would be shown.
One week, it was about a specific news photographer. The next, it was the sports photographer’s turn.
Then, one fateful week, I witnessed an episode about this crazy man, who wandered New York City snapping photos of people walking past or kissing in Central Park.
That man was Gary Winogrand.
At the time, I had no idea that I wanted to be a photographer, but, there was something about Winogrand that fascinated me.
He photographed unusual people in an unusual way.
Fast forward to 2010.
At this point, I had been a newspaper photographer for almost 25 years and was employed at the Chicago Tribune.
I had spent the majority of my career shooting newspapery things- sporting events, funerals, protests, business portraits, concerts and so on.
I never really thought about street photography, because I saw no point to it.
My newspaper had no interest in publishing a photo of a smoker walking down the street or a woman with a fabulous fur coat. There was no news hook.
Then two things happened simultaneously. I started doing a photo blog and I started getting tired of the staged nature of certain photo assignments- political rallies, press conferences, environmental portraits and the like.
After a couple weeks of doing “Shooting from the Hip”, I quickly realized that I didn’t produce enough interesting content to fill my blog.
As a typical photojournalist, I shoot a lot of things to simply feed the beast. Assignments that are necessary and somewhat interesting, but not interesting enough to stand on their own.
I, also, knew that when I had some free time, I couldn’t wander too far from the Tribune Tower.
So, I started to go on photo walks up and down Michigan Avenue.
A whole new photo world opened up for me.
I now had a reason to photograph the amazing situations and fantastic characters that in the past I would walk right by.
It took awhile for me to get the knack of shooting with my camera at my waist.
I began by pre-focusing about five feet out, but that yielded mostly out of focus images.
I realized, too, that the lens I was using, a medium zoom, was not wide enough.
Eventually, I settled on a 16-35mm zoom and using a technique where I focus
and shoot while walking past a scene.
I know that I look like a total creep, but it is the only way I can think of to consistently make pure images of real moments without any camera awareness.
I have never had a subject of my street photography get mad at me, but, for some weird reason, I get a hard time from people watching me do street photography. Some guy even pushed me into Michigan Avenue when I responded to his complaint about my shooting from the hip style.
I guess it is that Midwest value of protecting your fellow citizen or maybe there are a lot of crazy folk in the city.
So, after doing hardcore street photography for awhile, I started expanding what street photography meant to me.
First, I did a portrait series on the men and women who dress up as the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam to promote Liberty Tax Service.
For this series, I would introduce myself and ask if I could make the subject’s portrait with a 50mm lens set at f/1.2.
I traveled all around Chicago and it’s suburbs looking for the wavers.
By time I was finished, I had photographed about 25 different men and women.
The thing I found amazing was that each one was alike but also different at the same time.
Another one of my projects was on the tradition in Chicago called “dibs”.
Dibs is the Winter time practice of using a random piece of furniture or household item to reserve one’s newly shoveled out parking space.
After a huge snowstorm in early 2011, I drove around the Pilsen neighborhood only photographing different types of chairs that people used.
I ended up photographing nearly 50 in one hour and putting them together in grid form.
Some of my other subsets of street photography evolved from people that I witnessed on a daily basis- the homeless and down on their luck that populate downtown Chicago.
I started to notice last year, that more and more street people had stopped verbally asking for spare change but had instead switched to using home made signs to make their plea.
I don’t like photographing homeless people surreptitiously, so, I usually would photograph a sign holder then go back and introduce myself and explain what I was doing.
Not one person was upset that I had photographed them and they all were willing to be part of my project.
Another recent collection, that I worked on in 2011, documented the “Forever Marilyn” statue that was installed in Pioneer Court adjacent to the Tribune Tower.
The 26-foot sculpture by Seward Johnson has created quite a stir and has provided me with countless photo opportunities.
The great thing about street photography is that I can do it anywhere at anytime.
I love doing it on vacation, like my recent trip to Norway, where I photographed a sharp dressed man in Oslo while in the middle of an argument with my wife about me doing street photography while on vacation. Oops! Maybe vacation with my wife isn’t the best time for street photography. Strike that.
A great time for street photography is when I am out of town shooting a Chicago Bears’ game in London or New Orleans or on assignment in the Mecca of street photography- New York City.
In my next life, I will pattern myself after Winogrand and just wander the streets of New York enjoying life and making images of the hustle and bustle.
My newest street photography toy is the iPhone.
I just began a project where I do entire blog posts of Hipstamatic street photos on specific Chicago neighborhoods. I started with The East Side, where I grew up and have moved on to Chinatown, Hyde Park, Pilsen, Little Village and Wicker Park.
With over 200 neighborhoods in Chicago, this subset of street photography will keep me busy for a long while.
I don’t think I will ever do street photography full time, but, I am so glad to have the vibrant streets of Chicago right outside my workplace whenever I need a photographic boost.