Podcast: Collaborating with Chance and the Essence of Street Photography

There are good reasons for this episode to have a two-in-one headline. Our initial idea for this show was to discuss the role that happenstance and luck play in photography, but the conversation with our impassioned and articulate guests, Amy Touchette and Gus Powell, quickly turned to a more generalized chat on the principles and practices of street photography—and how lucky we were to have them speak intimately about their work and on photography as an artistic and personal endeavor. For me, it doesn’t get much better! But back to the two headlines within a headline—perhaps it is our collaboration with chance and a photographer’s ability to recognize, organize, prepare for, and even control what is referred to as chance that is the true essence of street photography.

As better writers than I have written, “You make your own luck, Gig,” or “Luck is not chance, it's toil; fortune's expensive smile is earned.” Finally, and this quote seems made for the street photographer: “Chance favors those in motion.” Drop us a comment if you can name the above-quoted writers and share with us a story on how you collaborated with chance to make a wonderful photo.

Photograph above © Gus Powell

Guests: Amy Touchette and Gus Powell


 
Chelsea, Manhattan, 2013 (Rolleiflex)
 
from The Insiders (Rolleiflex)
 
from Street Dailies, South Williamsburg/Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, 2016 (iPhone)
 
from Street Dailies, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, 2014 (iPhone)

Photographs by Amy Touchette

 
from The Company of Strangers
 
from The Company of Strangers
 
from Mise en Scène
 
from The Lonely Ones

Photographs by Gus Powell

Gus Powell, Allan Weitz, and Amy Touchette

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Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves

17 Comments

I found these podcast a couple of weeks back and am hooked. Informative and entertaining, each has given much food for thought. The guests never hesitate to wander off-topic and that's all the better. Please keep them coming!
My only suggestion would be to include more foreign photographers. Perhaps a case could be made for a BH Podcast roadshow? Travel abroad podcasts with 'local' photographers in Wales, Latvia, DRC, Jordan, Bhutan...
An excellent show that deserves more listeners for each episode!
Best wishes, julian

Thank you for the comment Julian, we really appreciate input from our listeners (especially positive!!). I agree with you that the podcast should go on the road and include as many photographers as possible.  While it's not as far away as Bhutan, we did recently travel to upstate New York for the Eddie Adams Workshop and interviewed many photographers from varied backgrounds and we will begin to publish those episodes this week. I hope you enjoy.  Again, thanks for the feedback and for spreading the word about the B&H Photography Podcast

As an ole time photographer I can still learn and still enjoy. I liked your recent podcasts with allan interviewing amy and gus. It was informative and entertaining. what more can anyone ask. B&H besides having the merchandise is the premier home of information and good info. at that. All one has to do is to call and ask about a product and then call any other store and ask the same questions and well you'll see what I mean. don greenfield dongreenfieldphotography.com

Don...Thank you so much for the comment, feedback from listeners is very important to our show and I'm happy you liked that episode, it's also a favorite of mine. 

I think many of these street photos would have looked wonderful in black and white, even grainy ones.  Your eye doesn'tknow where or who to focus on in the color shots.  That's just my opinion.

Audrey, Thank you for the feedback, we really do appreciate it.  I am just venturing a guess here, but perhaps that is a goal of the photographer in this case, to force your eye all around the frame and find for the relationship between the subjects, as opposed to just focusing on one subject. I will be sure to pose that question if we are fortunate enough to have these photographers as guests again. Thanks again.

I fail to see what is "So interesting" about any of these photos. I have a blind friend who shoots into crowdes and has someone edit them and comes up with 20 out of 140, "interesting Shots That Hold together."

I have always been against self-curated exhibitons and the like. Like it our not, that is why we have curators, editors and collectors. This is the era of, "Everybody's a Photographer", There is even a new show on Italian TV where a group of people choose a group of potentially, "Great Photographers", and the audience votes who is the next great photographer, very much like the song and dance shows permeating our screens of high culture. Can you create a cheaper form of "Almost Interesting Entertainment", like discover a new planet that we will never reach and takl about alien life, if there is/was water and we could get there. Please show me your top ten shots. What about giving yourselves an, "I am A Great Photographer Award", annually. 

Geoffrey...Thanks for the feedback, it's great to hear back from our listeners. I would tend to disagree however, I find the work of these photographers very interesting, but to your point about editors, I couldn't agree more, we definitely need them. Everytime I'm about to present myself with my "Great Photographer Award", they yank it from my hands and give it someone more deserving. frown And btw, your "wish" may be coming true, I have recently heard of just such a show in production right here in NYC. We will see... Thanks again

You want the camera to follow your eye and not necessaryily through a viewfinder. Study the work of Daido Moriyama and think about the possibilities of what happens when your photograph changes when you eye looks through a viewfinder. I know this seems a bit off the wall, but a small autofocus camera held at the hip allows your eye to take pictures which you might find more interesting after editing, and thinking about them as the documents of space and time which they are.

Thank you for the comment Craig and thanks for listening to the podcast. I agree, the angle from which you shoot (and whether your eye is pinned to the viewfinder) is an important decision in street photography.  Shooting from waist-level with a vari-angle LCD on a point-and-shoot made a great difference in my photography, I feel improving it substantially.  Thanks again. 

I enjoyed the podcast. It seems that every street photographer uses a rangefinder and that every rangefinder used is a Leica. Leicas are prohibitively expensive, even on the used market compared to used SLR brands. Are there alternative brands on the used market for rangefinders?

Is there an adjustment from swithing from SLR to rangefinder? I've been using SLRs since 1980 with my Canon A-1; I added a used New F-1 and a 5D III in 2013. With two film SLRs, I have one loaded with B&W and the other with color.

Hey Ralph,

First, thanks for the kudos - it's much appreciated.

As for your rangefinder question I'll start by saying "Yes" - shooting with a rangefinder is different compared to shooting with a (D)SLR, and "yes" again - there is a learning curve albeit a reasonably painless one.

According to the B&H website the only new rangefinder film camera we carry are by Voigtlander, and they go for about $800 new.

In our used department there are a number of clean rangefinder cameras including vintage Leica and Nikon rangefinder cameras for a few hundred dollars to about $1000 - lenses not included. As for lenses - they go for under $100 to well over whatever....

That said, here's a stopgap measure you can try that won't cost a fortune and just might satisfy your 'photopsychological' needs:

Choose a fixed focal length lens for your current reflex camera (hopefully a focal length you already own...) comparable to the focal length you'd choose for shooting with  rangefinder camera. Keep in mind rangefinder cameras are wide-angle friendlier.

Now here's the fun part...

Purchase an optical viewfinder (new or used) equal to the FoV of your chosen lens, i.e., a 35mm optical viewfinder for a 35mm lens, slip it onto your camera's hotshoe, and rather than relying on the your camera's viewfinder or LCD, frame your pictures through the optical finder. If you're like me you might actually find the Viewfinder's bright, unobscured viewing field preferable to your camera's viewing system(s).

If you're really feeling brave you can turn the LCD off and only refer to it for manual playback.

Assuming your lenses are AF lenses, focusing isn't an issue and if you are using manual focus lenses preset the lens to its hyperfocal distance, stop the lens down a few stops (if possible), and you're good-to-go.

Hope that lights the way a bit and thanks for reaching out.

Allan

That advice is simply silly. There are lots of street photographers who use DSLR, SLR and/or point and shoot cameras. I personally use an Olympus XA (less than $50 bucks) and a mirror less  Olympus EM-5 with a 35 mm lens. I have a Leica M3, a Voigtlander R2C (both with 35 mm Zeiss lenses) and I almost never use them when shooting street.

I meant to say: Olympus EM-5 with a 17mm lens, which is the equivalent of about 35 mm for a film camera. Apologies for the mixup.

There are many little non-zoom 35mmAF film cameras with 35mm 2.8 lenses that are very sharp. My two main picks are: Olympus mµ and Yashica T5, Both available for under $100. They are great for the street and if you drop or loose them they are much cheaper than a Leica to replace.

They are really great as an, "Always have with you camera".

Look at the new Fujis with electronic viewfinders. And, I see no real problems with monitors that can tilt, except that they are not very good in bright light. Actually I often shoot without looking at all, but I do "miss" a few good shots. I shoot very similar subjects...and I shoot from about 3 feet away from my, "partial subjects". It would take too long to explain.

I do have to say: If you need lessons, QUIT. All photos are comprised of an F-stop and a speed and the focus... Figure it out.

Yes, the subject is the hard part. Keep shooting without judgement and edit whatever works. Ask a photographer friend what you are doing right or wrong or as they say, "Forget about it." Start with shooting portraits and groups and parties and go to the street from there.

Thanks again Geoffrey.

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