Two years ago I attended an event known as Street Photography Symposium, organized by Jason Reed from the Observe collective. It was the first time I joined an event of such kind, having been a street photographer for a while, I felt it was a good opportunity to expand my horizons and get real contact with good street photographers that could provide great, honest and constructive feedback, a thing that comes short on the internet public street photography groups. I bought my ticket and flew to London, a thing I do once a year anyways, since there's just something about that city that calls to me. You can read a bit on my take on that event here.
Last year I was on holiday and could not attend, a fact that didn't happen this year and, like so, I quickly grabbed myself an early bird ticket. I was pleasantly surprised to see more speakers and panel discussions, not only that, there was going to be craft beers and gin!? Oh my, Street London 2018 was poised to be a pleasure to the eyes, the ears and to the throat!
With a soft start, I discovered (only then), that Hoxton Mini Press had taken the reins of the event and leading the mic we had Martin Usborne which gave us a flavour of the weekend to come. He was followed by the creative directors Nick Turpin, Kristin Van den Eede and Olly Lang that gave us a bigger insight of what was to come. This edition was all about pushing the boundaries of what street photography is.SATURDAY
The day started early, there was a registration for photowalks and the numbers were quite limited, 8 per photographer, so I wanted to make sure I had my place in the Nick Turpin's group, which I did, and felt quite happy with.
After the opening session, Simon Roberts took the stage to talk about his work. I was quite taken and inspired by his pursuit of identity and surveys of landscape and population, it made me ask myself if I could come up with a similar approach and perhaps create a survey of my own, of some culture or particular aspect like a recurring event. Simon's work is certainly more documental than street, but as he moved from his Russian work into his British one, you could not help but to get a Martin Parr'ish feeling about it. It makes us beg the question, is it a Martin Parr thing or a British thing? The theme of following along the meanders of Street Photography had an early start, but it was a wonder to the eyes, to see and hear about Simon's work.
The local Julie Hrudova followed, it was time to dive into Street Photography, and laugh at the fatalities of the human condition. How many times have you thought you had a brilliant idea, to later find out that it already exists? Street Repeat is here to show you that it happens more than you think. Dwelling between originality, plain copying, or just trying to do it for yourself (so that you can call an image yours), Julie talked us through her process of curating this account and she compiles the images for the themes. I took the opportunity to later meet her in person, being an Amsterdamer myself I wanted to discuss a bit the street scene around here and what, perhaps, can come to happen in the future.
After a short break it was time for the first panel discussion, with what can almost be called a classic topic: Exploring the Borders of Street Photography - the discussion of what is and isn’t a Street Photograph. A healthy discussion spanned where issues such the fine line between documentary and street photography, retouching images and photo manipulation, such as digital editing or staging something in the street. It was interesting to hear the panel and the audience opinions about where they drew the line and why.
The event this year had yet another plus (for me), the location. It was just around Brick Lane, which allowed me, during the lunch break, to walk around and immerse myself in the great street art that London has and Amsterdam lacks so much. It was a visual treat to the eyes!
The afternoon began with spotlight sessions, where participants were able to submit and showcase their work in 10 minute sessions, where 6 were reserved for presenting and 4 for questions. I have to say I really liked both the presentation and work of Charlie Kwai, presenting us with his deeply and quirky narrative of London's China Town, compiled in a book titled "True Love". I recommend you check out his work! I also liked the work of CJ Crosland, it was interesting since it was also around China Town and using a flash.
Jumping straight to documentary again, Zed Nelson took the stage and talked about his work. Two of his books really stood out to me. "Gun Nation" that covers the gun culture from USA and which led him to win a first place in World Press Photo, and "Love Me" a book that explores the global power of the beauty industry. Two amazing and striking pieces of work that I recommend you to check out.
David Gaberle's talk took the stage after a short break, and his talk moved me immensely. More than just talking about photography, David shared what taking pictures meant for him. It's a therapy, an escape from the anxiety he was suffering and a coping mechanism to make meaning out of the society he felt was causing it. This resonated with me because my most productive periods in photography have been after big break ups, or after the loss of my mother. There's definitely something about the camera, about being behind it, that makes us focus on what is in front of us, rather than the issues within. I took my time to later meet him and thank him for his honest and open presentation, sharing with him, the similar experiences I have gone through.
To finish of this great day it was time to do the photo walk with Nick Turpin, and it was a blast. We walked around the surrounding area, while Nick was thinking out loud, revealing his thought process and approach to street photography. Between technical tips and visual clues of how to approach a scene, we were encouraged to wander off on our own for a bit and explore a scene. After two hours it was time to get back, eat, drink and socialize with our fellow photographers.
After a late night where I ended up in an illegal rave in the middle of a park (Thanks João!), it was time to drag myself into the venue once more, charge up on coffee and kick off the day with Matt Stuart, who I think to be one of the best contemporary street photographers. Two years ago Matt also joined the Symposium where he presented his process of becoming a Magnum candidate and the work that he compiled to do so. Now, two years later, Matt as dedicated himself to some projects and coverage of news worthy events such as the Grenfell Tower fire, the Las Vegas mass shooting of 2017 or the USA election of Donald Trump and its aftermath.
There was something really striking he said about the coverage of the Grenfell Tower. While he was photographing, Matt was met with some resistance from the crowd, telling him not to take photos of the people and of such disaster, but Matt reiterated that it's precisely the job of a photographer. Certainly a lot of people must think those shots will just end up on the internet, rather than an honest piece of news that talks about the people and what they went through. Matt continued that it's the job of the doctor at the scene to help those people in his own way, by saving their lives, but that he is doing exactly the same, but rather through photography.
As his talk continued, our eyes and ears were drawn and mesmerized (my certainly were) with his most recent work covering Slab city, a community living in the Sonoran Desert, full of outcasts, criminals, or people that just quitted on society. In his words there were "Dreams and Nightmares", an approach he wants to take to any future work of his, "It will either be about dreams or nightmares!" he told us. We listened as he told the stories of Slab's people and how he photographed them, expressing his fears, moments of anger and how, above everything, one must respect and be honest about what you are doing. I spoke to him later, and he revealed that we will tour some European cities to give workshops and I inquired about Amsterdam, which prompted him to say he has a schatje at home (the Dutch word for sweetheart or literally translated little treasure). Nevertheless, Amsterdam is under is radar and I can't wait to have him here!
A conversation on how to make money as a street photographer followed (ahah funny I know). But even in street there's money to be made. The way we shoot is a rare skill that some commercial people look for. While they pointed out that any of us might land a job or get a great deal for an image, the truth of the matter is that most often we don't. But, as Matt Stuart very eloquently said, we have to go out and make phone calls ourselves, not wait like David Gibson (some private joke I am sure). He gave an example on how printing and distributing 1000 postcards landed him on one job only, but the remuneration was worth it! Regardless on how hard it is for photographers nowadays, it was a nice insight to hear from the ones that made it out there.
Women took the stage to present the project Women in Street, like many of these movements, their collective brings awareness to the lack of female presence, in this particular case, in the street photography community. Eléonore Simon, Susana Soler and Roza Vulf presented the project talking about its mission, and the several initiatives they promote. A shout of to the heart felt, frontal and honest talk by Roza Vulf, that despite being part of this collective, pointed out that genre does not matter, but the work itself! Her discourse was met with a warm applause in the end.
Before the lunch break a very special moment took place for me and a lot of the participants for sure. Shortly before I flew to London, it was announced that Joeleve Meyerowitz would be making a short appearance during the event. I was so excited, Joel is a living legend, a pioneer of Street Photography, a great communicator and a source of inspiration for me and many others. I started shooting people on the street without knowing it was a thing, I only came to realize there was a whole genre and history after watching Everybody Street, during Unseen 2012. The first words spoken in this documentary are by Joel himself - "Why do some photographers go into the street? And other photographers go to the studio?" - This immediately resonated with me and it set up the stage for a nice viewing, I recommend anyone that hasn't watched it, to do so!
Everyone surrounded him, giving him books to sign, unfortunately I didn't have mine with me, but I wanted to get a portrait taken with him, and tell him how much of an inspiration he is for me. I calmly waited, taking some shots of him (I am the guy in a red t-shirt above) and when the swarm started to clear I moved in. First I took a photo for another participant and then I asked him to repay me the favor.
Shot by Julie Hrudova
As I sat by his side and introduced myself, while he signed more books, I told him how I discovered him and how much of an inspiration he is to me. He looked up, asked my name again, stopped signing books and shared some words with me - "It's our job to pass down these things... and it's your responsibility to take better photographs... it's up to you now!" - What an absolute pleasure and surprise it was to meet such an idol!
Lunch time was followed by a short talk by Joel himself and then it was time the final panel discussion - The Ethics and Morality of Street Photography - staring off with the recent controversial pictures from Jeff Mermelstein, and showcasing other pictures which raised similar ethical questions. A very interesting conversation.
As the event approached we were delighted with a video interview of Dorothy Bohm, showcasing her life and work, which spans a huge stretch of time given that she is 94 years old. To end it all there was an award ceremony for the competition that ran parallel to the event.
Street London 2018 was a fantastic event with great speakers, a wide range of topics, looking to address the several of issues inside the genre. Street London is, IMHO, the best street photography event in Europe, and all the participants and organization should be proud of that. I will return every time I can!
To top of the weekend I also had time to drop by the Barbican Centre to view the exhibitions of Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship. If you have the time, I totally recommend!
p.s.- I love street art and although I shot street photography around this weekend it was all on film, which is yet to be developed. So instead, I share with you all the street art I captured with my phone, around the vibrant Brick Lane.