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 the subject limitations and trying to make a subject that has often 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 the times when I will find myself in a street, 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 it's 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 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 Sepulcher). 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 burrow (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 dividends.
Sony A700, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 1600, F/2.8, 1/25 sec, © Dvir Barkay
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 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 decent going up and down a narrow cobblestone street, using the gradient like a 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 tangental to the alley way which the boys were using. Quickly I pulled out my camera and set 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 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 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 good analysis of the scene is imperative to capture it at it's most dynamic and that getting a car with an openable back window is highly advisable.
Here is another scene in one of the many crowded “shuks” or Hebrew for market 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 clipped it so that just his hands are visible as he pays the boy. The 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.
Sony A700, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 640, F/2.8, 1/160 sec, © Dvir Barkay
A third shot, that I feel has many imperfections, but that I think 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 women facing me was about to place the 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 women comes from the left hand side rendering the scene almost exclusively imbalanced.
Sony A77, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 1000, F/5.6, 1/13 sec, © Dvir Barkay
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.
Sony A700, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 400, F/4 1/20 sec, © Dvir Barkay
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 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 environment around them, giving a great sense of place.
Sony A77, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 100, F/7.1 1/60sec, © Dvir Barkay
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 all together. 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 expand and play around 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.
Sony A77, Sony 16-50/2.8 SSM, ISO 200, F/4.5, 1/60 sec, © Dvir Barkay
Sony A700, Minolta 100-300/4-5.6, ISO 200, F/9, 1/800 sec, © Dvir Barkay