Cars and street photo

Discussion in 'Street' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Nov 22, 2006.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Prologue: I think the section I'm looking for on APUG is one I would call "Poetics", which is about the making of images, not in terms of the materiality of the medium, and not about their ethical or theoretical implications, but in terms of artistry, ways of doing, ways of creating. My rather simple question, I think, falls under this rubric.

    When you are doing street photography, are you also annoyed by the fact that cars are always in your picture area? I don't find modern car on the whole to carry an interesting aesthetics. They are bland, shapeless, and just everywhere on the sidewalks. So if I see something interesting happening in the street or on the sidewalk, there's always a parked car behind that's ruining the point of interest.

    So, if like me you find them an eyseore, how do you get rid of them? Do you stand on them and take pics from above? Have you find good ways to incorporate in your composition? Do you just look for spots without them? Do you also feel that if it was all pre-80s car, it would be more interesting? I tend to think that Stephen Shore's photos wouldn't be as interesting if the cars in it didn't have such interesting designs.
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think if the picture is interesting, the background will merely show that it's a "street" scene.

    That being said, I think we take the "everyday" as being too mundane when in fact in 20-50-100 years those same mundane shots are magical.

    As photographers I think we need to take the "long view" on what we shoot as well as the instant gratification aspect.

    Michael
     
  3. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    They might be more interesting in 20 to 30 years. Cars and other clutter are a fact of life.
     
  4. arigram

    arigram Member

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    The magic of street photography is exactly the fact that you can't control the elements like you do in the studio. Unwanted background and foreground objects, blur, cropped parts, out of focus, weird perspectives and angles, hard and unflattering lighting, unnatural expressions, obstractive shadows, loss of details and so on and so forth. Many such images at first might look flawed but very often it takes just a bit of time to uncover unseen relationships between the various elements, creative and fresh viewpoints, surprising frozen moments and beautiful accidents. Unless you carefully choose every single part of the back/foreground, campaign for more aesthetically pleasing environments or use photoshop, your only other option is to learn to like what you now dislike.
     
  5. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Interesting points about the long view of mundane life; actually I was just thinking about that the other day. It strikes me that things that were common and usually of little interest then like a fruit stall or a picnic have been used in successful pics by Doisneau and HCB. There is the danger of nostalgia, and the sweeping argument that "life was more interesting then," I know.

    To a certain extent I agree that these things didn't strike people then the way they do now. But let's just take architecture for instance. The brutalist style of the 70s has been seriously undermined not only by the fact that it wasn't all that practical, but also for the fact that we find it ugly most of the time. Now, one can answer that in 60y we will have a great architect finding an ingenious way of reusing it, but where I want to drive my point is the now. There is stuff that I find uninteresting and parasitic to photos, but I can't avoid it. So my usual approach is simply to avoid representing it.

    Ari, you make an interesting opening by "learning to like what you dislike" so I'd like to know more about how you've dealt with situations in which a big eyesore was unavoidable to the picture you wanted to take. In what sense did you "like" the thing? Did you just reinterpreted it in another way? Did you sidestepped it?
     
  6. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    Michel, have you read this interview:

    http://seesawmagazine.com/shore_pages/shore_interview.html

    Shore says that he deliberately included cars in his photos just because they provide a time stamp that most westerners cannot ignore. He cites Walker Evans as an inspiration.

    I try for the most part to photograph what is there in front of me, and find that if I do start to stage manage a scene it usually gets more boring. Nature and Fate have better imaginations than I do. If the cars are there, they come along for the ride. Friedlander's quote goes to the heart of it:

    "I only wanted Uncle Vern standing by his new car (a Hudson) on a clear day. I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary's laundry, and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on a fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It's a generous medium, photography."
     
  7. arigram

    arigram Member

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    I make it part of what the photograph is about. I live in an ugly city, so often there will be something ugly in the composition, but because street photography is about the "reality" of the environment, you not only accept it but use it. A pretty little girl in her best dress and a balloon on the street has a relationship with the mundane car or even dirty garbage can that makes the photograph. So, the photograph is not just the girl, but the girl+garbage can, beauty and the beast.
    There are too many street photographers to mention but what their work is about, is not just the subject but its environment as well, as mundane or ugly as it. Plus, the forms of the background can work with you in ways that take away the ugliness.
    Its all up to the photographer really, no need to apply make up to the environment.
     
  8. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    The notion of car-as-timestamp is constant through Walker Evans, Frank, Winogrand, Friedlander... Winogrand in particular seemed quite caught up withthe ideas of seeing and seeing from cars, later in his career.

    That said, if they bother you, either shoot aroudn them, or take a reflective look -- what about them bothers you? Can that emotion be used to strengthen the pictures?
     
  9. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    Like a lot of others have posted before me, I have had trouble with things like autos, advertising signs and power lines in my photos. One photo in particular was of a "Shay" locomotive in a Northern Ontario lumber town where the engine is on display and the town decided to illuminate it with a lamp fed from a power pole directly behind the smoke stack. I took my best shot at it, but regardless, the pole looks like an out of place appendage.

    I had intended the photo as a print for a friend who has a large collection of model trains and when I gave him the framed print, he said he loved it and he missed the pole completely. When I pointed it out to him, he said it didn't matter and he never would have noticed it anyway as it looked like a natural part of a display background.

    Since then I've pretty much stopped worrying about those sorts of things. The things that bother me when I'm taking the photo likely will be considered interesting in a few decades anyway.
     
  10. Michael W

    Michael W Member

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    I recently bought the Danny Lyon book 'The Destruction Of Lower Manhattan'.
    Wonderful book in which he documented the old buildings that were being demolished, around 1967. Some of these buildings dated back to the civil war. He writes that at the time he didn't like the effect of modern cars in front of the buildings so he settled on early Sunday mornings as the best time to photograph.

    Nevertheless there are still plenty of mid 60s cars in most photos.
    I find them to be an interesting element -
    they give me a sense of the era in which the photos were taken
    interesting contrast between two parts of American history
    in a way the cars represent the mentality of mass consumerism that leads to the state of mind that decides to raze 60 acres of beautiful & significant buildings.

    I know what the OP means about the ugliness of modern cars - i often used to look at stuff from the 50s by W Eugene Smith, Robert Frank etc & think how lucky they were to have those amazing curvy chromed cars in their shots. But the ugly cars of today will undoubtedly look interesting in 20 years time as people realise how much things have changed.
     
  11. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    I find cars a mixed blessing. I remember one day driving my Model T in front of the City Gymn and Pool (a wonderful Edwardian pile,) shooting with a Brownie, and hoping I could pretend it was an original 1920s snapshot.

    So what happened? Everything looked perfectly period except for the street light, and the modern curb, and the traffic paint on the street, and the power lines...

    While I'm bothered that modern elements interfere in my photography of vintage stuff, I wonder what contemporary detail will seem miraculous to the social historians 100 years down the road.
     
  12. HerrBremerhaven

    HerrBremerhaven Member

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    I enjoy having forms of transportation in my images, especially when I am specifically asked by a client to photograph automobiles or motorcycles. About the only thing in our modern world that I don't like is those crappy banners some real estate companies and other businesses drape on perfectly nice buildings . . . sort of ruins the ambiance.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
     
  13. robopro

    robopro Member

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    Streets were made for cars --oddly enough that's why one tends to find so many cars there. Complaining about not being able to take a good photo on the street because a car always seems to be in the way is like complaining that you can't take a good photo in a forest because a tree always seems to be in the shot somewhere. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.
     
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  15. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Actually this is not accurate. In older cities, streets existed before cars. They were passageways for wagaons, carriages, carts, horses etc. - few of which were parked on the street.

    Christopher Gray is an architectural historian for the NY Times and has a weekly column called Streetscapes. It compares certain building or streets from say a century ago with today. He has several times commented how it is only around the 19-teens that you begin to see automobiles in any number - and at that time -they were more playthings of the wealthy and generally banned from parking on the streets.

    It is one reason why in some old photos of urban scenes thestreets look broader than they do today. Then the two curbsides were not lined with a row of parked cars as the are nowadays having the effect of narrowing the street scene.
     
  16. robopro

    robopro Member

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    I said, streets are built for cars. I didn't say streets were invented for cars. Duh!. So, my statement actually is entirely correct. I live in a 116 year old house. When it was built people rode horses down the street in front. I don't think it was paved to make life easier for horses, pedestrians, or photographers.
     
  17. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Paved street exist at least since the era of Mohenjo-Daro in Central Asia, and we all know that the Romans had cobblestone ones. So there is paving that was made to make life easier for horses, carriages and pedestrians. Nobody cares about photographers so nothing is made to accomodate them anyway.

    Streets exist by default whenever there is a space between rows of houses that people used for transportation, either by foot, horse, carriage, motorcar, lorry, tramway, omnibus, cable car, or floater.

    Recent streets (less than a hundred years old, such as are common in many suburbs where sidewalks are nonexistent) are built for cars, but the majority of streets in modern cities still existed before motorized transport was common. The avenues of Montreal predate cars. The only real "invented for, and for the exclusive purpose of, cars" type of street is the German autobahn, also known as autoroute, or two-lane highway. Street photography is usually about cities, in which it is an accidental fact that streets were built, invented, designed, wished for before the existence of motorcars.
     
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  18. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I think, in the next 5, 10 years, we'll probably start seeing some house-keeping robots in our photos. More interesting stuff! :D
     
  19. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I've never had any issue with newer cars in general. My car is pretty ugly, too, but it runs well.

    I get really annoyed by some stupid big signs and ads, instead. I know some areas have certain restrictions on that regardless of what country you're in, so there are places to avoid seeing them.
     
  20. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Actually, if you re-read your post you said "streets WERE made for cars". [emphasis added]

    You used the past tense, Rob. And as such, your statement was inaccurate.

    MHV's comments are totally on point - and it is interesting that Montreal and NYC have similar "vintages".

    Oh, and as to paving. The first paved street in NYC was in lower Manhattan. It was paved in the 17th Century and was, and still is, called "Stone Street".

    Oh, one other thing, please don't use the "duh" put-down thing. It's uncalled for and really insulting.
     
  21. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    You see, if the cars were finally flying, like they were meant to be by year 2000, I would never have such problems. "OK everyone, just lift your cars for thirty seconds, thank you!"

    Living in the future sucks, man!
     
  22. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I'm not sure about pavement in Montreal because everything is always repaved, but the earliest street we have is rue de la Commune, which follows the St Lawrence river. So to be precise, it's the path between a row of house and the river, not specifically between two rows of house. Of course, the river itself is our first highway.

    I find Montreal and NYC fascinating similar in their small aspects: the delis/dépanneurs, the bagels, the smoked meat/pastrami/corned beef culture, the age of the buildings, the grid layout, the bridges and the skyline. Of course the intrepid ambition of the locals did not reach the paroxystic levels of NYC, but when I visited it last year I felt at home, much more than in any other city I've seen so far, including Toronto, Vancouver, Paris or London.
     
  23. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Michael,

    During various periods of the 18th and 19th Centuries, NYC and Montreal were "rivals" as export centers to Europe.

    It was most "telling" during the hey day of the fur trade. Montreal had better connections to the continental interior (i.e. source of supply) whereas NYC had a year-round port (as you know, Montreal becomes ice-bound in Winter). That meant that the longer distances from the interior to NYC were less of a competitive disadvantage than they might have otherwise been. [If you look at the New York State emblem - it includes a beaver - and not because they are "cute").

    I always enjoy visits to Montreal because it is m/l the same "vintage" as NYC and so has the many-layers of history that one doesn't find in say Chicago or Toronto.

    Although, to be honest, one has to go to Quebec City, or down to Mexico City to find really old "Euro roots" (with the latter even going back to pre-Columbian times!).
     
  24. robopro

    robopro Member

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    Streets belong to cars.
     
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  25. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Let's keep picking, because that is surely a more useful path than ignorance, contradiction, vagueness, and disingenuousness. Streets are used for cars, that's about as accurate as could be. They do not "exist" for a specific purpose. Things just exist or they don't. If they would exist for cars, it means that their coming into being was justified by cars, which as you should have noticed by now, is simply not the case.
     
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  26. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    They sure do....NYC/Harlem - late 1970's :tongue: :D
     

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