AS - Hi Alf. Thank you so much for this interview. I am truly honored. Yes, we’ve had really interesting times. I still remember your monthly videos which were always very professional and had the perfect music. I was sad to see you go. The Vivian Maier Inspired has recently changed the name to Inspired Street Photography since in time the nature of the group changed and influence is coming from many different photographers and styles. Vivian Maier will always stay unique for us, but the time has come to broaden the definition.
Progressive Street is fascinating. It’s much more than a Facebook group. It goes beyond FB borders and I‘m honored to be a part of a really creative, professional and great team.
My journey in the world of photography started 32 years ago, when I was 16. I went to develop a negative in a store (I don’t even remember what I had on it) and the guy who owned the store told me that I have a real talent and that I should do something about it. That was a wakeup call. The next year I applied to an art high school and spent the next 3 years studying photography. I fell in love. Those 3 years gave me the opportunity to dive deeply into the photography world. I got to experience many different kinds of photography, got to know the history. I could spend days in the dark room developing my negatives and printing my photos. I felt the magic and got addicted.
Over the years I got to experience different kinds of genres, until I got to street photography where I found my home. It touched my soul in a way nothing else did before. The human race is fascinating, both in good and bad ways. Each and every person has a story to tell and that’s what I’m doing when I’m out shooting. Trying to get the stories. Not just random shots, but catching seconds in people’s lives. Street photography enables us to freeze moments, to document humanity. It’s an endless world with endless possibilities. It’s fascinating.
AM - It was a good time at VMI (now Inspired Street Photography). it was always a joy selecting the images and then pulling them together into the monthly videos.
You mentioned the world of the darkroom. That it is a magical place. I would have to agree with your assessment on this. There is nothing like placing your print in the developer, agitating the tray for the allotted time, as the image slowly appears before your eyes lit only by the red glow of the darkroom light. Sweet memories.
This leads nicely to what can be a divisive topic for some street photographers, in this digital world. That is, the topic of post-processing. Do we or don't we?
Can you tell us a little about your process once you're back home from the streets? What software do you use and how far do you go in your processing? Are the any things which are off limits in terms of post-processing when you're making your street images?
AS - That's a good question. I think that because I come from the 'old' photography world and for many years experienced and lived it before the digital time, it affected me a lot, and the way I do things.
For example, when I'm shooting I still behave as if I have a film camera in my hands which means a limited amount of clicks. I still try to catch what I want with one click and that's it. I think it also improves my skills and keeps me more alert. I usually don't look at the photos I take until I download them to the computer. I like to be surprised (or disappointed, it works both ways). Also, what you see on the camera view finder is never the same as on the computer screen.
I work with Lightroom, never touched Photoshop. I guess I'm a purist, so I never work on my images for more than 20 seconds. If it takes more than that then for me it means that the image is not good and I leave it. I don't think images should be worked on too much and changed from the original because then in my eyes it becomes more a Photoshop art than photography art, which is fine but it's a totally different thing.
Nothing can replace the magic of the real dark room. The process you've described can't be explained to someone who hasn't experienced it. I think it connects you to photography in a whole new level. This is why I really recommend people to look for a course or a workshop that lets you experience this, even once. Besides the smell of the chemicals, I don't think anyone will regret it.
AM - "To be a street cat" - what a wonderful expression and way of putting it! I like it.
The point about being alert is key, I believe. Being alert and open to what is going on around you will help you 'prepare' for that moment to take the shot. This 'being prepared' may only be a second or two but it is there, and another skill that street photographers develop is quick reactions which can translate easily to other genres of photography.
You mentioned the camera and how you set it up. So lets chat about gear. What equipment do you not take when you hit the streets? And if money were no object what would be your dream camera set-up?
AS - That's a good question! Mostly, I never use flash. I like to work with the natural light only, whether it's in day time or at night. I don't like artificial light. Although I see a lot of photographers using flash nowadays and getting impressive effects and results, this is something that never attracts me. Like I said, I'm more of a purist. Being able to work with the available light, knowing how to see it and make good use of it is something I am lot more excited about. I think that learning how to work with light is one of the most important things for street photographers. Again, I see photographers who do wonders with flash, but they go that way only after knowing first how to work with natural light properly.
My dream camera? Well, if I could afford it I would be happy to put my hands on the Fujifilm XT4. This looks like a really nice toy to have. But I have to say that I'm really happy with the one I have now, the XT2. We've become very good friends
Nowadays there are no limits with gear. There are new versions of cameras coming out all time. It's an endless chase. What I'm planning on doing next is to go back to my first camera which I still have, Nikon FA. It's a beautiful film camera. I really want to go back shooting with film again. It connects me to photography on a whole different level.
AM - I have to agree with you in respect of using flash on the streets. It takes a lot of guts to do it to begin with. I've tried it once and never again! Although there are some photographers out there at the moment who have made it their own, Spyros Papaspyropoulos from Crete being one that springs to mind.
Now lets take that dream camera out for a spin. Is there a location that you'd like to revisit or visit for the first time and why?
AS - Ha ha, the list is so long!
One of the places that went straight into my heart and I will definitely go back to is Zanzibar. That experience was so strong and will stay with me for a life time.
India is of course a place I will always be happy to go back to. I think I will never have enough of it.
Australia is also in my heart. I've been there twice and didn't have enough. There's so much to explore there.
As for places I haven't been to yet and are on my list, well one of them is Cuba. Every time I see photos from Cuba I know I have to go there. It ignites my spirit and imagination.
I think my biggest dream is to go to Tibet. It's going to be challenging but it's been in my heart for years, so I believe one day it will happen.
AM - That is a tick list indeed. The one that keeps cropping up with the different photographers I talk to, who like to do street photography in one form or another, is Cuba. I must admit, it is on my list too. The images you see from there just sing. The place has a style and character which translates into images that are so identifiable as Cuba.
I look forward to seeing your images as you emerge from this event called COVID-19 and you begin your travels again. So looking forward to getting out there myself. However, the time we've had, with limited travel and access to the streets we love, gives us time to reflect and be inspired by other peoples' work.
Are there any people who have inspired you along the photography road which you've travelled, and what is it about them that gives you that nudge to push yourself further?
AS - Well, maybe because I come from the analog photography generation, I'm always drawn more to the classic photographers, to the purists. Ever since the digital equipment and editing possibilities came into our lives, there are a lot of new, different styles that have entered the street photography world. Some are very good and bring new spirit. But for me, I always connect best to the simple, pure storytelling images. When I see B/W it automatically makes me smile. I am of course influenced by the legendary Vivian Maier. I also love Dorothea Lange's work, and am fascinated by Mary Ellen Mark, Helen Levitt and Josef Koudelka who made some outstanding projects. As of today's photographers, I love Alex Webb's work and Martin Parr. As an admin and moderator in two FB groups I'm being exposed to hundreds of images per day. Some are really good. One photographer I got to know is Merv Fitzhenry. He started posting a couple of years ago in Vivian Maier Inspired, today Inspired Street Photography. I immediately fell in love with his work. He is brilliant. He's not shooting anymore today because of his age, but he is posting his images from the 70s and 80s. That was love at first sight. I was very lucky and honoured to meet him in person about a year ago when I had a shot trip to Australia. That was so exciting for me! To meet a living legend. As a present, he gave me his book and some prints of his work. I can't describe what it meant to me.
AM - Thanks Anat, that sure is a list of very influential photographers and I would hope any street photographer out there today will have heard of them and admired their work.
The world of digital has made street images more diverse in styles and with social media a lot more are shared. We see more and more street images everyday. Maybe we're getting overly saturated and people will move on to other genres. But when we go back and see the work of the people you mention above, the power of street photography (or social documentary as I'm hearing a few people describe it now) shines through.
All of these people will have had a great deal of experience and advice to hand down, as I'm sure you do for those who are looking to take photography to a more serious level. With that in mind what would be biggest piece of advice you'd had benefited from when you were starting out?
AS - As mentioned previously, the entering of the digital equipment and editing apps makes it much easier to take pictures today. But there's a huge difference between the two. If someone is a true photographer in heart, he/she will know it. Taking pictures is easy. You can do it with your phone also. But being a photographer...well that's a totally different story. I can say for myself that I can't help it. If I'm walking without my camera (which is something that almost never happens) and I see a good frame that I can't take, it hurts in my body! So if someone realises he's got the bug, I suggest first to look at the work of the photographers I mentioned earlier, and then at others to understand the genre and get inspiration. Then just go out to the streets. There's no better way to do this. Practice, experiment till you become a street cat, till you find your language. The more you spend time in the street the better you get; the instincts improve, you learn to understand what's interesting and what's not, to recognize the characters and stories. There's no other way. But I have to warn beginners...it's addicting! There, I said it.
All images are by Anat Shushan