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Photographer Profile: Leanne Staples
For our first Photographer Profile, we’re featuring Leanne Staples, a street photographer from New York City and co-founder of Shoot the Street.
Leanne is primarily a street, social documentary and urban landscape photographer. She was given her first camera at the age of 12 by her father. For many years her concentration was mainly as an architectural photographer. It was, as she has said, an obsessive pursuit for an unreal purity. One day, after being annoyed by people walking into her shot, she decided not to fight it anymore, to shoot people passing by the buildings. That began her venture into street photography!
She started out in film and after some skepticism about digital, she finally made the transition in 2006. A self-described gonzo photog, you can find her on the streets with camera in hand searching for the perfect backdrop in which to shoot. A few things that she is always seeking out are shadows, reflections, patterns, motion blur, clouds, graffiti, and interesting people.
Q: When or why did you decide to start taking pictures? Did someone influence you?
A: When I was 12, my father gave me my first camera. It was a Nikkormat. He had a darkroom and rolled his own film, mostly Tri-X. Although he was not a professional photographer, his photos were very good. I had not really seen very much photography at that point in my life. I wish that I could tell you that I was originally inspired by Cartier-Bresson. That inspiration came much later on for me. Photography became an enjoyable experience, another method of viewing, communicating without words a pastime.
Q: Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?
A: No. The entire experience of photography has been like a wow moment for me. Perhaps more important has been the recognition that I have received by other photographers that I respect. I am continually striving to be a better photographer and searching for the next wow moment.
Q: Do you have any formal training regarding photography?
A: Not really. I took a class in darkroom printing and when I bought my first DSLR, I took a class on how to use the camera. I also studied 16mm film and Video production. Everything else that I have learned is through experimentation and studying the work of other photographers and techniques.
Q: What is your favorite gear for shooting on the street?
A: Typically, I shoot with a Nikon D300. Although I have 3 lenses, most of the work that I do these days is with a Nikkor 50mm f1.8. If I had money to buy new equipment, I might answer this question differently.
Q: Do you think of yourself as an artist and what do you think of the word artist?
A: Absolutely! The opposite would be to just take snapshots. Photography is an art form in which the photographer captures a mundane situation and transforms it into something that is universal. I hope that that is what I accomplish.
Q: What has been the single biggest obstacle for you growing as a street photographer?
A: I don’t know that I have any obstacles. If I am tired or not in a very good mood, it seems impossible to find anything that I want to shoot. In general, I am constantly pushing myself to grow and be better. It’s in my blood to not rest on previous success. Perhaps time and money might be considered an obstacle.
Q: Describe a typical day for you as a street photographer?
A: I wander the streets in search of good light, reflections, shadows, street art or whatever jumps out as a good setting. I often will spend 6-8 hours in search of opportunities. I have favorite neighborhoods and sometimes I will go to specific events. Then I go home and upload my photos.
Q: How do you describe your style as a street photographer?
A: I see myself as an intuitive photographer. I am constantly viewing the world around me in frames. I shoot people on the street in candid situations. It is my preference to not interfere with the moment in any way. The first thing that I will often do is to look for a background that I like and then wait for the human element to enter the shot. Originally, my focus was on architectural photography. I would become annoyed by people entering my shot. One day I gave up waiting and I then realized that I actually prefer people in the shot. That is how I became a street photographer. I had not seen street photography before that.
Q: What inspires you to be a street photographer?
A: I have been passionate about photography for more than 4 decades now. It was mostly a solitary enjoyment for me in the beginning. But it wasn’t really until I started getting involved in online communities for sharing photos that I became really inspired to do more and better. Receiving critiques and comments about my photos has really upped the game.
Q: Tell a little secret about yourself that no-one knows …
A: The rock critic Lester Bangs wrote an article in 1979 in The Village Voice about past New Year’s Eves dates that were a dud. I was one of them!