This month’s featured artist is descrofton. A street photographer from Asia!
Be sure to follow descrofton and support his work!
City and country where you live
Hong Kong (originally from Canada)
- How you started with street photography?
I’ve always had an interest in photography, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve become obsessed with street photography. I’ve been living in Hong Kong for 20 years now, and I think I developed a love for street photography when I started running out of travel photo subjects and began to look deeper.
- Why street photography?
One of the reasons I enjoy street photography is the challenge. It’s nearly as difficult as bird photography, something I also enjoy but I’m not that good at. More to the point, street photography gives me a way of expressing myself visually and exploring my relationship with this city as an expatriate.
- What and/or who inspires you?
Some of the street photographers who inspire me include the greats, Cartier-Bresson of course, and Winogrand, Weegee, Nick Turpin, Vivian Maier, Siegfried Hansen, and Daido Moriyama. Less well known outside Hong Kong, the New Zealand photographer Jonathan van Smit is someone whose quality of work I aspire to. And, of course, Hong Kong itself is an inspiration because it’s so full of life. This city is truly a street photographer’s paradise.
- How often do you go out to capture moments?
Not anywhere as often as I’d like. At least once a week, but more when my job isn’t keeping me tied to my desk.
- What do you look for when you go out on the streets?
I like the flâneur approach of wandering the streets until something interesting crosses my field of vision. Although I don’t have set plans on what I want to shoot, I usually frequent the same places, the older more crowded parts of Hong Kong where life is lived on the street.
Once I’m out shooting, it usually doesn’t take long to find a subject. Because space is so limited in Hong Kong, people are on the street at all hours. And because the line between the public and the private is often blurred here, very human moments are constantly presenting themselves. You just have to be there, to paraphrase Weegee’s famous quote.
- Do you interact with your subjects?
I sometimes interact with my subjects, but I generally prefer candid shots. Also, and I’m ashamed to admit this after so many years in Hong Kong, my Cantonese is still very basic.
I try to be as unobtrusive as possible — I shoot from the hip or pretend I’m photographing something else. But that’s not always easy as I’m often the only westerner in the crowd and stick out. Then again, people think I’m a tourist so they tend to be a lot more forgiving.
- How do you challenge yourself to improve on photography?
Looking at good street photography challenges me to be better. The technical side is not that difficult; you just need to know your camera. But to be a better street photographer means constantly questioning yourself. Is this a good shot? Does it mean anything? Is it telling a story? It’s also important to put some critical distance between yourself and the shots you take. What might look like a good shot today might not look so interesting a week later, and vice versa.
- What gear do you use? Philosophy: Digital or analog?
I come from film – I have about a dozen film cameras in my collection from 35mm SLRS and compacts to a 4”x5” view camera. But for street I prefer digital because of its immediacy and shorter feedback loop.
Until recently, I was using a DSLR fitted with a manual focus lens. Then, two weeks ago, I bought a Ricoh GR which is much lighter and far less intimidating than a larger camera. It has a big APS-C sensor and a very sharp lens with a 28mm equivalent angle of view, so it’s perfect for street.
- B&W or color? Why?
I shoot B&W mostly. A Canadian photographer, Ted Grant, once said, “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Shooting B&W also forces you to pay more attention to composition and other graphical elements, which I try to capture in my photos.
- What about post processing/developing?
For post-processing I use Lightroom and the Nik collection of plug-in filters, especially Silver Efex Pro 2. I also occasionally use Photoshop, but Lightroom and Nik filters usually do the job for 90% or more of my shots.
- The selected picture.
It’s difficult for me to select a single photo that represents my photography, but if I had to choose just one it would be Woman in Abaya. One of the reasons I like this photo is for the story that’s probably behind it. The woman in the photo is mostly likely one of the many thousands of Indonesian women working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper, far from home, working to make a better life for her family.
What really appeals to me about this photo is its simplicity and the way it focuses on the flowing lines of her dress. It’s also a study in contrasts — black vs white, the traditional clothing she’s wearing vs the modernity of the mobile phone she’s holding.
- Street Photographers in tumblr you truly admire.
You asked me to name some of my favourite photographers on Tumblr. That’s also difficult. Being on Tumblr, you get to view the work of so many talented photographers. One who comes to mind, though, is Shawn Badgley, an American documenting daily life in his home state of Massachusetts. His Tumblr motto is “At Least One Original Picture Every Day”. I think he’s achieving that with his many images that bring out the humanity of the people he encounters.
Street photography is both the easiest form of photography — all you need is a camera and the street — and the most difficult. It can be very challenging to produce a good photo but with enough time, patience and effort you can get there. Study art, study the great street photographers, and get to know your camera so well that shooting with it is second nature. Don’t settle for merely acceptable shots and keep pushing yourself to do better.