Street photography is like life. No one can really tell you what it is, you have to do it for yourself and discover it.
Q1: Please state your name and occupation, please. Where do you live?
A: My name is Gardner Hamilton, 45 years old, born in Scotland, now living mainly in Chile, South America. Professional, International wedding photographer and online gallery owner.
Q2: Welcome to The One Photo Interview. By the way. It is the TOP Interview. Do you know what that means? It means that you will only have the opportunity to show one single photograph and you will refer to that for the rest of this interview, right? Would that be okay with you?
A: YES, it’s not my most publicly liked image but it is one that I enjoyed creating and I still enjoy the moment today.
Q3: Any particular reason for taking that picture, Gardner?
A: Geometry and the long light drew me. I felt the bike was there not by choice, the dog was there by choice and chose to stay and the man chose to leave the scene. A nice mix or inanimate and animate with the naturally occurring lines, very simple really.
Q4: Is this you style of street photography then? Do you think you have a style? If so, what is it?
A: I tend to think I do not have a style, I think going out and working within a style parameter is very limiting. I try not to think when I am out to allow my eyes and brain to just process what unfolds in front of me. The image above did stimulate me enough to take it but it’s far from my dream shot that I have still to take.
Q5. Tell me: what is street photography? Have you got a definition? Let’s hear it!
A: Street photography is like life: no one can really tell you what it is, you have to do it for yourself and discover it. A huge part of street photography is a realization of who you are and your capabilities as a player in the social game of the human race.
Q6: Give me some basics. How long have you had an interest in street photography? Do you have any mentors that you have learned from?
A: At 11 years of age, in 1979, I got my first Aperture priority compact 35mm film camera (a German-made Agfa Optima 40mm f2.8) and learned how to use it on the mean streets of Glasgow, thereafter upgrading to rangefinder systems for street and SLR-based equipment for work. My mentors professionally are too many to mention, for street I do enjoy many of the different types of street images today but my favorite images are still the more classic compositions of full frames, multi layers, black and white with interaction, reaction and emotion from human elements. For street photography I have become captivated with the work of Vivian Maier and love the 1:1 format which I often shoot digitally or occasionally with a Yashica A twin lens. The Henri Cartier-Bresson images still blow me away. Almost every photographer I interact with daily brings questions to me about my own work and thus the collective world of street photographers are my mentors.
Q7: Let’s talk about equipment. Some have an almost religious addiction to it. Long lenses, short lenses, rangefinders, non-rangefinders, compacts. Leicas, Canons, Nikons, analog or digital. What is your opinion of this? What is your preferred gear? Don’t be boring when you answer this, please.
A: For the street I prefer Rangefinders (FILM) because of size, speed of focus (M) and the quality of images. After using Leica equipment in the past from Miii to MP I am currently using a CL with a 40mm f2, super small, super simple. I also have 2 digital bodies for my street work, both Fujifim , X Pro 1 with 35mm 1.4 ( 52mm equiv) and an X100s 23mm f2 (36mm equiv).
As you can see I only shoot street between the 35mm to 50mm+ range as outside this It looses the reality perspective of the human natural field of view. My preference is always to have my film Leica as it does what you tell it, in the second you click without asking questions, digital can be more fussy sometimes although both Fuji cameras produce stunning results. For more thought-out shots, less spontaneous I may use 120 film in a Yashica A.
Q8: Are there any particular reason why you call yourself a street photographer? Many people picture landscapes, seascapes, birds caved in. Do you take such pictures as well? What I mean to ask is, do you in fact do much parrot shooting in the zoo, or similar non-street themes? Do you?
A: I am a street photographer by default as I shoot in public spaces and in around the lives of others (strangers). Other than that I commercially shoot weddings and take the odd family shot of my daughter growing up. I tend not to shoot landscapes…at a party I will be the guy who won’t have a camera, cell phone or otherwise.
Q9: Do you know what is the difference between photography and plain picture-taking? If so, tell me what it is.
A: In my humble opinion the difference between photography and “snapshooting” is the connection and thought process of the person releasing the shutter. With the thought process of light, composition and embedding a story into a moment this creates a moment of photography; otherwise, the person with the camera is just hoping for a result. A visible personal connection from the photographer to the image indicates a work of photography.
Q10: Why do you think that all the best street photos are shot in black & white? How do you explain that?
A: I often wondered this myself and in my analysis of it I conclude that as a wedding photographer I always convert the images with the best emotional content, reaction, interaction, etc., to black and white. Color is always a distraction from these elements, and thus I would conclude the same in street photography. I also find that portrait orientation seems to be more successful than landscape and for this I have yet to conclude why.
Q11: Do you think that street photography is a serious type of photography? Can anything good come of it? How do you see this?
A: I feel that street photography is serious in the respect that done correctly we the photographers are providing an archive for future generations to enjoy as we enjoy the works of those who did the same in yesteryear. Providing an archive of life in our time is a very important take socially as since the days of cave paintings people have archived life and interaction of our species.
Q12: Is there any value in street photography you think, besides your own enjoyment?
A: At this time street photography is more of an artistic value, so 50 years from now our images will be of much more value as they will be of a strange time in the past. Most members of the public don’t understand street photography and what we are trying to do. I think the value is in the satisfaction of the photographer knowing they contribute to a legacy. The only visible income I see in real-time from street photography seems to be from the facilitation of workshops to generate income. The market for the images are few and far between commercially.
Q13: Your vision? What is your vision for European street photography? What is the vision for your own photography? I am not going to ask how you see the future, but tell me anyway.
A: I feel in Europe street photography has become very popular very quickly. This has two sides, as its great to raise public awareness but it also makes us more visible to the establishment that increasingly stifles our freedoms to shoot.
Personally my own goals in street genre are less personal photographic accomplishments and more group guidance and public awareness oriented through my own online projects.
I see great things coming with new image makers who always blow me away but I fear for the freedoms to actually shoot in the future with more and more Big Brother-type restrictions being implemented in our major cities.
Q14: One last question: What is the most important thing with a photograph? With any photograph?
A: Provoke the viewer. Good, bad, doesn’t matter, just provoke them to feel something
Q15: Is it true then that street photography was invented in Europe?
A:. Hmmm. To my understanding of the current version of street photography has morphed into something quite different from the birth of the concept. I understand that modern photojournalism/social documentary as it was then with HCB and Magnum was tagged as street photography. I believe HCB planted the purest seed of this, the interpretation and results have come from multicultural input making it what it is today. I don’t believe it was actually invented, It was more of a result of an collective methodology to shooting.
Thank you very much, Gardner Hamilton. Much obliged. Will you see yourself out?
© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.
First posted August 16, 2013.