A lot of street photography is pure luck. You can haunt the likeliest places to get a good picture; you can plan all you want. But unless things come together, you ain’t gonna get the picture you want. Often, you may not even notice the little detail that “makes” the picture. Such was the case here.
The Donjon café-bar is out of shot on the left. I was on my way there, or possibly my way back. Given the accuracy of the focusing, I suspect the former. This is the main entrance to the Hotel de Ville, the Town Hall, the former village school. The stonework really is pretty close to that colour, a sort of golden biscuity hue. It’s also lit by sodium vapour lamps, which are yellow in their own right. Given that the light is theoretically monochromatic, I am always astonished by the range of colours that a digital camera can pull out. This was (yet again) my old Leica M8: the M9 is currently in for a sensor replacement.
Quite a lot of my favourite street photography is either sentimental or humorous. Perhaps “sentimental” isn’t quite the right word: more a sense of recognition, of shared humanity, of pleasant emotion. Sure, there is a place for other emotions: in my 20s I photographed my fair share of tramps and down-and-outs, but I grew out of it. Why show your fellow human beings in the least flattering light possible?
Image credit Roger Hicks
Humour is surprisingly difficult, and can quite quickly shade into surrealism, as with the mannequin legs a few weeks ago in “Street Photography: I know it when I see it.” This picture turns on the difference between the ambient light and the light from the mobile ‘phone – made all the more obvious, of course, by the yellow of the sodium vapour. At that, it’s merely a moderately interesting technical trick. But then, when I saw it on the computer screen, I saw the shadow on the left. Shadows are of course a classic threatening trope in horror movies; so is massive and slightly pompous architecture; and between the unearthly colour of the young woman’s face and the shadow, the title suggested itself. Is she summoning the shadow, or is it drawn to the light of her ‘phone? It’s not clutch-your-sides-and-roll-around-laughing funny, but it’s mildly amusing.
The bicycle adds its own dimension, too. Cover it with your hand, or a piece of paper, and the picture is much weaker. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that it adds to the dark masses on the left of the picture: even the flowers and the window pane add to the darkness. The other is that there is something inherently funny about a zombie on a bicycle. I’m not sure what it is, but I suspect it is that there are few things more down-to-earth than a bicycle, and few things more fantastical than a zombie. There’s also the point that the out-of-focus flowers in the foreground half hint that the photographer is hiding behind them: imagine the same picture with just bare pavement in their place.
This gives rise to the last point in my sermon for today. When we look at a picture, be it street photography or anything else, emotion and free association are often more important than technical quality and intellectual analysis. By all means try to work out why you respond the way you do, but above all, respond first and analyze afterwards.