Before the widespread adoption of window-glass (especially large sheets of plate glass), most shops were necessarily in the street. As early as they could bear to get up, or sometimes earlier, shopkeepers would open their shutters and literally set out their stalls. In the absence of artificial lighting, customers would in any case have had difficulty in penetrating far into the shops: eyes adapted to daylight would have taken too long to adapt to the murk at the back. There are still plenty of similar shops even in the so-called “developed world”. Consider greengrocers, where the good fresh stuff is commonly outside where you can see it, but pre-packaged stuff, or the stuff that the shopkeeper would rather you didn’t examine too closely, is towards the back of the often tunnel-like premises. To answer my own question, shops therefore count as street photography.
Obviously what made me take this picture was the contrast between the all-enveloping costume of the woman at the top of the escalator, and the distinctly scanty underwear on the plaster mannequins in the background. The fully-clad woman may be every bit as conventionally lovely as the models. If so, her husband is a lucky man. He may well be a lucky man even if she is not quite so conventionally lovely, nor wearing quite the same underwear. But is she a lucky woman?
Copyright © Roger Hicks
Possibly. Or possibly not. I am quite old-fashioned. I was born on the middle day of the middle month of the middle year of the 20th century. I went to a (very minor) public school in the 1960s. Racism and sexism were taken for granted, and class prejudice ran them a close third. I have however tried to free myself of these historical handicaps, with (I hope) a modest degree of success. We should always be suspicious of men who call themselves feminists, in case they are trying to create a smokescreen. But given my age and the era in which we live, I don’t feel too bad about supporting all but the wildest excesses of feminism. When I say “wildest excesses”, I’m talking about the likes of Valerie Solanes and SCUM, allegedly an acronym for the Society for Cutting Up Men.
Political points made. Looking at the picture, I wish I’d framed it slightly to my left, cutting out more of the stack of shopping baskets on the right and including a little more of the poster on the left: that would have been an even better contrast with the black-clad woman. But I didn’t. This is a powerful argument for the classic “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” and it is as true in shops as for any other kind of street photography. Shoot, shoot, and shoot again, always analyzing your pictures for what went right and what went wrong. You don’t need to think hard about it, indulging in complex semiotics. You merely need to think at all. You can soon spot your successes and failures. Even if they are not absolute successes and absolute failures, some are more successful and some less. That’s all you need. Slowly, without your even necessarily realizing it, your aesthetic choices are internalized. Taking good pictures becomes easier, whether you are talking about street photography or any other kind.
One more point. I have two versions of this picture. In the other you can see her face and one hand. This version seems more successful to me for two reasons. First, it emphasizes her anonymity: a better contrast. Second, it is fairer. I don’t want to embarrass her personally, or her husband, or her father. I am perfectly happy making a cultural comment, but I don’t want to make it personal. Which is an option you seldom get in street photography.
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