Visual Stories : Bubble World
It was street photographer Joshua K Jackson who set the hare’s leaping around in the fertile fields of my mind. It was a comment he made about his version of perceived reality, and the world(s) we live in.
“Think of the city as a giant movie being played out in real time,” Jackson postulated. “Seek out the scenes that speak to you and capture them.”
Copyright ⓒ Joshua K Jackson
A great line from a talented street photographer whose work has a certain mystique, an other-worldliness, often taken at night and often bordering on the surreal or abstract.
The movie set idea, however, is beautiful. It conjures up the idea of each and everyone of us being handed a script at birth to which we must adhere as we move through life.
This sounds pretty near fatalistic but actually our scripts have gaps in them. Our individual script does not, on its own, determine our destiny, because it is continually altered and is continually shifting and, of course, evolving as we come into contact with others.
We are all shaped by a number of determinants which impact immediately on us and our lives. Our parents, geographical location, historical era, religion, class, ethnicity, nationality to name but a few. But, even given this, our future is never certain, our ‘scripts’, as we said above, are constantly altered, changed and transformed as we collide and interact with, potentially, every other person on the planet.
The global population is estimated to be around 7.6 billion, so that is 7.6 billion actors on our movie set working to 7.6 billion individual scripts. As we work through our own individual performance we are constantly colliding with a great matrix of other actors also working through their scripts, and also constantly colliding with yet more actors we don’t know at all.
As we intersect and interact with others our lives are changed somewhere between ever-so-slightly and catastrophically. Simultaneously, as soon as this happens our existence is instantaneously re-assembled as ongoing individual histories, and by extension, local, national and world histories.
Street photographers are there to capture such alterations and shifts as they actually happen in real time.
“People just don’t look around them,” street photographer Suzanne Stein once told me in an interview. “On the way here I walked past a woman who had a bloody face, but I had to get home because I have to talk to you and my son is ill so I had to walk past her. Normally I would not have just walked past. But because I was involved in my life I was unable to stop and I think that that is probably how most people feel every day.”
Copyright ⓒ Suzanne Stein
Suzanne at that moment in her life was in a bubble determined by her own script and all those multiple worlds colliding around her. Her world as street photographer (observer of humanity), her world as a photographer about to be interviewed (by me), her world as a mother hurrying home to her sick child, her world as a fellow human being showing concern for a lady with a bloodied face.
Street photography, the most exciting and adventurous photographic genre, is all about candid capture of ordinary people as they go about their everyday lives.
As the street photographer is searching for a situation to photograph, and, therefore, to be unavoidably intrusive in the lives of others (Civil Abstraction as Michael Ray Nott calls it), at the same time, the world and its dog is rushing in on them.
“So, you have crowds of strangers in an urban environment in close proximity,” Michael Ray Nott explains Erving Goffman’s theory of Civil Inattention. “They are aware of each other but they don’t impose on each other. It is a method of retaining ones own personal boundaries… to maintain public order and make privacy possible.”
Copyright ⓒ Michael Ray Nott
Michael calls the disruption of Civil Inattention, brought upon an unsuspecting public by the activities of street photographers, as civil abstraction.
“Because,” He tells me. “It does abstract the actual reality of what was going on, on the street.”
In this interplay there are two or more scripts in action, the street photographer’s game plan and the world of the person(s) they are trying to capture. For each individual with their script, there are many others around them working to their own plans, so, at any one time there are multiple worlds in operation.
We are often driven by the expectations of our own lives. The necessity of finding a job, holding it down and carving out a career in something or other. That giant need to find money to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves and shelter ourselves, or even, to look after our families. These are huge forces in most people’s lives and go some way to driving our immediate behaviours.
Of course, an individual’s motives for being there, at that time on that day in that particular city might have been significantly different one from the other. Everyone of them, performing their own actions, all taking instruction from the scripts of their own lives, and yet crossing over and interacting with all these other actors, who are also, taking instruction from their own scripts on how to act, behave and what to believe in that moment.
It is the street photographers job to be there, waiting, watching, scanning and trying to lock on to the most interesting of these situations.
I am always curious. Where all these people are going? How many of the people I share this existential ride with are living through great adventures, on the brink of realising some big dream, or actually living their own dreams? How many are going through tortuous misery, how many are living through the dramas of everyday life, relationship break up, homelessness, despair?
How many of them, I always think as I glance furtively at their eyes, have just been told they have a horrible illness, life-changing or life threatening? A terminal condition which will end their life prematurely?
Whatever their story, however, it is the street photographer prowling around that giant film set who is always ready to capture the action.
But please do resist the urge to call out CUT! when you have clicked!