Glass is beautiful. Sure, it reflects our image, but there is something more, something deeper and more meaningful in the distorted feedback from glass in street photography.
A street photograph with glass as a backdrop, the light bouncing back from the surface, creates distorted shapes, shadows, light. Stare deep into a photograph reflected from glass, and as well as the subject you find many shapes, distortions and so much depth. It could, of course, easily translate into a metaphor for life. An existential mirror of street photography.
In life the surface, our mask, is what we turn to the world but what of the undertow? Those feelings never expressed, that smile that hides the heartache, the laugh that disguises the hurt? Those social forces that impact on all our lives?
In that face and individual being shot in street photography we capture the outward persona, the depths of the soul unseen in unknown shapes, distortions and shadows.
In Adrian Markis’ street photograph of Silvia, the emaciated homeless mother and three of her children sit on cardboard outside a McDonald’s in the Argentine city of Buenos Aries. But the still shot is restless with shadows, shapes, light and symbolic images of a greater existence.
Copyright Adrian Markis
Behind them, as if emerging through the plate glass of McDonald’s window, the face of a man appears – grotesquely – spooning food from a carton (ice cream perhaps) into his mouth. Grotesque, because it is juxtaposed with the starving plight of the homeless mother and her children. It could also represent the mother and her children being, metaphorically, devoured by their own destitution.
Also reflected in the glass is the glitz and glamour of high-powered business success, symbolised by the glass and concrete image of corporate office blocks also reflected in McDonald’s glass. In fact, Silvia has chosen to situate herself outside one of the most successful fast food chains in history, compounding the irony.
Above the sky-reaching office blocks (an iconic image of the spirit of capitalism), we discover a beautiful, bright, blue sky filled with white fluffy clouds. The ‘Heaven’ of ‘Christ The Saviour’ and of ‘God’, a powerful image of something greater and better beyond the street photography now. An iconic symbol of potential salvation.
Rich, poor, hungry, well fed, there will always be sanctuary in religion and the afterlife. The belief that there will be a better life beyond the grave, a just reward for the righteous, even if we starve beneath the stars every night on the streets of the Argentine capital.
In one powerful street photography shot, Markis captures hunger, homelessness, single parenthood, business acumen, capitalism and religion all – metaphorically – resting cheek by jowl in the existential cityscape of Buenos Aries.
It is a popular idea to shoot at glass. Street photographer Keith Vaughton has a whole project dedicated to glass bounce back, called Watching the Windows.
“I love a good window shot,” he says of his street photography. “No matter what people say it is still one of the most difficult shots. For me it is the reflection first and then the subject in the window. Obviously both have to work together for the image to come out as I intended.”
I have to admit, like Vaughton, I love window shots but know how difficult they can be. They have layers, shapes, depth, existential resonance, and remind me, as suggested, of a metaphor for life, for the life of the humans of the everywhere.
In Vaughton’s shot of a Caffe Nero shop front, a girl in a yellow hoodie – she has a matching yellow phone – turns toward the street photographer. It is cinematic in its conception, and the girl doesn’t let us down as her dark eyes drill into the street photographer. In that mash – that moment when the photographer and their subject are locked together for infinity in that one frame – we begin to descend upon many distortions. What is really cool is how the girl, her brown eyes and her torso appear to float in the air, while we also capture the reflection of Vaughton himself in the glass.
Image credit Keith Vaughton
In street photography, I have often thought, the hunter while searching for their prey is really, simultaneously – myself included – seeking out their own identity in a relatively anonymous world?
To our left, in Vaughton’s photograph, there is a woman staring out at the street photographer and a Costa sign in reverse reflected in Caffe Nero’s glass. Could it be, on the planet of coffee chains, the Costa sign – reversed – is, in fact, regarded as the work of the devil! For Caffe Nero it might be?
The visual sociology of street photography has an, undeniable, powerful draw. That street world with its immediacy rushing in on top of the street photographer while they, in turn, intrude upon the everyday. Irony, juxtaposition, evidenced narrative all oozing from these clever and intriguing shots. As Vaughton eludes, often difficult to master but well worth the effort.
In plate glass the street photographer finds hidden depths, the unseen shadows and shapes of that metaphoric existence.
Street photography is nicely placed to capture these soul mirrors. As, in life, the outward appearance is only one part of a much larger story, for me, the glass reflecting can be a metaphor for that.
Adrian Markis is a Buenos Aries based photographer