Street photography deals in everyday scenes, right? And this is, believe it or not, an everyday scene. At least it is if you live in Moscow, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a traditional place for brides to place bouquets.
Here, Frances Schultz used a technique that was widely used by the great French Humanist street photographers: choose a location that provides a good background, then just wait until the right person walks into shot. This is, for example, how Henri Cartier-Bresson shot his famous (and cropped) “puddle jumper” picture.
But waiting for the picture wasn’t all she did. She chose a 90mm lens for her Nikkormat (or it might have been a Nikon F), partly to keep out of the way of wedding parties, and partly to compress the perspective slightly. The Eternal Flame itself is quite a long way in front of the Tomb, and the Tomb is a fair way in front of the Kremlin wall. Look at most stock shots and everything is much more spread out. With the 90mm, it is more of a piece.
The Soviet Union still existed in those days, so it was the days before digital: she was shooting on Ilford black and white film. Then again, she still does. So far, so traditional. Using real film meant that she was able to print on real photographic paper – this is her favourite, Ilford Multigrade Art 300 – and then to hand colour it, principally with Marshall’s Oils ((which are still available).
Image Credit: Frances Schultz
Hand colouring provides a unique blend of unreality and hyper-realism, and even more than usual it calls into question the “objectivity” of street photography. Some like to pretend that they “only record what is in front of them”. Well yes. But they decide what is going to be in front of them, and (via choice of focal length) how much of it will be included. They also decide when to press the shutter release. Some choose to use black and white; others use colour. How “objective” is any of this? All these decisions are subjective, selective and essentially editorial. So is the choice to use hand colouring.
One of the things I try to do on this site is to try to challenge people’s assumptions about what “is” and “isn’t” street photography. There are those who try to limit it to the black and white which was pretty much inevitable from the earliest days until the 1960s. Some maintain that you can only use wide-angles, preferably prime lenses on rangefinder cameras, though the late Willy Ronis was very fond of zooms on his Pentax SLRs. Others seem to believe that “real” street photography must always include people; people whom the photographer can or even should, according to the beliefs of some, treat rudely and exploitatively. Then there are those who believe that street photography has to be “near home”: that if you go to (say) Moscow, it somehow stops being “street photography” and becomes “travel photography”. But of course Moscow is close to home if you live there, as our friend Oleg does. So is Beijing if you live there: Frances shot more street pictures in China (and hand coloured them) almost 20 years after she shot this.
So: this was shot far from home for us (we were living in California at the time); with a long lens on an SLR; and hand coloured. There is no such thing as breaking the rules when it comes to street photography, because there aren’t any. All that matters is your own vision.