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On location, cities, identity

We may hear that there are opportunities everywhere and that every place can present a chance for us to take interesting photographs. One doesn’t need to live in New York to do (street) photography. Is that true?

There are a few aspects we need to consider regarding what it means to find opportunities.
When we go out to take photographs, we usually think of a particular genre, a specific photographer, or a style that we like — and let’s put aside for a moment the fact that the best practice is to free one’s mind from all preconceived ideas. When someone says “Where I live there are no (photographic) opportunities” what that person means, the chances of getting pictures a la Winogrand, or Meyerowitz, or some other famous photographer, are not many. Ultimately, what that means, is that their environment is different from New York’s.

Joel Meyerowitz — New York
Garry Winogrand — New York

Let’s take, for instance, Los Angeles. It has nothing to do with the busy streets of New York. Not only that, the urbanistic is a different thing altogether, with its wide streets swept by drivers, nothing like the narrower paths of New York which are instead crowded by myriads of passers-by.

Matt Black — California’s Central Valley
Anthony Hernandez — Los Angeles

So, trying to shoot like Winogrand would do while being in Los Angeles, cannot carry the same chances of getting anything close to the famous photographer’s style.

If one compares Winogrand’s photographs based on where he took them, whether it was NY, LA, or Texas, one can’t help but notice how distant those photographs look from each other.

Garry Winogrand — New York
Garry Winogrand — Forth Worth, Texas
Garry Winogrand — Los Angeles
Garry Winogrand — Los Angeles

Let’s forget the crooked angle for a moment, and notice how bare the photographs taken in LA look like. The environment, with its desolating streets, and harsh light indicating there’s no shelter provided by the taller, contemporary buildings of New York, doesn’t resemble at all the typical modern urban city. People don’t use sidewalks much, as everything is so spread apart that one needs a car even to go to the grocery store.

The human presence is therefore almost an outsider element that doesn’t belong there.

With this, I’m not implying a difference in quality, but rather only stating how the environment can shape what we put into a frame. Forcing ourselves to approach a place like LA with the same method we would use in a city like New York, it’s just a misrepresentation of our reality.

Therefore, when we hear a photographer say “You have the same opportunities as any other photographer in this world to take good photos” I would say that’s not entirely accurate. The same photographer would never give up living in New York, and for good reasons. Furthermore, if opportunities were the same no matter the place, why would they choose 5th Ave and the like? Why transit to those areas, and not rather stay in their neighborhood, thus saving time, and money?

We all have our chances, as long as we adapt to our surroundings. Acknowledging that there’s something worth photographing also means we need to recognize its uniqueness, forget our preconceived ideas of what a photo is supposed to look like, and then adjust ourselves to what the environment is presenting to us. It’s the same in life. We need to reshape ourselves based on where we live. The environment, whether we like it or not, always ends up affecting our character. The same applies to photography.

As far as opportunities go, we do have them, but always in a given context to which we have to relate one way or another.


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