John Gill - 'Street Photography' 28/10/20

Last Wednesday saw club members experience a real treat in the form of speaker John Gill and his talk on Street Photography. Attendance was high with just shy of 50 attendees, including visitors from both Sweden and Los Angeles!

The evening started with John taking us through a project ‘After the Coal Dust’ that he had completed with his wife, portraying former mining communities. We then moved on to view some of John’s street work and his ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ images as well as some more recent work based on the COVID-19 situation. John’s work is primarily focused on candid images and he shared his belief that street photography should have engagement of some sort, so it’s important to get the subject facing the camera as it tells you so much more. For that reason, he doesn’t tend to ask the subjects’ permission which certainly gives a vulnerability to his work in the way the characters are portrayed.

John’s candid approach has proved to be quite divisive in terms of those who support it and those who find it invasive. It was fascinating to hear John’s tales of the comments he has received when sharing his images on Social Media – particularly when sharing the small number of photographs of the homeless he has captured. It was certainly thought provoking in getting us all to consider our responsibilities as a photographer to not exploit but rather highlight the breadth of the society we live in both positive and negative.

The work shown throughout the evening was entirely mono with John discussing his former dark room work and his desire to create a film-like look to his digital images, helping to convey a gritty realism. To maintain discretion when photographing his subjects, John tends to use a mirrorless camera – ether an Olympus or Panasonic – with his preference being a 28-35mm lens set on Programme mode. This set up allows John to get close to people although he did share a word of caution about choosing your subjects wisely! He keeps things simple with no titles and avoiding focusing too heavily on technical quality.

“Street photography is about an emotional response rather than a technical quality. It’s about giving the view just enough information for them to interpret the photograph. Images can say as much about the viewer and their preconceptions and prejudices as it does about the subject of the photograph.”

During the evening, attendees were able to ask questions about John’s inspiration and the types of events he’s photographed. John shared that he takes inspiration from Bill Brandt and Bert Hardy in terms of how he aims to present his images – although acknowledged that some of Brandt’s images were set up. He’s also photographed a number of outdoor events, protests and gatherings, but mentioned that these can present their own challenges in terms of isolating a subject.

All in all it was a highly engaging evening on an interesting photographical approach that all members can practice at. I look forward to the possibility of more Street Photography images from members in the future who have taken inspiration from the evening.

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