Before I start this latest rant of mine, let’s just be plain honest about it:
Don’t we all secretly (or openly, as it is my case) hate the so-called purists?
I mean, they’re everywhere: be them audiophiles (or, as the hydrogenaud.io community has grown accostumed to call them, “audiophools”) who make the simple and pleasant habit of listening to music a thing only enjoyable by a few, golden-earred, middle-aged, rich, equipment fanboys… or then, middle-aged men (again!) who, just because they own an expensive, branded motorbike, think they’re in the right to sport a stiff upper lip, as if the road belonged only to their brotherhood, to whomever dare to take their “lesser”, low-HP, two-wheeled motorized vehicle for a Sunday afternoon ride, just to enjoy themselves.
In summary: these killjoys are everywhere! No matter what field of hobbies/entertainment you decide to take up on for the sheer enjoyment of the activity (just like it should be to every hobby), you’re bound to find such group of people whom, thinking themselves as some kind of Olympic demigods, think (better, are sure) they’re in the position to dictate the fashion; to shun whomever dare not to follow their gospel (which they’d blindly absorbed from some other equally stiff-upper-lipped twat, no questions asked) just because that’s what they think you should do in order to enjoy said past-time, hobby or craft you’ve decided you’re gonna take up from now on, in order to just have a good time.
Give credit to those preciosists (I also have openly hated this word since day one), and you’re bound to become just like them: a flock of trend-obeying, fashionistas who are in just for the sheer joy of pestering other people who dare to challenge whichever stupid jargon, cliché or blind faith they dutifully follow like sheep!
Yes, boys and girls, photography-wise, this time we’re gonna talk about that cliché which is like religion to some “street photographers”:
“When it comes to street photography, only wide angle lenses will do!”
Oh boy! Where should I start at on this one?
First, thinking as the majority of people who could not give a rat’s backside to just another silly commandment meant to take the fun out of photography, this has obviously got its roots in the fact that, 99.99% of the great street photography masters of yore have used, said wide angle lenses 99.99% of times, in the taking of their ad-hoc masterpieces…
Of course they have! That’s what, they owned most of (if not all of) the time, to start with! It’s a simple fact of life that optitians have come a long way in terms of mastering long lenses’ weight, size and later, in the second half of these +150 years of photography (think Kodachrome) chromatic aberration as well! A quick read at the late and great Geoff Crawley’s technical (but down-to-earth) articles in the pages of old Amateur Photographer or Shutterbug issues will show you just that.
We should obviously take into consideration that fixed focal lenghts were the de facto standard (arent all standards in fact, erm, de facto?) and that, zoom lenses, along with SLR cameras, were, till the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, still a novelty – and so were their spread-out use.
Fact is, we should all look up at the work of the old masters of the last two centuries for sheer inspiration, but we are free to go on and try our own technique – not just bl**dy emulate them!
And so the legend took wings in the hands of the purists…
Their usually blazé approach to not using zoom lenses with (glup!) telephoto ends have only contributed to the vast majority of portfolios looking like they were taken, apart from a few exceptions like Meyerowitz’s or Parr’s, by exactly the same person! They just don’t want (dare) getting out of their comfort zone – even though they claim it’s us telephoto users who are the cowards “by not getting up and close to our subjects” in the first place.
I (un)politely beg to differ: at least we dare shooting with a piece of equipment they’ve usually written off their gear list as worthless and, most importantly, come back home with a photograph we wouldn’t have taken in the first place, had we given ears to their gospel and only carried wide angle glasses in our bags in the first place!
I mean, at least we don’t bow to archane teachings that only a certain equipment will do (think of the audiophiles’ overly-expensive gear or stuckup bikers’ one-branded rides) whilst in fact, photography per se, should be all about going out and taking a photograph in the first place!
Some of my shots used to illustrate this article were taken with (preciosists, you should look away now) even a 400-milimeter lens!
Why? Either because that was the only glass I happened to carry at that time (on my way to or from a bird-shooting trip) or that, most importantly my distance to the subject at that very precise (decisive) moment happend to be dozens of yards and it was either taking that very shot there and then or coming home empty-handed! Zero! Nothing! Nada!
For shots like these, (or for their own peace of mind) quite probably the same preciosists have coinned terms like “candid” or “photojournalism” to designate said telelphoto shots – I still call them street photography! First because they’re mine and I dare call them whatever pleases me – the viewer though, is free to agree or disagree and call them the above or even “Gertrude” or “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” shots – it’s a free world after all!
My pickle with these people is that, from the height of their self-assumed expertise they see themselves in the right to justify their (usually) mediocre, monkey-see-monkey-do portfolios (just like audiophools do when having their purist concepts challenged into taking part in scientifically-sound ABX blind tests that would prove their hearing being none better than the average Joe’s) with jargons and teachings that seem to add nothing to the enjoyment of photography per see.
If anything with such attitude they’re only driving more newbies into this weird, downward spiral that street photography has seem to become: a series of cliché photos that day in, day out, make street photography look like a thing for a few good men only! That is, they’re paying a real disservice to street photography!
Wide angle obviously have great optical (and psychological) effects exclusive of their own (interaction, “being there”, etc.) but if they’re arent careful with their preaching, they be also contributing to subjects that end up being photographed as if they were rabbits in the headlights, and that’s definitely no good!
On the other hand, little said newbiews will know that they’d be probably missing on a few great effects inherent to longer focal lenghts, such as compression, subject isolation, etc.
So, one just have to ackonwlege that, whatever you use to photograph street scenes, can and will be called “street photography” – no denial about it. Fact is, purists won’t just acknowledge that and spread misinformation. And that, in my opinion, is a real shame!