Street photography. Assignment: Chennai, India

Posted in Travel at 6:18 by RjZ

Working in India, a photo essay

I’ve almost always taken pictures of things and not people. Things stay put. You might get a better picture if you can wait for the right light or for the distracting tourists to move out of the way, but if you can get yourself to a beautiful or interesting place, it’s not so hard to take a good picture. That’s been a very effective strategy for me and I am pretty happy with quite a few shots. I’ve often said that one of the most important parts of taking a nice photo is simply going to lovely places.

People are much more difficult. They move around. They’re busy doing something else. They might hit you if they don’t want their picture taken. Or worse, they might try to break your camera! Still, as much as I’ve tried to make sure no extraneous people ever made it into my carefully framed shot of the scenery, the few that worm their way into the shots are just the thing that everyone else looks at. The pyramids are a big pile of rocks, but that man riding the camel in front of it? That’s something. Angkor Wat might inspire Hollywood movies, but the beaming face of my traveling partner waving at the camera is what people want to see.

Good photos often tell a story and a pile of rocks just doesn’t capture the imagination as much as another person does. We tend to feel we have more in common with another person than with aincient relics. So, new camera in hand, I thought it was time to start learning street-photography, and India, perhaos surprisingly, may be the perfect place.

Where else in the world are unwilling subjects can become quite agitated as soon as a camera is pointed at them, in India, perfect strangers come forward and demand you take their picture as soon as they spot the big camera hanging from your neck. Better still, for most of us not living among the six million people in Chennai, most everyone I point the camera at is pretty interesting.

Over on my flickr site, then is a short photo-essay of people on the streets working one way or another. Clearly there’s more to taking pictures of people than just pointing and clicking! In nearly all of these shots I asked the person if I could take their picture before doing so and so they frequently have a posed look to them. I actually wanted that…I wanted them to engage the camera and hence you, the viewer. Plus I wanted to get used to getting right in someone’s face for a shot and seeing what happens, but I don’t think being rude is necessary.

For all it’s amazing scenery, India is awash in too much to see and so are many of these shots. It’s hard to eliminate all the background details and focus on the subject. As brave as I was, I wasn’t interested in actually disturbing these people, so all of these shots are as fast as I could make them. The result? While it’s fairly interesting to see some different street activities and it was great fun to take the shots, I’ll have to sort out what it takes to make something more than a snapshot.


  1. tess said,

    April 16, 2007 at 22:45

    my wish for you…i wish you could just be happy with your photos rather than apologizing for them. they’re wonderful. thanks for sharing your portraits. now don’t explain to me that they’re not wonderful! just take the compliment. :)

  2. Anonymous said,

    April 20, 2007 at 8:37

    How can you be happy with a photo unless you know it’s flickr worthy! Crazytalk.

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