STREET PORTRAIT THROUGH A FRAME

Street journalism or documentary photography has been shaping the way I shoot for the past few years. It is a genre that has opened my eyes to the world. To me, it is all about people. Without people in the frame, I feel there is no soul in the photograph. In almost every scene, it depicts their environments, social causes, life styles, emotions of the society and much more. One of the key elements is often a close-up capture (or portrait) of the subject. However, it is considered by many as staging, and not a true form of street photography (I have mixed thoughts about that). I have personally shot countless of portraits during my travels and projects. Some of the portraits really show great character that provoke thoughts and tell a story (and I keep a lot of these shots in my library). Steve McCurry has shot enormous amount of portraitures – Many of them are remarkable and exceptionally well done (His book “Looking East“, contained all his portraiture shots on the road).

However, I tend not to associate a true portraiture shot (as in a real close-up portrait of the subject with only the facial occupying the entire frame) to my street journalism works. I admit I am not a big fan of shooting portraits (I hate sticking my camera and lens right in the face of the subject, and you know I’m definitely not into getting subjects to pose). I have no doubt that portraits often bring out character and emotion of the person. But I believed that in documentary or street journalism, we have to show more than just that. And above all, it has to be natural and spontaneous. I tend to include a gist of the environment in my photograph to give viewers a clue to the surrounding, which often tells another side of the story. I like to illustrate how the subject is being connected to the environment or a secondary subject (if any). It has to be truly an unposed, untainted natural moment captured in time.

The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson, Photography Year 1980, LIFE Library of Photography , Page: 27

In this post, I had put together a series of street portraiture taken across various Asian countries I had visited over the past years. None of them are head-on portraits and none of them are staged. Almost all the subjects knew I was shooting them. I approached the subject close enough to interact and ‘blend’ in with them (I don’t like using long zoom lens to shoot from a distance). During my attempt to shoot these street portraits, I looked for elements that help to frame my subject and at the same time, using them to illustrate the environment that the subject is residing. To me, it has a better photojournalist reportage sense, and tells a story better.

Varanasi Train Station, India

Yangon Wharf, Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon Wharf, Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon Wharf, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Yangon Wharf, Myanmar

Varanasi Train Station, India

Swayambhunath Stupa, Nepal

Kopan Monastery, Nepal

Yangon Wharf, Myanmar

Varanasi Train Station, India

In Dein, Myanmar

Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal

If you love portrait shots, you may also want to check out one of my earlier post (“Faces and Portraits from an Outskirt Village“) containing a write-up with numerous portrait shots from Bungmati and Khokana Village in Nepal.

~Editorial & Photography by Loy Chuan (July, 2012)~

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Anthony Pond - 10 July, 2012 - 11:08 AM

Very nice work Loy. I especially like the first two images because they include a disembodied limb — hand and foot — of another person in the scene which implies more activity going on. It makes me wonder what was happening right before the shutter clicked. And I like the presentation in black & white. Wonderful framing of faces.

Anthony Pond - 10 July, 2012 - 11:11 AM

Postscript to my earlier comment: After looking at both posts I prefer the black & white over the color.

loychuan - 11 July, 2012 - 12:53 AM

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tony. Very insightful. Realized that you’re appreciating black and white too. I’ve been working on that quite a lot nowadays – Applying it extensively to my photojournalistic work. A lot more to learn but I’m enjoying it very much, and studying a lot of works from other great photographers too. Thanks for your comments!

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