Urban… a bit closer

This post has been waiting in my draft folder for some time now so that it was time to finish it and share it with you. A couple of weeks ago we went out to have some fun and take some urban portraits. The idea was simple: combine urban photography which is often devoid of people being a large compositional aspect with, you guess, people. In the spirit of urban photography, the setup had to be basic: available light only, no  additional lights and/or reflectors to keep a realistic look, minimal post-processing.

We only had the early afternoon and the light was harsh enough to pose several challenges, in particular without a fill -> hunting down open shades. Moreover I had only my OM-D with a 90mm equivalent at hand which is an amazing camera + lens combination, but the micro 4/3 sensor has its limits and the 90mm pushed the composition in a very subject-centered direction with a bit too little environmental perspective for my taste; compare these shots to the typical 35mm perspective and you will immediately know what I mean. Nonetheless for a first try with less than an hour of actual invested time I am quite happy with the results – say portrait with a little bit of urban feel, “urban PORTRAIT”, is fitting. Ok, given such an amazing model, how much can go wrong anyways?

I did not want to see any larger amount of “green” in the pictures. Sure small amounts are fine but excessive amounts of green from trees etc. is pretty far away from urban and much more nature. Also a subtle, warm look was fine however the overall appearance was supposed to be a bit blueish, grayish -> urban. We choose a slightly rundown area in Hannover, Hannover Linden, and we walked through the streets until we found some interesting locations fitting the scheme – it had to be real. Like as if you could have just walked by. In the shot above it was the red brick wall together with the parking cars on a long street. It could have been just any street and that is the point: generic enough to be realistic but still specific enough for the theme.

Some time ago Sugar Ray Banister quoted somebody else having said “Die Symmetrie ist die Kunst des kleinen Mannes”  which essentially means something like symmetry is the art of the simple minded  and we joked about it as we both indulged ourselves in searching for straight, rectangular compositions; content had to give way to form. Although I do not consider myself simple minded I do consider myself simple enough for extended periods of 90°-straight-line-masturbation. When I saw this run-down wall of a house with some red, absolutely ugly and pointless graffiti and this perfectly straight line separating it into two, I was immediately hooked. How much more urban can it be?

While roaming through the streets to look for other locations I got into some kind of a dialogue with myself arguing the pro and cons of technology proliferation in art in general but specifically also in photography – btw, if you haven’t seen it, check out the documentary “it might get loud” which also addresses a similar issue (among other things) but in the context of guitars and music. On the one hand I do like the work of several photographers that work with a lot of different lights, creating strong illusions which are as far away from reality as possible. In particular in fashion and advertisements I feel that there is a strong tendency towards illustrations and I do like it a lot. On the other I often find myself not being interested in constructing emotions and atmosphere out of nothingness but more interested in giving reality a gentle push into my direction. On a metaphysical level one might want to think of it as integrating the environment and perception into vision rather than redesigning reality to fit vision. The harsh observer might concur that I essentially lack a strong enough vision and/or the drive to put it into reality. But this is not the case. I just do often like reality the way it is with minor modifications. In this spirit, the last shot, while still taken on a sidewalk, is less urban and has a slightly warmer, more fashion-ish appeal with a strong backlit, out-of-focus component adding some busyness to the picture – hey it is still urban, so calm is not an option.


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