This has been a journey. For almost five months, from 29th of June 2021 to 21st of November 2021, I have been pursuing the exercises in this book. Wandering the city streets to hone my photographic ability.
The book I’m talking about is The Street Photographer’s Manual written by David Gibson. Contrary to its name it is more of an exercise book than a manual. It starts of with a table of contents, foreword and introduction and then continues into the meat and bones of the book, the exercises.
The exercises, or projects as the book calls them, are divided between five thematic chapters and each project corresponds with its chapter theme. For example the project Events is in the chapter Busy. Between each project is a summary of a prominent street photographer to draw inspiration from. The book ends with a conclusion, glossary, bibliography and an index.
I must say that this book helped me become a better street photographer. By forcing me to photograph in ways I hadn’t thought of before it honed my skills and my eye. The book’s various projects gave my photography purpose and a reason to go out and shoot as often I could. It also helped to reduce my social anxiety. By exposing me to the things I feared the anxiety’s grip slowly loosened and as a result my confidence grew. The beast that is social anxiety will probably never completely leave me but by continuing to pursue street photography I can keep it in check.
If a photographer with social anxiety wants to use this book to get into, or become better, in street photography my advice would be to rearrange the chapter order. First I would do Chapter 4: Still to ease into shooting on the street as the exercises doesn’t require you to photograph people. Then I would progress to Chapter 2: Quiet, now you have to photograph people but can do so stealthily. Just skip exercise 2, Following, and you should be fine. After Chapter 2 has been completed I would continue to Chapter 3: Abstract, here you apply the techniques from the previous chapter but with an abstract twist. At this point you hopefully have become more secure with photographing people and can progress to Chapter 1: Busy. These exercises will put you closer to people and it will be harder to be stealthy. If you managed to complete chapter 1 successfully you are now ready for the book’s last chapter, Chapter 5: Subjects. Here you will apply everything you have learned on this journey to complete the last few exercises. A word of warning, skip the chapter’s first exercise, Children, to avoid getting yourself into serious trouble.
So to recap, my recommended chapter order would be:
- Chapter 4: Still
- Chapter 2: Quiet, but skip exercise 2: Following.
- Chapter 3: Abstract
- Chapter 1: Busy
- Chapter 5: Subjects, but skip exercise 1: Children.
Overall I think this book is really great and I learned a lot from it. My only criticism would be that some exercises are a bit London centric. For example the exercise Doubles in Chapter 3 wants you to use reflective surfaces to create a kaleidoscopic doubling effect in your images. This was impossible for me to accomplish because the city I photograph in doesn’t have buildings with those kind of large glass surfaces the exercise requires. And one more thing, the exercise Children in Chapter 5 should be removed. I understand the author’s argument that children are also a part of the street and there shouldn’t be any problem with photographing them, but this will not fly in reality. Someone just attempting to photograph children could get into serious trouble where I live and this also applies to most of Europe.
Besides these two contentions I still recommend the book to anyone interested in street photography, both for beginners and experienced practitioners. By committing yourself to its exercises the book can increase your photographic skill and sharpen your eye or, if you find the exercises to easy, serve as inspiration for your own projects.
After writing this article I decided to make darkroom prints of my best photographs made during the entire project. I wanted to have a physical representation, a memento, of the work that was made and so I spent most of December with this task. Where I live the sun sets at 15:00 during this time of year, and when it gets dark it gets really dark, so there wasn’t much else I could do photographically.
As I had shot four rolls of film for this project I needed a way to slim down the selection. Most of the photographs taken are not that good so I decided to represent each exercise done with the best photograph taken for the respective exercise. One exception to this was the last exercise, Vertical/Horizontal, were I decided to print two photos to represent it’s dual nature.
I am really glad that I did this. It is satisfying to see the photograph slowly appear on the paper during development and later to hold the final product in your hands. If you have the means to make darkroom prints from some of your work I highly recommend doing it.