Notes on street photography (part I): coincidence

In my ‘Notes on street photography’ I’ll be sharing my thoughts on street photography. By no means it is meant to be a comprehensive guide. It’s a personal learning experience that I want to share, based on my own experience and from conversations with likeminded people. And yes it might reveal some helpful tips. This first part is about ‘coincidence’.

One of the most intriguing topics in street photography is the concept of coincidence. There is this romantic thought that a street photographer just walks in the streets, sees one scene unfolds itself after the other , observes this with a razor-sharp eye, takes the perfect position and catches the scene with one click at exactly the decisive moment. And then continues his journey.

Well, not quite.

Because what exactly is coincidence? Coincidence implies a certain level of luck. But that raises the question if it is really coincidental (or lucky) that a good scene rolls out in front of your eyes. Is it coincidental that you are there? That you see it? That you have a camera with you? Is it coincidental that you manage to catch it in a compelling way?

Of course not.

It’s a romantic thought to attribute all this to luck. And romantic thoughts are attractive. The soccer player who scores one goal after the other, with almost divine smoothness. And who doesn’t like the story of the talented artist that paints one brilliant painting after the other, apparently without effort, as an example of his ultimate luck: to be born with absolutely irrefutable talent. We like to attribute skills to people we admire and we like to think that they were born with a supertalent that relieves them from any earthy responsibility, so we can discover the same talent in ourselves and pursue the same. But the scenario is far from reality, although there’s of course always the occasional exception.

Who doesn’t like the story of the talented artist that paints one brilliant painting after the other, apparently without effort

Actually I would want to take it a step further: street photography in all its random candidness requires careful strategy and planning. It is about finding the right way to approach a scene, carefully composing an image before it actually takes place, and having the skills to anticipate to an ever-changing environment in order to get the absolute best shot under the current circumstances. And even with the meticulous discipline that is required for all this, it is still probably the most inefficient form of art that can be practiced. Inefficient in the sense that the actual output, that is the number of good images from a single shooting, is most of the time extremely small. So in a way it requires some sado-masochism too.

Street photography is probably the most inefficient form of art that can be practiced. The actual output is most of the time extremely small.

So in the relatively short time I am doing (street) photography one thing has become painfully clear: coincidence does not exist.. Coincidence implies luck. And although luck certainly is an important element in street photography it is most certainly not the driving force behind good street photography.

Coming up: Part 2, building a routine.