Inspiration: Harry Gruyaert

The streetphotographers that inspired me the most so far are André Kertész for his brave experimentation with composition, Robert Frank for his poetic and captivating raw aesthetics, and more recently Matt Stuart for his playful humour and razorsharp eye for details. But if I had to pick one particular street photographer as my favourite it would be Harry Gruyaert.

Jean-Pierre Damen urban and street photography - PAR165048-768x513.jpg
(c) Photo by Harry Gruyaert

Being a true pioneer in colour photography, what makes Gruyaert stand out for me is his clever use of colours. His pictures, regardless of its subject are pleasing to the eye: their tonal pleasure is often instant. For me they show his love for cinematic sceneries, the ability to oversee a scenery and to catch all its dynamics and (colour)complexity in a single moment. (Of course this is a romantic idea, the hard reality shows that it rarely happens that a good photo is the result of a single shot.)

"Even elements that look dissonant at first serve their purpose"

Even though some of his photographs can be quite busy and even cacophonous, all the elements seem to find their proper place in it. And even elements that look dissonant at first serve their purpose. Often at second glance, they appear not to be out of place at all, but work like a visual cue. A visual cue that draws the attention and acts as an entrance to a second layer, often a repetition of some sort or simply a colour match with other elements, and thus creating a connection between initially unrelated elements. For this purpose he often uses graphical elements. Most often the graphical elements that the street supplies like traffic signs and other coloured signage. In this he clearly paved the way for modern street photography as we know it.

"What draws me most to his work is his melancholy"

What draws me most to his work is his melancholy. Because his heavy use of colours seldom draws a colourful situation. A lot of the times his work shows isolated figures, often photographed from the back, in a contemplative or otherwise socially secluded way. Where some might describe this as dreamy, I read misanthropy in it, a form of existential uneasiness, sometimes even plain out dystopian anxiety. That is also ignited by his apparent lack of humour, at least compared to likeminded photographers like Alex Webb and Martin Parr and later Matt Stuart and the likes.

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