Street Photography in South America

Street photography. Look it up in the dictionary and it could say: ‘See Henri Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment. Also see under very hard’. It can be really frustrating, and really rewarding. “You need a great moment, and some great light, and then you need to actually be there at just the right time to capture it, and then you must create an interesting composition and image of all these elements. The changes of all of this happening at the same time, are very very small” — Said by, I believe, Doug Menuez and very true.

South America was for me, a trip to delve much deeper into and learn street- and documentary photography. Also the subject of the Photoexperience.Net workshop in Peru. For months I wandered the streets of towns in Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Every day, hours and hours of walking and searching, searching for the light, the moment, the skill, the vision to have it make sense, make some great images of great moments. Sometimes (read: rarely) I would get up and walk the streets in the morning, but always I would walk the streets in the afternoon and evening shooting and failing, lots of learning by failing. Some days, here it is a market in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, I would have great light and shoot straight into beautiful soft afternoon light, diffused by clouds but still casting shadows, wishing, wanting for a great shot but mostly just getting the light and nothing else:

But where’s the moment, that moment of real-life worth capturing? Not interested in banalities, nor comic moments but some real life moments with meaning, be it sad, happy, absurd or scary, and a view into the life of others. So you shoot. Shooting hundreds of shots, sometimes several days without anything even remotely usable at all. Street and documentary photography demands this. Tests your patience (and I have little). It kicks your arse, tells you to go deeper, to find more meaning, give more of yourself, get over yourself, get in there, get closer, then get closer again. It seriously frustrated me many, many days and on top of that, most people in Argentina and Bolivia said no! to any type of shots and hid when they saw my camera. Most images were shot candidly and stealthily, like a thief on streets stealing moments and images. Not my favourite feeling. “Get over yourself, get in there, get closer, get images, find the image within the image” but many days I failed this. Then, in those once in a blue moon moments where everything comes together, it is an inspiring moment of great joy to have frozen a worthy moment in a worthy image. Again, Santa Cruz, Bolivia and one of my favourites from South America. A strange composition to many I am sure, but I like the three women, their expressions, the frozen moment, the zig zag of the light and shadow in the image:

Many things finally clicked in the workshop in Peru taught by Daniel Milnor and Adam Weintraub. Many weeks of frustration was rewarded when things suddenly made sense, technique and vision started coming together and the pieces of the puzzle in the street and layers in the street image all began to feel natural. Street photography is always hard, supposed to be hard, will continue to kick and trip me, but feeling inspired and enlightened by months of practice and then the workshop I shall keep walking, keep searching, keep shooting. Get over myself, get closer, get deeper, realise that great images takes a lot of work and happens very rarely.

10 Comments on “Street Photography in South America”

  1. really nice and ‘so true’ story, i like what you write cause it’s sometimes so frustrating…but i always say to myself, ‘believe in your self’ keep going, keep pushing yourself, to get into that ‘zone’..than it will happen…good for you my friend,…keep shooting!

    1. You too my friend, keep shooting. It’s the nature of the beast I guess that we question ourselves tremendously. And we are in a way always ‘exploiting’ people in trying to get the images.

    1. Hi Rad. “Get over yourself” is one of the things I remember Daniel saying. It’s really hard for me, but keep pushing. Martin Parr said at a talk last week, that he feels no guilt in having ‘stolen’ and image and so just wander in, shoot, and wander off.

  2. Your doing so great Flemming, you say that you have little patience but somehow I think you must have lot’s as you have been pushing yourself to the limits to get what you want and it’s paying off. You should be very proud of yourself.

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