ebook review: Street Photography for the Purist

Posted on 14 June 2010 by Tomas Webb

I was reading recently how there has been an increasing trend for editors to expect photojournalistic output to be in colour. It reminded me of how street photography seems to be evolving from a purely film based black and white medium to colour, in part thanks to the (digital) Leica M9. This book is about (returning to) the basics.

Forward

With 48 pages of forwards, this isn’t your conventional (e)book. Yet the forwards each provide their own contextualisation that increases the anticipation of Chris Week’s work. Each introduction is accompanied by photos from that author. Each photo is given a page of it’s own, just like a gallery presentation. And it’s at this point that I must say: this book deserves to be printed. While there are benefits to the electronic medium, the images need to be seen in print form!

Returning for a moment to the forward, I’d like to draw your attention to a point raised by Severin Koller. Severin, in his forward, says that street photography includes spontaneous portraits, capturing moments, capturing joy, capturing anger. Furthermore, Mathew Craig states a true street photographer is armed with a Leica M body and a roll of tri-x. (Tri-X of course being the staple of hardcore film shooters for years*.) While not all of us can afford a Leica M, the main point is that a rangefinder allows the connection with the world that defines street photography; or, put more simply by Pawallek, remember that you want to find an unassuming camera.

Chris on the street

Chris’s writing reflects the genre he is writing about. Sharp, staccato sentences punctuate the page. No holds barred. You’d be better off studying the art of shadowing and surveillance than photography to be a successful street photographer [...] Not some pussy with a scope up in a tree waiting for some hapless f**king deer with no chance against a 30.06. Chris is direct and to the point. Street work has more to do with how you blend in to the scene, and less about how good you are with a telephoto lens waiting for your prey.

Leica M6 & Noctilux
Creative Commons License photo credit: 九九丸

Could there be anything better than a camera with thirty-six chances, an iPod and a foreign city or your own for that matter to explore?

In the context of street photography the tools are a rangefinder and black and white film with a suitable
ISO/ASA.

A roll of film. A rangefinder with fast glass. Patience. And the desire for a simple adventure on the streets. And love.

Chris doesn’t hold back about his love for Leica. While he admits that some other brands of rangefinders can work, in his mind there is no substitute. Likewise, for Chris, digital and colour film has no place on the street.

While I can read peoples body language due to years of experience as a chef, security guard and now teaching, I can’t read moments. I’m too used to dealing reactively, rather than pre-actively. For Chris and many street practitioners, it’s about capturing that moment. You know the one. The one that passes and isn’t seen again until you hit the darkroom. The iconic image that defines the human element.

Despite his directness, Chris provides some light relief along the way. Although you may need to be in on some of the jokes: Wear really comfortable shoes. I prefer sneakers. Not Converse, though, unless, that is, you live on the East Side and it’s cool. ;) . But street is like that. It is almost like a profession – with jargon and moments shared between those on the inside.

I make photos; I’ve never said I could teach another to do the same.

And make photos he does. I’ve long been a fan of Chris Week’s work. He may not be able to explain the finer points of composition, but he creates photos that engage.

A photographer must be able to control EVERYTHING when it
comes to making photos.

結界
Creative Commons License photo credit: VisualAge

It’s been a while since I read this book. And everytime I do, it makes me want to ditch the batteries in my Bessa (the batteries only run the lightmeter) and hit the streets. What stops me? I live in a semi-rural area. But sometimes I head to the city and try my hand at street photography. So far I haven’t captured anything worth sharing. But I won’t stop.

Buy this book!

Remember how I said this book needs to be printed in order to truly appreciate the work? I still stand by this statement. And if it was $100 or less I’d buy it. But all it will cost you is a little bandwidth.

I want those who are meant to see this; to see it,

And see it they shall. Click here to download yourself a copy. If you like the street genre, you’ll like this book. Even if it is just for the photos.

*Interestingly, Chris Weeks lists the details of the photos included in the last section of the book. It seems his preference is for Ilford Delta 400.

3 Comments For This Post

  1. RandyB Says:

    I really like Chris’s stuff too. His blog is off-putting at times, he has quite the ego and is somewhat of a dick. But he has some great work up there as well.

    Anyways, I also really liked a mini documentary he was in

    http://www.vimeo.com/6497905

    Theres part one, its in 3 parts. If you like this ebook at all you’ll like the video too.

    [Reply]

  2. mano Says:

    Well I’ve read part of this ebook and I didn’t know who Chris Weeks is until I found his site online. OK, he’s a pro who uses the M9 and has access to photograph Hollywood stars. Nothing new here. Also the ebook is recommended by Wikipedia as a “guide”.
    But, it is so badly written and the “street” photography in there so mediocre that I really stopped reading after about 20 pages.
    Most of the shots are random pictures of people doing uninteresting things in cafes in the subway and on the street. The kind of random shots you see when you search for “street photography” on flickr.
    I really wonder, other from the fact that this Chris Weeks guy is a pro with Hollywood access, what make people recommend this book as a “street photography” guide.
    Apart from the fact that the word “fuck” is repeated several times everywhere, actually the “advice” in there reads kind like a Leica ad. The “purist” part of the title refers to the photographer’s persistance to film usage. Anecdotal stories about exposure calculations and difficult situations are told in a puking heroic and self promoting tone.
    Out of a perverse curiosity I perused all the pictures till the end of the book. Nada, nothing, nope. Not one memorable shot. People’s backs, some dogs, some boring bar shots, horrible composition and not one interesting situation. The photographer somehow thinks that the only camera worth doing street photography is a Leica with B/W film. That’s the “purist” part.

    As a conclusion I totally hated this book and the photographer’s attitude. Instead of reading it one can spend his time doing something far more useful like watching TV or something. (Yes, I’m sarcastic).

    [Reply]

  3. jimmy Says:

    I agree with mano, the photos in the ebook are totally worthless. I am not sure where he gets his ego when he produces such totally sub-par work. The ebook was good for a laugh only.

    [Reply]

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