Mojo Falling – A Street Photographer’s Crisis of Faith . . .

. . . “Hello, is there (still) anybody out there?”

Truth is (and now over 3 months since my last post), it makes no real difference if there isn’t. Photography doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. There, I’ve said it.

Even presented with the opportunity to take photographs, I find my mind drifting towards other more attractive propositions, like playing guitar, or riding my motorcycle, or Lamb Balti Vindaloo.

A case in point would be last weekend and I find myself at my favourite campsite in Delamere, near Chester. This rather convenient ‘stop over’ is a particular first-choice of mine, specifically because it features a railway station not 50 yards from its entrance gates. Step aboard this incredibly swift and cost effective public service and the wonderous realms of not only Manchester and Chester, but also Liverpool are between 15 minutes and one hour away.

Having always fallen into the comfortably familiar routine of Chester on the first day (because it’s a Saturday and hence more people) and Manchester on the Sunday (it’s a huge city, so still busy), I’d considered it a refreshing change to try Liverpool.

old woman liverpool cuddles dog love street photography leica m9 m-e

Checking the excellent Trainline App on my iPhone, I find that for the surprising sum of just £11.55, I can buy a return ticket and be at Liverpool Lime Street in less time than it takes to write this article – I jump aboard the train at Delamere and head-off (I’ll skip the bit about engineering works past Chester on that day, requiring part of the journey to be taken on a cramped and smelly double-decker bus, itself taking 55 minutes).

Eventually I find myself in Liverpool and traditionally, the first task is to find a Starbucks.

Unsurprisingly in such a large place, this takes no time at all and I swiftly decide that today is treat day (I had been travelling for some 2 hours). Several minutes later, I’m the proud owner of a LARGE Starbucks Caramel Coffee Frappuccino, repleat with a huge dollop of whipped cream and caramel syrup on top. I sit down to enjoy this overindulgent delight, through an extra-long drinking straw.

Between sucking, swallowing and relaxing, I look around at my surroundings and in particular, the people walking through it. There are many of them. I also note others sat at tables around me and am particularly drawn to their facial expressions and the fact that their gaze appears to be centred on my extra-large beverage – a look of disdain . . . disgust even.

For here I sit with a contented grin, luxurious beverage in hand, the Leica M9 with sumptuous leather strap and impressively chunky lens placed nonchalantly on the table, myself wearing a long black leather coat and studded black leather cowboy boots and topped off with my favourite pair of Lotus ‘shades’.

Somewhat refreshingly however, the ‘vibes’ I’m receiving on this occassion, don’t seem to be having any effect. In the past I would have become overwhelmed with an incredibly uncomfortable sense of self-awareness and a massive feeling of self-loathing, or even guilt.

Unperturbed I continue to enjoy the sweet, creamy and unfathomably refreshing drink, ending with a joyous sluuurrrpppp, much I’m sure to the dismay of my ‘audience’. I place the empty cup on the table, pick up the Leica and walk away . . . in search of a Burger King.

A Father Feeds His Infant Son in Chester Street Photography Leica M9 M-E

As luck would have it and located just around the corner from Starbucks, was the aforementioned establishment. From the outside it appeared more than a little worse-for-wear, an impression swiftly confirmed upon entering.

The place was heaving and as it appeared, every area that could be utilized for the purpose of sitting down, had already been occupied. Still, I’m always happy to do ‘takeaway’.

Shortly I’m stood at the counter, ordering a ‘medium Amsterdam Whopper meal, with a tea, 4 milks, no sugar, to takeaway.’ Predictably the answer is ‘what drink with that’, followed by ‘milk, sugar’ and ‘is that eat-in or takeaway’?

Clearly the poor guy is operating on auto-pilot, could do with several nights good sleep and dare I say it, a shave. Still, it can’t be easy for him, serving hundreds of faceless faces every hour and whilst (under duress) attempting to give the Burger King customer script the full justice it deserves.

I cheerfully answer his questions and watch as he somewhat forlornly walks off to assemble the key components of my takeaway.

Shortly thereafter he returns with a brown paper bag, a cup of tea and 4 milks – perfect. Handing me the items, I look him in the eyes as he (painfully and with distorted features) expels the words ‘thank you sir, enjoy your meal.’ His facial expression and that excruciatingly laboured collection of vowels and consonants, hits the empathic receptors in my brain like a freight train – my right eyelid twitches uncontrollably.

Walking away and towards the door, a table miraculously becomes vacant before my very eyes and despite the remnants of the previous occupant’s meals remaining, I deposit my food and the M9 amongst the assorted wrapers, french fries, lettuce and sauces and proceed to ‘tuck in’.

Discarded Pizza and Box on the Strrets of Chester Leica M9 M-E

As a force of habit, the (cold) fries are consumed first. Only when these are finished, do I then turn to the main course, the piece-de-resitance, the burger.

I’d given up some time ago of making a point to ask for the burger ‘from the grill’, as nine times out of ten, the assistant would have no idea what this meant and after explaining, would always end with myself being told that the burgers on the rack had only been done ’10 minutes ago’.

Refreshingly though, this burger felt, smelt and tasted as though it had just been cooked and I proceed to devour it readily.

Glancing up during each joyous mouthfull, I once again become aware of more pairs of eyes, transfixed upon my unashamedly copious sandwich, then quickly looking away as my eyes meet theirs – then turning back to their own ‘inadequate’ cheesburger. Nothing however will draw my focus from the job in hand and in no time, the burger is no more.

Once again, I scoop up the M9 and head outside to achieve the one remaining goal occupying my mind (and the real reason for my being in Liverpool) . . . to find a good used copy of Gran Turismo 5, on the Playstation 3.

Having spotted what looked like the main shopping thoroughfare, in no time at all I had found a branch of Entertainment Exchange and to my great delight, a copy of GT5 for the paultry sum of £3.95. That will do nicely and having secured the game in my inside pocket (after paying for it 🙂 ), moved back out onto the street.

Nobody Spots Me Taking Photographs Except A Small Child Leica M9 M-E Street Photography

At this point it’s worth noting that at no time had the thought of taking photographs even entered my mind, nor did it really matter to me whether I did or not – and the reasons are twofold, the first of which may come as a surprise, especially from someone who regards and presents themselves as a Street Photographer . . . privacy.

Yes I know, it’s the one thing that has hung over street photography for sometime and especially more so recently. Putting aside the Legal rights to do so, what Moral rights do I have to go out into a public space and photograph complete strangers, their lives, their (perceived) faults, their interactions, or their unfortunate mishaps etc?

As an example, what if someone (and unknown to me) had photographed me enjoying my supersized frappuccino, or gorging myself on an enormous burger, or even worse, photographed the exact moment I slipped the computer game in my inside pocket? Then what if those pictures were published on some obscure website, or flickr/instagram/facebook? Then what if they were seen by (for example) a family member who, concerned for my dietary or spending habits, took issue with what they’d seen? What if the photograph of me slipping the game in my pocket, was misconstrued to show that I was in the process of stealing it?

This may sound far fetched and there is the old argument that our every movement is captured on CCTV, however these images are rarely (if ever) seen by the public and only by a relatively minor few from the security services etc.

Couple

What if I photographed two apparently innocuous people, a couple, supposedly in the grips of newly found love, when actually they could be two people having an affair? Both of them have told their other halves they’re away on business, or at a football match.

The second reason has nothing to do with privacy (in that sense) and everything to do with Leica and more specifically, Leica Camera AG themselves.

Up until the last few days, I’ve been bound under the terms of an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) concerning the newly released Leica SL full-frame mirrorless camera system.

The truth is that I (and a very small select few) had been given the opportunity to see, hold, use and discuss this very camera back in May (hence my double visit to London back then).

The terms of the NDA still prevent me from going into the finer details of the meeting, though I can say that it was (for me) a photographers dream made real and that Leica were utterly gracious as hosts.

An added bonus was the Leica goody bag handed out to all, as if any further tokens of appreciation were warranted. The ‘M’ Magazine, Leica mug, Leica memory card holder, pin badges and T-Shirt still hold favour today and see regular use. So what am I complaining about?

My biggest gripe is in the aftermath of that exciting couple of days. Shortly thereafter, two significant members of staff at Leica Mayfair suddenly left. They, as it turns out were my only contact with the Leica organisation. The review cameras (including the M-Edition 60) were all the result of two friendly and extremely helpful people.

Things had begun to look rosy and I started to believe that all of the devotion and hardwork towards my photography, writing and this blog were beginning to bare ‘fruit’.

A review of the then new Leica Monochrom 246 with lenses was lined up and ready for my second London visit in June – even talk of an ‘all expenses’ visit to the new Leica HQ in Wetzlar, Germany and a meeting with Stefan Daniel himself. Then everything dried up.

Since then, the ‘lines’ to Leica have gone cold. Emails requesting a review of the latest and greatest are never answered, an overwhelming message of ‘who are you’ is the only sense I can make from it.

Here then in summary are my thoughts on where I now am, photography in general, the industry, those who work in it and its audience:-

Due to the internet age that we now live in, nothing has any worth, everything is ‘so 5 minutes ago’, you’re opened up to all the hate and venom that the web can mustre, professional relationships can end in an instant and opportunities can disappear before you know it.

Why then would I waste my time and even risk mental or physical assault solely to collect photographs, only to ‘bung them up’ on this blog, or Instagram?

In fact – and I’ve realised this for what seems like an eternity – no one gives a shit . . .

Sour grapes? Possibly. Am I annoyed? Not really. Disappointed? Absolutely.

I’m off now to play my guitar – it’s a purely private and personal affair, heard by no one (except me) and therefore beyond judgement or comment. I am my own critic and audience. I’ve never had any illusions of it ever becoming more than a joyous experience and long may it continue.

Peace.

Author: Kevin Shelley

Street Photography. eBooks. Blog. Shoots and reviews cameras. Develops film. Writes novelesque articles.

15 thoughts on “Mojo Falling – A Street Photographer’s Crisis of Faith . . .”

  1. ‘Then what if they were seen by (for example) a family member who, concerned for my dietary or spending habits, took issue with what they’d seen?’ I’m concerned by your dietary habits, Starbucks and Burger King! Eek… Think of your arteries man! I nice wee salad is what you need

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    1. Hi Macjim,

      Thanks for the laugh, though you are quite right and a Frap and BK wouldn’t ordinarily form part of my regular diet.

      My latest favourite meal is sweet-pickled herring, with a rocket and tomato salad . . . and of course, the occasional Lamb Vindaloo Balti.

      Cheers, Kev

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  2. Kevin your expectations of SP are too high as are your expectations of others, bring the same approach to your pictures as you do to your music and your mojo will rise again !
    Seeing SP from your subjects point of view is a mature approach, missing from the mind set of many togs, its not a weakness.

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    1. Hi David. You are of course right on the money, I’m sure I do expect far more from my street than it gives (or is probably capable of providing). Maybe it’s because I’m quite passionate about it and despite my saying at the beginning that ‘I don’t care’, more than likely I probably do – which makes the reality of ‘almost but not quite’ all the more painful. Kev

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  3. There will be better photography days! You take great pics and there are clearly a few people who keep an eye on your blog. I was sent a link by a friend today, which might / might not help your mood and raise your spirits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2EO3aXTWwg So with that sent and that said, if you just want to play guitar, then have the most wonderful time doing so!

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  4. I don’t really know what’s going on in your head Kevin,but I’m grateful for your latest posting.——-I’m still struggling trying to find inspiration to “go back “to photography!—and your wonderful pictures DO inspire me!——I certainly don’t get to see what my son is doing(where ever he is?)—-you must have a whole bunch of followers,who like me,enjoy viewing stunning photographs. Not to mention your views on “Life” as you see it

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  5. Hi Kevin,

    Just like your photos, your post is direct, honest and not without humour. I don’t normally reply to blogs but felt compelled to make an exception. The irony is that I am also a street photographer and musician (jazz saxophone) – and I have just had the exact opposite experience to you! I have always struggled to feel even close to being satisifed with my saxophone playing, despite praise from others. I’ll keep this short, but in essence I would constantly best myself up for not being able to play all the things that are in my head. It was also becoming hugely frustrating to organise rehearsal time woth other musicians (life kept getting in the way). So I decided recently to hit the pause button on any serious saxophone playing and put the real emphasis on street photography (mainly medium format TLR with some other bits and bobs as well). All I need is me, my camera and some film and a desire to be creative. So I couldn’t help chuckling when I read that you have decided to rest your camera in place of your guitar! Anyway, I guess all that matters is that we all follow our inner compass – wherevr that is leading us. Good luck with your music Kevin – although selfishly I truly hope we haven’t seen the last of your photography because I love your work.

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    1. Hi Stuart and thank you for your message.

      Creativity is a funny thing, sometimes rewarding and often frustrating. As you say, more often than not, getting what’s in your head and making it whole can be a really upsetting exercise.

      In my case I find the music side of things less of a struggle than photography and writing.

      When you say that it’s difficult playing what’s in your head, is this the music of others, or the naturally occurring music in your mind?

      If the latter, my approach is to approach the instrument without any preconceived notions of what I will actually produce. Then I just hit a note or strike a chord, which sets the little ‘jukebox’ playing. From then on, I appear to have no real control over how the music develops (mainly the Blues), the guitar almost seeming to play itself.

      Enjoy your TLR, I must try to get out and use mine.

      Cheers for your helpful comments,

      Kev

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  6. Man I understand the crisis you are going through. I suggest Pepper #30 as a possible cure. Here a photographic great, Edward Weston, took something basic and converted it to art. Whenever I get into a photographic crisis I return to the pepper. Forget street, architecture or landscapes and return to the basics. A simple still life of a pepper. Even with modern digital try to capture a better pepper. Working quietly in a room with a pepper trying to get all the basics just right simplifies the world. It quiets expectations, removes doubt and leaves you with a bunch of shots of a pepper. Some you may even be proud of. Return to the pepper.

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    1. Hi Patrick,

      My internet has been down for the past few days but I think I know the series of photographs you are referring to.

      If I remember correctly, didn’t Mr Weston also shoot plants and flowers, which took on an almost ‘metallic’ quality, as though made in a metalwork shop?

      Rather than peppers, I live in the country and there’s plenty of fungus’s and bracken’s around here?

      Cheers,

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  7. Hello, just a wee note to say happy new year. Looking forward to the next post from you in the coming months.
    Flickr: thesrpspaintshop

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