Photowalk with Me
I've been scuffling a bit lately. Feel like I'm in somewhat of a rut. I haven't been super happy with my job for... some time now, so I want to lean on my personal, creative work. But that's slowed too. My writing has stalled a bit, and while I was taking a lot of photos about two months ago, I've started to worry I'm stagnating. I want to advance my style, elevate my photos beyond where they are now. I plan on writing more about this in the near future, but for now, suffice to say I'm searching for it.
But if the old baseball adage is anything to go by, you've got to hit your way out of a slump. You can't do it on the bench. With that in mind, I decided to go out for a photowalk this week, in the middle of a decent thunderstorm. I figured umbrellas always look good. Looking back, I think this is not the best strategy, as part of what I feel like I haven't been focusing on enough in my photos is intent, and stillness. I love working frenetically downtown, running around to get whatever shots might arise, but I think I want to try and slow down more too—but in a different way from working a scene.
Anyways, head out I did, and many photos were made. And as of right now, I'm happy with a good number of them. Some of them feel a bit closer to what I'm searching for, even though I'm not really ready to articulate what that is, yet. I thought it might be fun to write about my photowalk as a whole, and share some unedited SOOC JPGs I made while walking, so you can see the sorts of photos I take, and what I look for, while I'm out. I'll also include some of the final edits of the photos I made, so you can see how far (or close) I end up from where I start.
I started West, heading East on Jackson towards downtown. One of my first photos turned out okay, of a woman looking back at me from behind her umbrella. Here's that and my edit of it:
I cropped in to 4x5, an aspect ratio I feel really comfortable with. I'm not quite sure what draws me to this, and I'd like to work on leaving more photos at 2x3 in the future. I've also cropped to 6x7, another aspect ratio I like after shooting a Mamiya RZ67 for a few years. Otherwise my touch was pretty light, slightly warming the image.
I took a few photos of the expressway and the cloud-covered skyline:
These images are all pretty much the same. I was trying to find a good balance between the figure in the bottom left corner, and a passing car. Had I brought a tripod, maybe a long exposure would've been interesting, but it's rarely something I do. In editing, I brought out the clouds a bit more, adjusted the colors, but this isn't something I'm rushing to put on my portfolio:
I took a handful of photos before crossing the expressway myself, of a woman with an umbrella and a man smoking outside a restaurant. I liked the pop of color from the woman's shawl (and layered umbrella?) but was focused more on going downtown than stopping to compose a shot, so these did not turn out nice. I thought there might be something interesting between the sliver of the man smoking, and the looming buildings in the background, but this too did not materialize.
From there, I did not take another photo for 10 minutes. As I got into the city, I turned to follow the river north, up along where the train stations are downtown. It was fairly quiet, as you might expect in the middle of a weekday rainstorm, but I found a man walking with a red and white umbrella, matching a red and white barricade I thought was an interesting juxtaposition:
You can see I swapped my film simulation from the last set of images. This is my classic negative simulation, sort of a more aggressive filmic look with pronounced greens and reds. In the past, on a grey, rainy day like this, I would've immediately switched to black and white, but I've been trying to photograph more color on overcast days. I was trying to get as far over as possible, but the walkway was very narrow. You can see the edited shot here:
My next images come 13 mintues later, as I've pushed my way into the heart of downtown. More juxtaposition between the wet pavement, the bright crosswalks, and the obscured faces of umbrella-holding people.
I think it's the fourth image here that's the best, but nothing terribly exciting.
But by then I was into it. I made photos pretty much continuously from then on. Here's a woman crossing the street with her umbrella held sideways. Is she smiling?
I took my time on these next ones, getting a shot of a construction worker and a man with a unique hat smoking:
I like the way the smoke collects around the hand of the construction worker. Of course, for the second guy, I was waiting for him to look up, though neither the pose nore the composition is very dynamic. Here's my edit of the construction worker, though:
I climbed the exit stairs to the el platform to capture a group crossing the street. I liked the arrangement, as well as the yellow umbrella with the yellow-painted pavement:
I guess same as the rest of these, on a whim I decided to head into Millenium Park. I almost never go, as it's an insane tourist trap, but I'd recently described it to my Japanese teacher, and was once again struck by the absurdity of it all. A giant mirrored bean? I took a self portrait in the dirty warped reflection, and then ducked underneath where all the people had congregated:
Of these, I liked the straight reflections the best. I swapped that one to black and white in the edit, which became the featured image on this post.
I walked into the park, hoping there would be a nice shot along the walkway, but nothing caught my eye. I tried to exit to the North, finding myself blocked in by more construction. I photographed another woman with an umbrella, and found this flag at half-mast.
I've always been a little fascinated with American flags. We just put them all over the place, which naturally leads to some interesting juxtapositions. I've thought about doing a photo series with them; maybe I should.
This woman seemed a little lost; she kept starting and stopping, checking her phone. I asked her if she needed some directions, but she sort of mumbled no and waved me away; wasn't trying to spook her! I like how the shot turned out, though:
You can se it's very close to the original, leaning into the blue a bit more.
From there I made my way out of the park, and found myself at the base of a building with large columns. I hung out here for a bit looking for a photo. I swapped to black and white briefly.
I only ended up editing the last one in this sequence, here:
I made my way up to Michigan avenue, and crossed the bridge. I snapped a bunch of photos of pedestrians trying to shield themselves from the rain:
I like that the woman with the cheetah print umbrella becomes more perplexed over time, and how happy the folks without umbrellas seem to be. Here's how I edited those, and another confused bystander further along the bridge:
Right on the other side of the bridge, I saw this man with a hat I thought would make a good subject:
Of course, the winner for me is the one with the full reflection in. I swapped this one to black and white as well:
Or how about this wistful chocolatier?
I also captured this businessman, sort of a classic image:
I edited this one black and white as well:
I headed back West a bit, towards Trump Tower, and this parking garage with interesting walls. I wanted to get a shot of someone climbing the stairs, something sort of minimal, so I got underneath the stairs and waited:
I cropped this one in a bit and yes, swapped to black and white (this site isn't called "monochromatic" for nothing!) to play up the minimalism and highlight the lines.
Next, I ran half a block to catch up with this woman with a yellow and blue umbrella, just for a pop of color. But in the photo I took with her in it, she didn't end up being the subject:
I really like how this one turned out. There's something a little glowy about the light, from the big sign and moisture in the air, the out of focus woman in the foreground, the look he's giving me. Here's the edit:
I crossed the bridge back South again, and headed West towards Merchandise Mart. I got one more group of people with umbrellas, another image I'm really happy with, and a younger couple. I missed their moment; just after I photographed them, the guy's umbrella flipped inside-out, which made her laugh. It's so funny as a street photographer, collecting not only the images you do make but the memories of the ones you don't get for whatever reason.
And here's the final shot I edited:
All told, I shot 166 images on this trip, just under two hours of walking, and nearly 10 miles covered. I like the warmth, the haziness to some of these photos. It feels filmic to me without being completely over the top, or filled with grain. There's a softness to some of these images that I like.
I'm still trying to find what's next for my work, what it is I'm looking for. But I'm trying to break my own processes in a way. Shoot color when it's cloudy. I'm not sure where my photography is going, exactly, but I'm going to get it there.
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