Emma (see her selfie, below), who lives in Northern Ireland, first came on one of my workshops around 18 months ago – very much at the start of her street photography journey. She’s passionate about street (and, more recently, documentary) photography and is clearly a woman on a mission. Here’s her story . . .

Where did your journey begin? How did you become interested in street photography?

I received my first camera, a Nikon D3500, as an unexpected gift in 2019. I was hesitant at first as I wasn’t sure where to begin but I knew I wanted to learn in manual mode. I undertook a short online Open University digital photography course and although I passed I was left feeling uninspired. It provided comprehensive learning and I don’t regret it as I had to start somewhere but the feeling of indifference afterwards meant that I put the camera down for eight months!

Luckily I’ve always been an avid reader and chanced upon your 52 Assignments street photography book. I’ll admit I’d never heard of street photography before this and I was fascinated by the images. I decided to do a bit of research on the subject and that’s when I learned about StreetSnappers. Workshop booked, flights arranged, hotel sorted and in August 2020 I attended my first street photography workshop in London’s Southbank.

Why street photography?

I knew straightaway that I’d found the right photography path for me, it all just ‘clicked’ into place. It was all new but I never once felt daunted by the prospect of venturing into this unknown territory, it just seems to suit my personality. Within a few hours of that initial Streetsnappers briefing I was noticing vignettes of life, moments and connections that would’ve went otherwise unnoticed. I’m not naturally observant but once I have a camera and I’m on the streets it’s an entirely different story. I just instinctively switch on to the streets and I suspect I’m not great company as I’ll become all consumed by it! It’s liberating not knowing what is around the next corner and I love the challenge of reacting appropriately to each scene.

Capturing life in motion is thrilling in a way I wouldn’t experience from a stagnant subject. Of course some days go better than others but every moment immersed in the street is rewarding as it pushes my confidence, technique and works all the senses. I’m always instinctively listening out for something happening which is not in view – I’ve discovered many protests and entertaining scenes in this way.

Which great street photographers inspire you?

I adore the work of Brassai, Leonard Freed and Inge Morath but it was probably discovering Vivian Maier that enlightened me as to what was possible if you just carry your camera with you and aren’t intimidated by the streets. There’s an oddness to her work which appeals and at times a melancholy. Recently I’ve become more interested in a mix of street and documentary photography and for research I’m looking more towards photographers such as Tony O’Shea, Tish Murtha and Krass Clements.

What sort of subjects do you like to shoot? 

In terms of subject I’m not choosy, whatever catches my eye and has an element of moment, story-telling or ‘unusual in the usual’. I’m particularly interested in protest and demonstration situations or events with a religious element; I suppose I prefer picking out small events within large events. If I’m photographing a protest I’ll approach it from all angles, weave in and out of the action and make contact with the participants to get a better overall feel. I like connections so I’ll read the placards and check if there is an appropriate extra element to elevate it as an image. I respond to situations and I’m very much feeling over thought which maybe isn’t always a good way to work but it’s what is true to me.

How often do you go out shooting – and where?

I find it a lot easier to shoot around large cities such as London but it’s not viable to travel every time I want to hit the streets and so I’m trying to shoot closer to home more often. I have to make that work if I’m to continue with street photography in the long-term and so it’s a case of just getting out and doing it!

What challenges do you face as a street photographer?

I find street photography can be more challenging in N Ireland but not less rewarding. As a people we seem to operate on ‘high-alert’ and so it can be difficult to get candid shots. Suspicious behaviour does not go unnoticed and a camera will not always be welcomed in certain areas. I wouldn’t suggest that street photographers avoid N Ireland but it certainly requires a different approach.

In terms of challenges elsewhere I’ve accepted that it takes a bit of time on the street before you get into the way of it so I’ve learned to be patient at the start of the day. It’s a matter of staying alert and persevering. I firmly believe that if you put in the time and effort and stay open to opportunities that the image will come to you.

How would you describe your style (or what style would you aspire to?) 

As I’m still at the beginning of my street photography journey I feel that I haven’t yet found my style – that is hopefully something which will develop over time with exploration and practice. It’s something which I would like to achieve but I think it needs to develop naturally. I would say though that as time goes on I’m tending towards a more documentary style of street photography and that is something which I’m enjoying. It’s never been about the aesthetic for me – which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate an aesthetically pleasing scene or a bit of colour matching but I can walk away from it without capturing.  

What gear do you use?

When I’m out on the streets I carry both the Fuji X100V and XF10. I’m still discovering what they are capable of but it suits me to zone focus and go automatic as I want to be able to react quickly.

What is the next stage on your street photography journey? What are your plans?

I’m using this year to get back to basics, practice different shooting techniques and  streamline my lightroom catalogue. Everyday I become more aware of how little I know and so I’m doing a lot of research via books, magazines, zines, videos, documentaries etc and I’m interested in exploring the Irish street photography scene a bit more. I’m currently at the early stages of a couple of street photography projects which I’m excited about but they will be long-term.

In the meantime I have a few StreetSnappers workshops to look forward to and I want to improve my street portrait technique and learn more about black and white photography. By the end of the year I hope to have produced my first zine and develop a website. It’s all a work in progress and I’m enjoying the journey which is the most important thing!    Street photography has introduced me to so many new places and wonderful people and I’m very grateful for that and to StreetSnappers. I don’t believe any other area of photography would give me the same thrill of the chase or feel as rewarding. Of course it’s great when you get a ‘keeper’ but I can honestly say I love the process, learning and interaction on the street and so for me it’s never been about getting the ‘perfect’ shot …. it’ll be nice if it happens though! 🙂   

>> You can find Emma on Instagram at @_ginnywren and @belfaststreetsnappers <<

I love watching people grow and develop as photographers and I think Emma makes a very good case for following your passion and just going for it. If you have been on one of my workshops and would like to be featured in this section, please let me know.

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