Mark Fly, a passionate and talented street photographer, has been on a number of our workshops. I asked him for some candid views on street photography and here’s what he has to say . . .
How long have you been practising street photography? – How did you get into it?
I’ve been practising street photography for around two to two-and-a-half years. I’ve had cameras for around 5 years. I got into it by accident, really. I was a member of a camera club local to me. I joined to improve my knowledge of how to use a basic camera when my children were very young as my family shots were absolutely dreadful! My wife bought me some coffee table reading – ‘The Photo Book’, published by Phaidon. It’s like a brief encyclopaedia of important photos and photographers from the last 100 years or so and I found myself drawn to the candid images within. I liked some of them so much I attempted to try and emulate them. Pretty badly as well, I might add, but I didn’t have a clue what I was trying to do or why I was trying to do it back then which is pretty fundamental for a photographer of any genre.
What is ‘street photography’? What does it mean to you?
I’m not a big fan of labels though I do understand people like to pigeon-hole different types of photography. I just love one-offs. Those moments in time you’d be very hard pushed to replicate. Micro expressions, funny situations, darkly comic takes on how people are perceived, beautiful light, terrible light, miserable weather. All of these things can make a great photo but the thing about candid or street photography I really like is how the individual has complete control over how the image is portrayed. We all have our own style or voice which becomes more and more obvious as we progress as photographers. To me, it’s an outlet from work. I have a hard physical job that pays pretty badly. I find photography very cathartic. Even if nothing is particularly happening around me as I walk around, there is a certain amount of mindfulness you get from just looking and watching the World go by.
Which street photographers do you admire – and why?
Until I joined the StreetSnappers community, my knowledge was pretty naïve at best! Gianfranco Gentile has put me onto some pretty amazing photographers who have produced some stellar work through recent decades. Saul Leiter is a very big influence. I’m very drawn to his saturated colour work. It’s hard to get past Vivian Maier for simple inspiration. Joel Meyerowitz is always interesting. Alex Webb is fantastic. Igor Mukhin has a brilliant view on life. The list is endless and thanks to some great contacts it keeps growing. At this early stage in my photographic journey I’m trying to absorb little snippets from everybody and I’ll try to experiment with my interpretation of their ideas to see what will work and what doesn’t.
How would you describe your own style of street photography?
Good question! Erratic?! I honestly have no idea how to answer that as it’s the human condition to be nervous of how we are seen by others. I enjoy colour and black and white in equal measure. I’m drawn to people and always have been so I guess they’ll always dominate my images as subjects. I have become aware of this and thought that it might be time to mix things up and take a grander view of things but I’ve found this one question the hardest to answer as I genuinely don’t know!
Has that style naturally evolved or have you made a conscious effort to steer yourself in a particular direction?
My style has most definitely evolved. I feel it is changing all of the time but at the same time, I notice things I do which appear in many of my images. I think the one thing that held me back from finding my own direction was membership of my camera club. I was becoming demoralised from poor marking by judges. I wasn’t expecting the highest of scores but I was getting murdered on merit and found the commentary and negative feedback was affecting my confidence. I was also getting very bored of experts with 300mm lenses taking random pictures of isolated, uninteresting people telling me where I was going wrong – not cloning out distractions, not blurring the background, trying to be too arty etc, etc, etc. You have to be respectful and listen but none of it seemed to be what I wanted to do so I began to fall out of love with the thing that actually got me interested in photography as a whole. I found Streetsnappers through another member of that Club, Jed Thornley and he suggested I give a workshop a go. I’ve been on workshops with others too and I feel that breaking away from that routine has really helped me identify the things I aspire to. Whether I achieve those or not is another matter but I definitely feel free to experiment and take risks now whereas before I was concerned by what others might think.
What challenges have you faced as a street photographer?
I’ve had an awkward scenario which I put myself into. Over confidence. I decided that the darker streets of Soho were worth investigating on my own, armed with all of the trappings of modern life on display including a nice camera and lens. I had to get myself away from a potentially bad situation very quickly and that rocked my confidence. Everybody thinks they are infallible and it won’t happen to them but if you don’t take care, it really can. It was a while before I went out on my own at night again. It was all self-inflicted and despite London being pretty safe, there are desperate people out there and if you do your best to make yourself a potential victim, odds are that you will become one. I’m much more aware of my surroundings now and only take what is absolutely necessary with me at night if wandering alone.
What camera / lens do you like to use?
I’m sure my camera is a constant source of amusement to most street photographers. I use a Nikon D750, one of the smallest full frames on the market but still the size of a house brick! Not very discreet. I absolutely love this camera. I know it inside and out and could use it blindfolded if necessary. In relatively good light, I use a manual focus, 35mm second hand lens and just zone focus. As night approaches, I use a 50mm f1.4 or 35mm f1.8. The funniest thing about this camera is the slap of the mirror. It’s embarrassingly loud. Occasionally, I’ll have it on burst mode and it’s a bit like a tommy gun going off. If I don’t get the shot, the moment is definitely lost after that quickfire burst which is the only thing that disappoints me about it. My choice of equipment wasn’t originally intended for street work so I just make the most of what I have available. At night, this camera is invincible in my eyes and never lets me down.
What’s your workflow and preferred post-production method?
I have a very simple workflow. I do all of the basic editing (perspective, contrast, highlights and shadows) in Adobe Camera Raw and then export to Photoshop.I never use Lightroom. Take away the library section and to me, it’s a more clunky version of Adobe Raw. I just can’t get on with it. I generally use Nik Colour FX in either B&W or colour emulation. Sometimes a combination of both, using blending modes (luminosity is a very powerful blending mode) to create a more punchy scene or pushing contrast and saturation – the latter of which I’m really enjoying at the moment. Each image will take me 15-30 minutes on average.
How and where do you share or display your images? Any plans to do more?
I have a simple Flickr account and I post images there regularly. They are usually a mixture of street and family images so not an easy viewing experience as it has become quite disjointed. It has been suggested that I start to prioritise my candid work and have an online portfolio for all to see. It’s heart-warming to hear that people are beginning to notice my efforts so I will make a conscious effort to bring my best work out to view more easily. Aside from this, Facebook forums for critique and advice. If anybody else could offer suggestions I’d be very happy to listen.
What about the future of street photography – where do you see it going?
What a difficult question! I guess what I admired about the trail blazers of this style of photography is that they undoubtedly had amazing talent and totally understood light and their cameras whilst having all of the limitations of film pushed upon them. It seemed harder to do what they did back then. Today, phones are becoming so advanced and so part of modern life you don’t notice them. It might be just my very simplistic view but I think that it might become simpler to be more discreet or invisible and maybe some of the skill will disappear because of this. Maybe that’s just a slightly ignorant, romantic view on things but it’s a difficult thing to really answer without putting a personal spin on it. Will cameras become obsolete and we will all just use phones? My biggest fear is privacy. The more technologically advanced we become, there always seems to be a way for somebody to find a way to be against something. There’s nothing rewarding about intentionally invading somebody else’s privacy but before long it’ll be easier for individuals to work out where they were photographed and by whom, even in the most honest of scenarios and I see lawsuits looming. It’s inevitable really. I notice that more and more land is becoming sponsored or privately owned in big cities, which in turn makes taking pictures impossible without prior consent. Kind of takes all of the spontaneity out of everything – if permission would ever be granted. Worrying times but until then, I’ll just enjoy it for what it is – relief from the stresses of work.