I had the pleasure of working with Veronika earlier this year – on a Birmingham workshop – and was immediately struck by her vision, her passion for street photography and her sense of purpose. Veronika is on a journey – no, a mission – and I asked her about her street photography . . .
How long have you been practicing street photography? – How did you get into it?
In comparison to some, I started taking photographs quite late in my life in 2012 (that made me 30 years old at the time). I had no vision of where photography may take me, in fact I never thought of photography as something I could get into. I had a Samsung phone with a relatively good built in camera that I slid out of my back pocket every time I saw something I wanted a memory of. Truth be told this was mostly to record the lives of my children (and the occasional dinner plate…) but looking back at the collection there were times when I saw a moment of street life framed well, or beautifully lit that I had to capture.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that something clicked and I thought I could actually up my game and instead of happy-snapping I could learn how to be more disciplined. I could learn how to slow down. I started buying books to look at pictures and looking online to read interviews with photographers. I took out Brian’s Mastering Street Photography book from my local library (since then I’ve joined Hereford College of Art as an associate member for £30/year which gives me full access to their massive library with a heavenly section on photography that will take me years to go through – I highly recommend anyone to do something similar) by chance and I read it in a day or two. I was hooked. Up until then, I didn’t quite realise how much I could do on the streets: portraits, abstracts, in-your-face, subtle, all sorts of variants of lights and tones, people-focused, object-focused…..
So I looked up Brian and booked a course, which was held in Birmingham. Needless to say it was thoroughly enjoyable.
I am also very fortunate to have friends who are not only amazing photographers but are constant source of inspiration and encouragement.
What is ‘street photography’? What does it mean to you?
To me, street photography, just like any other form of photography with which I experiment, is a creative outlet. Wondering on the streets with my camera in hand actually observing the life around me makes me feel more grounded than ever before. I have to actively look and observe! When I find something worth capturing with just the right background and just the right frame and just the right light I hit the shutter and do a little jig over having possibly created a picture. This jig will later either grow into a victory dance in front of my monitor or not, because ‘damn it’s blurry!!’, but the point is the whole process of the creation, from the moment you leave the house to that victory dance.
Which street photographers do you admire – and why?
I’m old school. I’ll be honest and say that most things I see on Instagram for example are not only overwhelming (because there is SO MUCH OUT THERE!!) but it’s all the same. Same style, same shadows being chased, same chaos recorded. I shouldn’t generalize because sometimes you do come across a gem and think ‘Wow’. My ‘wow’s’ are Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tish Murtha, Bill Brandt, August Sander, Dorothea Lange, Helen Levitt, David Hurn, John Bulmar… the list goes on. From a more contemporary aspect I do enjoy Niall McDiarmid’s street portraits. He was interesting to listen to at this year’s Eye Festival in Aberystwyth (a once-every-two-years festival that’s well worth going to for any photographer).
How would you describe your own style of street photography?
Traditional I guess. Although I wouldn’t like to label either the genre of photography I do or the style yet as I am still exploring the possibilities. At the moment I like to take images that don’t scream of ‘yep this was taken in 2018’ instead I strive for pictures that could translate between times.
I have recently completed a short assignment entitled “Quiet Hungary”, where I went back to my roots and instead of concentrating on the hustle and bustle of busy Budapest, I went up north to find the quiet villages with the quiet streets where gypsy boys were leading their horses to the village trough in the heat of the summer sun for a drink. Where little hunched over ladies walked to the local church that was surrounded by sacks of flour. Where abandoned train stations or shepherds in the field are still the norm and where whilst lacking in material wealth, the people compensate by being kind and generous and are quite happy to stand in front of your camera… especially if you buy them a beer after!
Has that style naturally evolved or have you made a conscious effort to steer yourself in a particular direction?
I have gravitated to works of others who portray life in a timeless manner that take my breath away. I spend much of my time studying the greats so I believe I am currently being steered. My photography is still very much evolving. That ‘voice’ that you’re meant to have to distinctify yourself from the hundreds of thousands of others out there taking photographs is not easy to achieve, but I believe I’m on the right path.. it may be a long path to walk, but it’s an enjoyable one to explore!
What challenges have you faced as a street photographer?
I still find going up to people to ask if I could take their picture a challenge. I find it easier to do it when I’m out with a fellow photographer although I think I’m a little braver now than when I first hit the streets. I have plans to do a series of portraits so I really have to work on this!
What camera / lens do you like to use?
I have a Fujifilm XT20. I have smallish hands and this little beauty fits perfectly. For portrait work I have a 56mm 1.2, for just out-and-about a 27mm and there’s always the kit lens 18-55mm which isn’t that bad either. But I’ve been told the camera is just a box with a hole in it. It’s knowing where to stand and when to press the shutter that makes the magic.
What’s your workflow and preferred post-production method?
I’m trying to be good at organizing my photos, so after I finished shooting, I download the lot and tag them all in Photoshop Elements. It’s basic, but I don’t need anything fancier because the most I ever do to the pictures is adjust the tone or the light. Actually that’s a lie. I recently purchased a plug in called DxO Filmpack, which is an alternative way to producing images that look as though they were shot on analog film. A lot of fun.
How and where do you share or display your images? Any plans to do more?
I am on Instagram @veronikalaveyphoto where I sometimes share images. I flutter a bit from project to project so consistency is not my account’s forte. I have produced a book about my Hungarian project, but it is just for our coffee table for now. I’m interested in ‘zines’ and may well give them a go especially before my first little exhibition coming up early next year at Hereford College of Arts, to have something for visitors to purchase, should they wish.
What about the future of street photography – where do you see it going?
I see it slowing down. To me much of street photography that is out there currently is quite chaotic and I think people interested in the genre will realise this when they won’t find their uniqueness amongst the noise. The good old saying is true as ever: quality over quantity. I think it takes time and patience and a lot of slowing down to find that voice.
If you would like to be the next ‘Street Photographer of the Month’, please get in touch!