AUSTRALIA. Sydney. Summer rain . A man stands huddled under awnings on the corner of George & Market st. His tie thrown over his shoulder after running through a Sydney thunderstorm. From Dream/Life series. 1998 – Trent Parke.
Before our last edition of Classic Street Photographs (Richard Kalvar’s naked man on Brooklyn Bridge), I had never crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. So as I treaded it’s walkways a week later – while visiting form the UK – with my feet hitting those very same wooden planks, I couldn’t help but look out amongst all the cyclists, joggers and tourists passing around me, for Kalvar’s naked man.
He wasn’t there, but it dawned on me, that for me, a classic street photograph is one that has the power to seep into your mind without you commanding it. It surfaces when you see elements from it emerging in front of your eyes.
For me, the above image from Trent Parke’s Dream/Life series follows this path exactly, and living in a city where it rains on average over 130 days a year, as I do (Sheffield, UK), I have to admit that it’s one of the most frequent images in my thoughts.
Every time I’m out in the city, with raindrops bouncing on the tarmac and my shirt beginning to stick to my skin, I feel I’m destined to dream this very scene.
But the image is more than just a familiar scene. We’re presented with a protagonist, and left to ponder his decisions of venturing out without protection for the weather. We follow the lines of the road, to see more characters, but this time with their umbrellas, protecting them from the weather. Does our protagonist lament his decisions upon seeing the pair? Does the fading light represent some sort of diminishing hope of the weather he wanted?
For me the leading man in this scene, isn’t the guy to the left of the image, it’s Parke himself, out there presumably just like the guy, without adequate protection from the weather?
For us all the weather is a variable out of out control, and I’ve recently been considering if we should be letting it have a stronghold over our shooting habits?
From recent conversations I’ve had, it seems far too many photographers (myself included) seem to avoid stepping out when the conditions aren’t ideal, when they don’t quite suit our ideas of the places we shoot, or when we simply don’t want to get wet. And it’s not just the bad weather that people avoid. There are some who only head out when the light is nice (or only show images of this)? I fell into this trap when I was in New York.
For the majority of the time the skies were overcast, and rain was quite a prominent feature! Yet to my friends and family who see my vacation through my viewfinder, it may seem like it was still the middle of a New York City summer.
Was I subconsciously trying to present a more idealised version of our world than actually exists? Is it just propaganda photography in the same way that Martin Parr proposed most family snapshots are?
If street photography is to have the power to be recognised as a form of social and cultural documentation (and I’m not saying that it should, I realise it’s a bit of a blind men and an elephant situation), should we be allowing the weather to dictate our shooting habits?