TAKIN’ IT TO THE STREETS: Hitting the Pavement with Street Photographer Eric Kim and Company in Hollywood
As I mentioned in my recent post about the fabulous Steve Huff workshop in Seattle, street photography does not come naturally to me. I tend to be gun-shy about getting in people’s faces with my camera and would rather shoot landscapes and still-lifes, which can’t complain or call the cops.
However, I believe in pushing myself to try new things and to keep growing as a photographer. I also can’t resist the opportunity to learn from a truly world-class artist like Eric Kim, LA Street Photographer. Call me a glutton for punishment if you will, but when I learned that Eric was going to be giving a crash course in street photography right here on the streets of L.A., I had to be a part of it.
As many readers will already know, Eric Kim has traveled the world to snap his extraordinary photos of ordinary people, jaunting from Paris to Prague to Rome to Korea to, most recently, Moldova. His passion and attention to detail were evident from the moment we workshop attendees arrived. We began by treating ourselves to the delicious blueberry muffins and cranberry scones that Eric’s mother and sister had stayed up late into the night to prepare. The Kim family cuisine was one of the highlights of the entire weekend, including fantastic sandwiches, pasta, and tortilla chips with a homemade salsa I couldn’t stop eating. Eric’s mom not only served the wonderful repast—she even gave shoulder massages to some of the street-weary photographers in the group.
A true apostle of the art, Eric introduced us to the basic principles and techniques of street photography with a striking and well-organized PowerPoint presentation. Using examples from masters of the form like Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Gibson, he illustrated what Cartier-Bresson called “the Decisive Moment”—that ephemeral instant when a photo can capture people in their environment in such a way as to create a mood or make an artistic statement. Among the thematic principles used to compose memorable images, Eric said, is the juxtaposition of opposites, the collision of contrasts that occur thousands of times a day in an urban environment like L.A.: youth with age, beauty with ugliness, affluence with poverty, the glittering fantasy of poster advertisements with the gritty grime of city alleys.
Eric must have had Nervous Nellies like me in mind during his orientation as well, for he encouraged us to overcome our reticence and be bold in getting close to our subjects in much the same way Steve Huff did. Eric assured us that U.S. law permits street photography, that we are allowed to take pictures of private property from a public place without obtaining permission, and that the police have no right to delete the pictures we’ve taken. These facts went a long way toward putting my mind at ease, although I don’t know if I’ll ever be as fearless a photographer as my classmate Beverly. A young shutterbug who traveled all the way from Tokyo for the workshop, she managed to stick her lens right in strangers’ personal space without having them get mad at her. I think people cut tourists more slack; Eric jokes about “playing Asian” to approach people because they’re more likely to excuse the intrusion of a naïve, wide-eyed foreigner than a wily American street photographer.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the first day’s workshop at noon in order to drive to San Diego for my stepbrother’s bachelor party and so missed the afternoon shoot and dinner with the group. However, San Diego’s Gaslamp District offered almost as wild an assortment of denizens as my classmates had to choose from in Hollywood, so I was still able to do my “homework,” getting some decent shots of the local characters.
Then—disaster! The brand-new Leica M9 I’d received to replace the one whose sensor glass cracked during the Huff workshop the previous weekend in Seattle came up with a Sensor fault error message. Talk about rotten luck! Since even the shutter wouldn’t work this time, I couldn’t make do with the Leica the way I did in Seattle so I had to switch to my Fuji x100 for the rest of the weekend. With another replacement camera on the way, let’s hope the third time is the charm for my M9!
I made it back to Los Angeles in time to rejoin the workshop for the Sunday session. On this occasion, Eric wanted us to create our own photo-essays centered around a single theme of our choosing. As examples, he showed us some photo series he’d done of hands, shoes, and other subjects. Norman, my “photo buddy” for the shoot, picked “tattoos” as his theme, while I chose “tourists and their cameras” as my subject. Sounds promising, right? Especially when our group was headed to none other than that bastion of tourism and outrageous body modification known as Hollywood Boulevard.
The only problem was, when we actually got there, Norman had trouble locating folks with exposed tats and I had trouble finding tourists with cameras. Worse still, I saw all kinds of interesting unrelated photo opportunities but had to restrain myself because Eric had forbidden us to take any pictures that did not reflect our chosen theme for the exercise. Summoning all my willpower, I resisted the tempting shots around me and wandered over to the celebrated Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where I finally found the Mother Lode of tourists with cameras. With relief, I started snapping any shot of a tourist with a camera. As I got more comfortable, though, I strived for more interesting compositions and situations. Many of the tourists were taking photos of the celebrity handprints and footprints in front of the famous cinema, and with their attention focused on their own picture-taking, they didn’t even notice me as I crept up close for a quick shot of them.
Meanwhile, Norman resorted to hunting down people with interesting tattoos, sometimes following strangers down the block until he could ask to take their picture. As it turned out, most of the folks he accosted were friendly and more than happy to show off their ink. While working our way along the Boulevard, we met up with some of the other photographers in our group and took the opportunity to see what themes they were doing, which included shadows and hats among other subjects.
After the shoot, we returned to the 4th Floor Gallery in Hollywood where Eric held a giveaway of a Yongnuo YN-462 speedlight and trigger/receiver kit that I had donated for the occasion, asking all the workshop attendees to nominate the person they thought most deserving of the prize. When the votes were tallied it was a toss-up between Beverly, the dauntless shutterbug from Tokyo, and Rinzi, who gave great critiques and generously offered to help the less-experienced photographers during the shoots. Ultimately, Eric cast the deciding vote for Beverly for her gonzo, no-pulled-punches street photographer style, but I threw in an additional trigger/receiver kit so Rinzi would have a consolation prize for coming in such a close second.
When the workshop wound up, some of the gang accompanied me back to the W Hollywood, where I had booked a suite for the night. We grabbed a bite to eat near the hotel, and Eric rejoined us after taking his mom to the airport. No one wanted to say goodbye, so after dinner we ordered some drinks and kept talking shop and snapping photos of each other until midnight. It ended a memorable weekend on an appropriate note of warmth and friendship.
While I regret that I was unable to stay for all of Saturday’s session, I had a great time both at the workshop and in San Diego, where I got to see my stepbrother’s last moments as a single guy. I can vouch that, although I still have a long way to go in my development as a street photographer, I am far more comfortable taking spontaneous, candid photos of human beings as a result of Eric Kim’s instruction. I look forward to hitting the streets again with Eric’s intermediate workshop at the end of August, and am confident that, with his guidance and the camaraderie of my fellow photographers, I’ll continue to improve.