TAKIN’ IT TO THE NEXT (STREET) LEVEL: Honing an Individual Street Photography Style with Eric Kim’s Intermediate Workshop in Downtown L.A.
As readers of this blog will know from past posts about my vacation photography, my favorite subjects are ones that can’t complain about having their picture taken: landscapes, food, and my dog Suki. (Actually, Suki doesn’t really like to pose, but at least she’s easily pacified with a doggy treat.) But because I want to continue growing as a photographer, I stepped out of my comfort zone to attend Eric Kim’s introductory workshop in street photography to see if I could get close-up candids of actual human beings. I had such a great time that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to participate in Eric’s intermediate workshop this past weekend in downtown Los Angeles.
It was a special honor to join this elite group, for it was the first time Eric has offered a more advanced seminar to build upon the basics of his excellent course for street photography novices. Familiar faces from the first workshop like Norman, Rinzi, and Ibarionex gave the group a comforting, familial camaraderie, while the new attendees provided fresh perspectives and further friendships. While Beverly took the title of Student from Farthest Away last time for coming all the way from Tokyo for the workshop, on this occasion that honor went to Mattei, who jetted in from Geneva, Switzerland.
I’m sure he found it worth the trip. As before, we were treated to great home-cooked food from Eric’s mother, who flew from San Francisco just to assist her son with the seminar. The weekend began with classroom instruction in an artist’s loft at the Think Tank Gallery, right in the heart of the City of Angels. Unfortunately, the sweltering summer weather and lack of air conditioning in the facility caused some sultry discomfort, but what the gallery lacked in amenities it made up in location, location, location. Nestled amidst the color and glamour of the city’s fashion district, it was also a short walk away from such prime photo-shooting locales as the jewelry district and Little Tokyo.
Eric’s primary goal in this outing was for us to cultivate our own unique style for our street photography. For inspiration, he showed us not only great photos taken by famous street photographers but also actual video footage of those photographers in action. It’s comforting to see that even a master like Garry Winogrand could sometimes fumble with his camera like a common tourist! Eric instructed us to consider what aspects of these greats’ pictures most defined their work—the strong geometric composition of Cartier-Bresson, for example, or the wry humor of Elliott Erwitt—and then to decide what techniques or themes we most wanted to incorporate in our own pictures.
Sadly, I did not get to put Eric’s principles into practice with the rest of the group as they ventured out onto the sun-baked streets on Saturday afternoon. But my absence was for a good cause: I was an official on-site photographer at Zoofari, an annual black-tie charity gala held to benefit the Santa Ana Zoo. Guests were encouraged to come dressed in leopard prints or jungle khakis, and I snapped their pictures while they posed in a safari-style Jeep.
I rejoined the workshop Sunday morning, and after some more classroom instruction I headed out with fellow attendees Jordan, Justin, and Elizabeth to see if I could “discover” my style. Determined to overcome my reticence about getting close to my subjects, I came equipped with my trusty 28mm Summicron lens, which I hoped would force me to get face-to-face with people. Things didn’t work out quite as planned, however, partly due to the fact that downtown L.A. turned out to be a rather hostile environment for street photography. About 80 percent of the citizens that I and my camera buddies approached were in no mood to have their picture taken, and many of them were downright rude. Perhaps they were victims of urban stress.
The other 20 percent were reasonably nice, however, so we got a few shots while developing the thick skins we’d need to be bold street photographers. Although I think Eric’s seminars have definitely made me more confident about photographing people, I don’t know if I’ll be as aggressive as a true “streettog,” to use Eric’s term. I think my personal style will be to shoot wider photographs of cityscapes and architecture that happen to have interesting people in the foreground.
Following the shoot, we feasted on tasty gourmet sausages at Wurstkuche and swapped war stories of our streettogging adventures. After dinner, we retired to the Club Lounge at the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel for more shop talk, laughs, drinks…and, of course, more photos!
Late in the evening, we said our goodbyes, and I reflected on both the introductory and intermediate workshops I’d completed. A lesson in street photography from Eric Kim is worth a trip from Switzerland or Japan…but I’m glad I live in Southern California, where I can have regular access to the benefits of his tutelage.