Street photographers inspiring me in June 2023

I’ve been inspired to begin sharing my street photography again this month, in particular due to two “walkie talkie” videos produced and hosted by Paulie B, a New York based street photographer.

The first, and perhaps more conventional “street photographer” is Matt Weber, whose work I was previously aware of but hadn’t really explored. What inspired me about Matt, beyond the quality of his body of work, was the consistency he has demonstrated over such a long period of time. He has played the long game, adopting a stoic attitude to the probability of success on any given day, and this has yielded some phenomenal results.

The dust sleeve from Matt Weber’s book “The Urban Prisoner”

The second, and most inspiring (for me), of the photographers recently profiled by Paulie B is Daniel Emuna. The quality of his given name aside, Daniel’s work speaks for itself. He’s heavily focused on portraits, often of a group, and his body of work tells you almost eveything you need to know about his approach to photography.

Daniel comes across as deeply humanistic and community oriented. His “walkie talkie” episode reveals a confident, social approach to compassionate documentary photography, with a focus on consent and interaction – a stark contrast to the more candid approach adopted by many street photographers.

Whilst I do love this approach, the video and a review of some of Daniel’s work did get me reflecting on what is lost in the interaction with one’s subjects. Daniel’s work is authentic and his photography conveys a very strong sense of the characters and relationships at play between his subjects, but there is a tendency towards posed street portraiture which lacks the spontaneity and range of interactions which are often the most compelling aspect of street photography for me. The compositions are also very consistent, which is no bad thing, but I miss the happy accidents of composition which can come from rushing to capture the frame in an instant.

Reflections on subject interaction aside, Daniel’s sincerity and awareness were utterly inspiring. In one segment of the video, he talked to the challenge of walking the fine line between documenting and appropriating. His perspective on this was so on point that it ended up feeling obvious – perhaps we simply share similar views on this as well as a first name.

A final point is how niether photographer were talking about kit. Nor were they shooting with an Leica… Most of my street photography is done with an Olympus, and so I was pleased to see Matt with something very similar around his neck. I’ve wondered for years why micro four-thirds cameras are not more popular with street photographers. They are compact, light and generally very ergonomic. They are discreet. They focus quickly and accurately. The small sensor means greater depth of field at larger apertures – great for increasing hit rate with zone focusing. And on the subject of zone focusing, Olympus lenses like the 17mm f1.8 have a clutch mechanism which make it so easy to set and maintain a focus distance at a glance. Matt Weber knows…

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