Peter Pickering's Alchemy of Art and Insight

I'd been waiting for a rainy day—curious, considering most yearn for sunshine. But here in Western Australia, as we tiptoed into winter, the skies promised some showers, much to my delight. Why the excitement for a downpour? Perhaps it's the petrichor, that earthy scent that arises when rain meets dry soil—an aroma I find exhilarating. Or maybe it's the inexplicable urge to drive a tad faster when the roads are slick. Go figure!

This particular day held a promise of showers. Perfect for street photography, rain transforms ordinary streets into reflective canvases, capturing fleeting moments of rain-soaked pedestrians and shimmering pavements. With my camera fully charged and dangling confidently around my neck, I ventured out, determined to capture just one great shot, though I had room for around 1700 RAW images. Overkill? Perhaps, but better safe than sorry.

Before leaving home, I had devised a plan for the day’s shooting, focusing on the essence of street photography, inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson's principle of 'the decisive moment.' No cityscapes, architectural shots or still lifes for me - I like pictures of people, and my camera today would capture the spontaneous humanist theatre of urban life—each frame a potential story. Well that was the plan.

Conversations and Connections: The Art of Patience and Presence in Street Photography

The sun was cheekily bright as I headed to the bus stop. Luck was evidently on my side—the moment I sat in the shelter, the 960 bus rolled in. A stroke of fortune! I boarded and found my favourite front-left seat vacant, settling in as the bus driver, a man with a knack for conversation, made the short journey to the outskirts of Perth over the Swan River bridge feel even shorter.

As we approached the city, rain began to patter against the windows—a photographer's sign to get ready. Alighting opposite London Court on Saint Georges Terrace, I bid the affable driver farewell and crossed the road. London Court, bustling with both locals and tourists, promised excellent photo opportunities, especially with the added drama of rain, though, darn it, the rain had stopped.

Camera settings dialled in, anticipation high, I set my camera to Continuous Shooting Mode, something I never do, intending to burst through scenes to ensure capturing that 'right' moment. In hindsight, this method was a poor choice, as I know better, and it meant sifting through hundreds of images later, a task as daunting as finding a needle in a haystack, and quite taxing on weary eyes.

Walking quickly in hopes of capturing something spectacular often results in missed chances. Instead, I usually opt to plant myself strategically and wait—much like a cat at a mouse hole, ready to pounce. Remarkably, this method of working invites interactions that are both enriching and unexpected. For instance, while positioned in London Court, I had a delightful conversation with a tourist couple intrigued by my setup. Next, in Hay St Mall, a pair of ladies mistook me for a tourist, which led to a friendly chat. Following this, I stopped by a bustling cafe where I was compelled to praise the owner, who epitomised success with her thriving establishment. I complimented everything from the ambiance to the eagerness of the staff, making for a truly engaging exchange. These encounters are precious; they weave into the fabric of the day's experience, adding layers that would be absent if I were merely moving from shot to shot.

Then, in Murray St Mall, I reconnected with a street performer I hadn’t seen in two decades. We reminisced and nattered about the changes we had witnessed over the last 20 years, a rare continuity in the ever-changing landscape of street life. Moreover, I met a fascinating lady who introduced me to her family of seven 'children'—all dolls, each with their own story, which she shared with enthusiasm. As I continued my exploration up the Mall, the manager of the SWATCH shop came out front, intrigued by how long I'd been standing there. Our conversation unfolded right on the sidewalk, adding another layer of human connection to my day's collection of unique and enriching interactions.

Perhaps most serendipitously, I encountered a couple of young photographers, one of whom carried a lovely Leica, still loyal to the art of film photography. When I mentioned my large Facebook group dedicated to street photography, they excitedly revealed that they were members too. It’s moments like these that underscore how small the world really is, and how shared passions can unexpectedly connect us.

Reflecting on the essence of traditional photography, the process of capturing moments without the immediate gratification of a digital preview can indeed be likened to the slow revelation of a developing film. Just as photographers of old would wait with bated breath to see the fruits of their labours once the film was developed, I too appreciate the mystery and anticipation that comes with not 'chimping'—a common practice where one constantly checks every captured image on the camera’s digital screen.

By avoiding prolonged reviews during the shoot, I can remain fully immersed in the environment, my attention undivided and my connection with the world around me unmediated by technology.

Of course, I do sometimes glance briefly at the fleeting image on the display to ensure the exposure is as intended and hasn’t unexpectedly developed a mind of its own. However, this quick check is merely a precautionary peek to confirm settings, rather than an in-depth review of each photograph. At the end of the day, quite literally, the true value and impact of each shot only becomes apparent when I sit down to edit, revealing subtleties and details that might otherwise have been missed in the immediate aftermath of capture.

Returning home, I had a substantial batch of photographs awaiting review. Using continuous shooting mode had ensured I didn't miss a beat, but it also meant there was a significant volume to sort through. Of the many images, a select few truly stood out to me as embodying the essence of the day, and these were the ones I chose to transform into the stark contrasts of black and white. I am very critical of my own work, and while many of the images I decided not to display would likely be considered okay by others, only those that met my highest standards made the final cut. This rigorous selection process, although yielding fewer final pieces, is reminiscent of the film photography days, where each captured frame was a precious commodity and the satisfaction from a successful shot was all the more rewarding.

During a day enriched by light showers in Perth, I embraced the principles of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'decisive moment' for my street photography. The intermittent rain added a reflective depth to the shots, capturing the essence of the bustling city. I connected meaningfully with an array of interesting people, from tourists to local street performers, shopkeepers and fellow photographers, enriching the experience further. The select images I chose to develop into black and white truly captured the spirit of the day. Overall, it was a fulfilling day, and I believe Henri would have been pleased with the results, I hope you are, too.

Copyright © Peter Pickering 2024.