As a photographer I started cutting my teeth on Cardiff street photography. It was the first creative subject that inspired me on a regular basis and it’s something I return to fleetingly when the mood takes me, or if a commission requires.
In recent years I’ve taken street photography for student guides in Cardiff and Swansea, for universities and for private student residence companies. I also paced the streets for my coffee table book on the Canton and Pontcanna areas of Cardiff, published by The History Press in September 2018.
It’s the less plannable, reactive street photography I get more of a kick from. And I suspect that’s where the appeal lies for most: the unknowability and unpredictability, seeing a pleasing looking scene and waiting for interesting looking people to appear, as if by magic, and glide through it, making the image more interesting.
This week, soft autumnal morning light invited me to dabble once again in Cardiff street photography.
After taking a stroll through Cardiff city centre I was driving back to my outer suburb when I remembered a smashed bus shelter, which I’d seen from the car the day before. Attracted by the violent aesthetic of fractured and splintered glass, I had my interest piqued enough to photograph one or two smashed bus shelters before, so I stopped and had another dabble here.
[Read the Composed piece: Cardiff Car Park Demolition]
Looking back at the street material I first photographed and shared, some of it I would still support, some I am faintly embarrassed by, and some I am more than faintly embarrassed by.
Much of it still exists out there in the internet, largely on Flickr and also on a discontinued old Instagram account which I can frustratingly no longer access.
In the digital age, it’s a perennial question for creatives: should we constantly scour and monitor and delete our earliest, weakest work shared online, or should we just be relaxed about the journey?
Because however clichéd it sounds, everyone is on one. Whatever your trade or job, your earliest work should slowly begin to pale over time, at least to you. If you stick at something, whatever it is, learning and steady improvement should be constant.
The same could be said of a first book written by a highly esteemed author as a young person, the early work of a celebrated artist, or the debut album of a singer songwriter. I wonder if Ed Sheeran ever look back at his earliest, globally successful albums and think they’re rubbish? What happens to creative people who achieve that level of recognition so young?
It’s the rough edges and imperfections which can define us, although they can equally serve to embarrass us and make us cringe.
My own photography learning curve has been embarrassingly slow and gentle. Looking at the many impressive young photographers I sometimes work alongside in sport, it can feel troubling to think that I only began taking half decent photographs in my 30s.
Still, I learn things which seem ridiculously simple and I wonder ‘how did I not know that?’ Part of me hopes I always do, that there are always those incremental low-cost gains to be found. (Only a small part though. By now I should know all the ridiculously simple stuff).
It’s said that you must have personal side projects, passion projects you do for yourself. Especially freelance photographers, for whom there are likely to be phases when there is more downtime to manage than we’d like. Coping with that time and all the uncertainty and insecurity could be a whole other post itself.
Some people promote the need for personal photography projects to tell a story, to document a specific subject in a definitive, unusual and substantive way. This is a tricky thing to tackle, because so many subjects can seem open-ended, infinite, with no clear closure.
There are also restrictions in terms of access and finance. Sure, I’d love to travel off to remote parts of a few continents and document something unique, ancient tribes, melting glaciers or who knows, maybe a war zone: something gritty and heavy. Many people would. But without the financial cushion or the network, such projects are unrealistic.
Cardiff street photography, or street photography anywhere, is something to which most people have easy access. While the popularity of photography and the numbers of people on the street clutching cameras has made it a mainstream past-time and for me less desirable, even slightly boring, there is still creative pleasure to be enjoyed. And I’d like to think there always will be.
Please get in touch if you need to commission street photography in Cardiff, South Wales or even further afield.
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