Loving street photography is connected with loving cities. All towns and cities have the capacity to fascinate. They all contain stories about how and why any particular civilisation was drawn to a particular area, the industries it was built on, how it grew or shrank.
Street photography is easiest when you are fresh and new to a place, seeing things for the first time; when you are essentially a tourist. It gets harder, but possibly also more rewarding when you know a place intimately well, perhaps too well: every last nook and cranny of a town, every alleyway and cobble, each gutter where puddles collect, every high-rise angle, multi-storey car park or vandalised bus stop. It gets harder when you grow bored by a place, like most young people do by their home town when they’ve never lived anywhere else.
Having lived in Cardiff for most of my adult life either side of stints in Cheltenham and London, I sometimes feel there’s nothing left for me to photograph here, or that it holds limited interest for me now. I’m always wrong.
On waking early in the middle of Oxford on a beautiful late May morning last weekend, my urge was to get out and explore. I have visited a number of times over the years to visit family, but never quite succeeded in piecing the city together, so I welcomed this chance – even if it was to rob me of a few hours of sleep. We were lucky enough to be staying the night in Queen’s College of Oxford University. (Amongst its alumni are Sir Tim Berners-Lee – best known as the inventor of this here quite handy World Wide Web thing).
Like much of the city’s neo-gothic architecture, on that morning it gleamed, almost smouldered with wisdom and knowledge. You know how some really old looking people look so wise just by looking old and wrinkled? Sort of like that.
A photo posted by Mark Hawkins (@markonthelens) on
It’s hard not to be seduced by the age of the place. History seeps from the famous spires, brickwork and even modest wooden beams of buildings. You can see why so many students and tourists are drawn to the place and bowled over by its imposing majesty. You can see why, for a certain English elite educated at private schools like Eton, this is simply a natural progression; perhaps an obvious step on the path to Westminster and the halls of political power. It brought to mind a similar culture and atmosphere of UWC Atlantic College, a magical Hogwarts-like castle college in the Vale of Glamorgan where I’ve photographed a number of reunions. I couldn’t resist a few ‘real time’ street shots via Instagram, which I started using again recently after a hiatus of around three years. It’s changed a bit. All those hashtags have really got out of hand. (Surely life’s too short?)
That was from much later in the day. Early mornings are probably my favourite time of day for street photography. I love a city when it’s quietly waking up in ones and twos, slowly creaking into life, council cleaners on the streets, morning runners, early-risers, long distance lorry drivers, bedraggled one night stand walk-of-shamers. There can be a dystopian tranquillity to early mornings that almost convinces you that have everything to yourself and all the time in the world. But in reality it’s all too fleeting. In a city like Oxford, overrun with swarms of tourists and students at most times of the day, it felt even better to be out early. Although I didn’t steal a march on all of them. A few shots from the walk summed up a dynamic, unpredictable element of street photography I love: how you can compose a scene and wait for the action to happen around you. I’m always a mug for a reflection. The rising sun was bleaching buildings on this road, illuminating the leading lines and conjuring bold reflections in this shop window. Attracted by arrowing early light and shadows criss-crossing inside an old pub, after shooting a couple of frames through the glass, I heard footsteps approaching. Peering in, the unwitting stranger, possibly wondering what the hell I was doing, sort of made the shot. Thank you, stranger. Still punts. An elderly gentleman appears to select some abandoned newspapers from a window ledge. Finally, here’s a building I fell in love with. One of those Dickensian structures you can imagine existing for multiple centuries, people milling around it in bygone times so phenomenally different from our 21st Century selves. There was also a cute irony in its current shop tenant: Change.
View more street photography samples here.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.