Street Photography with Anxiety

I love people. That statement with the title Street Photography with Anxiety might seem contradictory, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’ve mixed up the title of one article with the body of another, but there is no mistake: I love people, but I sometimes struggle with anxiety. Today I wish to share with you how I have managed to engage with an art form that I thought I’d never be able to do, and the enjoyment that has come from it.

I want to preface the main part of this article by saying that if you do want someone to talk to, I’m willing to listen. One of the core things that YOUR EXHIBITION values is community, and even though we are united by a love of film photography, we often support one another on things unrelated to photography. I certainly won’t have the answers, but I am willing to listen should you need someone to talk to. Feel free to direct message me (@michaeljboorman) on Instagram here. On with the article.

Street photography appears to be a big part of film photography culture, and rightfully so. I think that street photography is broad enough that there is something for everyone. You might appreciate the work of photography greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Meyerowitz, or perhaps you aspire to produce work like those that you follow on Instagram. I have spent countless hours dreaming of producing street work like Jules Le Moal, and Nigel (unevenedits). That’s kind of where the dreams ended though: as dreams. I found that every time I took to the streets, I would barely have raised my camera to my eye before my hands became clammy, and I’d soon head home feeling disappointed at my lack of success.

That was where I realised the issue: I was wanting to shoot images like those I admired, and not share my own vision. I’m sure we can all relate to this somehow; it’s almost too easy in the modern day to compare ourselves to other people - particularly on Instagram. I also have depression, and I have suffered in the past with it. I have since come to grips that I sometimes have to work twice as hard to achieve half as much as someone without depression, and it’s that realisation that has helped shape my new approach to street photography. Why am I trying to capture people on the streets as if I don’t struggle with anxiety? That’s not an accurate representation of who I am.

I’ve begun to do street photography how I want to: at a distance. I don’t have the relationship with the subjects that you might see in other people’s work, but that’s okay. After-all, no relationship is still kind of a relationship. 

I think that is one of the reasons that makes photography such a wonderful art form: the relationships. This could be the relationship between the photographer and the audience, or even the photographer and the subject. In this case, I have learned to embrace that my street photography style is a bit more distant than others. My relationship with these strangers I’ve captured has been distant, but that represents who I am at present. I am not the person that will stop someone on the street to ask for a photo, or get the photographer that gets up close. That’s not to say that I won’t one day become that type of street photographer, but I am not that person yet, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay - I actually love that my work reflects who I am at the moment. One of the reasons I admire Nicolás Hagen so much is that he is so unapologetically himself. I think it is beautiful that he celebrates his uniqueness, and I think that’s what I’m trying to embrace in this newfound expression. I’m not capturing the same work as those that I admire, but that’s okay, because I’m capturing me in these photographs, and that’s so much more valuable.

Now I wish to share with you some images that really represent what I’ve been writing about. These first few feature reflections which is a great tool for anyone struggling with the nerve to just capture someone directly. The extra layer of protection also further bolsters this narrative of distance, whilst still providing information about the setting. In the second of this couple, the subject is making eye contact, albeit through a reflection. 

This next couple features another technique I absolutely love: obstruction. In both examples, the person’s face is obscured by their umbrella. We get to know the subject through the rest of their presence and even the setting, but there’s an element of mystery due to these objects that make these captures appropriately distant. It’s like I have a layer of protection by capturing these subjects in this way.

This next example is just simply being a creep. Sure, this is on the verge of weird, but I think there that is something about taking a photo without someone’s knowledge that allows you to see organic mannerisms. For example, this gentleman is very relaxed on this train, and, as you can tell from the angle I’ve taken this from, I was forced to stand because he’s spread himself over two seats. Now I didn’t actually mind - whilst I’m able to, I try to stand and walk as much as possible - but I did find it interesting how ‘at home’ he made himself. I also feel like part of the narrative is what he’s looking at on his phone, so being able to see that provides a greater depth.

Lastly, I love these two images: similar compositions, same subject, different days. I find comfort in taking images from such a distance, and with the 35mm lens, it almost exaggerates that too; it makes the isolation of a subject more potent. In this example, I think it works exceptionally well. Could I have got closer? Maybe. Would the result have been the same? Probably not.

So I hope you enjoyed learning about how I have found my place within the world of street photography. Also, if you found any of these techniques or tips useful, then let me know. I’d love to hear how you overcome your reservations to enjoy expressing yourself. You can do so here.

I would like to end this article by encouraging you. If you want to do something, don’t think of the hills you have to climb to do that thing, but the next step. I have found so much enjoyment in something that I always dreaded, and I’m sure you can overcome some of the challenges you face. If there’s a photography genre that you haven’t engaged with yet that you’d like to, get in touch. I’m sure there’s a member of YOUR EXHIBITION that is willing to impart some wisdom on it.

Until next time: happy shooting.

If you enjoyed this WHAT I’M WORKING ON article, consider checking out the other ones here.