As a photographer, the biggest thing that gets in the way of my ability to capture images that are meaningful to me (and hopefully to others) is not the gear I use, but the inspiration behind those images. I have often found myself in months-long creative ruts, as the upload schedule of this website demonstrates. But every once in a while, I find something new to rekindle my passion for photography and give me the motivation to stuff a camera and some film (or SD card) in my bag. Back in January, I was in a strange place in my life. I'd taken the semester off for my upcoming heart surgery and was counting down the weeks until I'd be confined to a hospital room with neither the ability nor the will to photograph anything. During those few weeks, I searched for something to catch my photographic eye, which fatefully landed on the North Carolina Museum of Art. Two consecutive days were all I needed to remind myself that photography is, at its core, an art, and that immersing oneself in an artistic setting, whether visual or otherwise, can do wonders for the uninspired.
Some of my previous posts on Timeless Streets will no doubt reveal my long-running interest in architecture, and the NCMA was far from lacking in interesting subjects. The entrance to the West Building is an elegant structure of metal and glass - be still my beating heart - with great leading lines, repeated patterns, and reflective surfaces. The East Building is an art installation in its own right, with statues and flowers hanging at various heights along the multi-layered ceiling. For both of these shots, I was glad to have brought the versatile Fujinon 16mm F/1.4 wide angle lens along with my Fujifilm X-Pro2. While my go-to focal lengths for typical street photography are 35mm and 50mm, I did appreciate the unique compositional exercise of visualizing an ultra-wide perspective to set the scene.
When I look back to my favorite images from famous street photographers, so many of them seem to incorporate the same enigmatic motif - the silhouette. Some of my silhouette pictures taken on the street have been accidents, instances where the camera's metering gets confused by the brightness of the backlit subject walking down the street at mid-day. However, when I saw the large floor to ceiling windows I got an idea. With the sheer white curtains acting as a large softbox, I spot metered off the windows and locked my exposure, before recomposing and focusing on the statues themselves. A lot easier to do with a stationary subject, mind you, but I do believe that these are lessons I'll be able to transfer over to my street photography in the future and open up more opportunities to shoot in harsh sunlight.
One of the most challenging aspects of street photography for introverts is overcoming the fear of approaching people. It's the reason many who dive into the genre often start with a zoom lens before they are comfortable transitioning over to primes and getting closer to their subjects. Here, once again, museums provide an excellent solution. Pick a statue or two that is humanoid in shape (or not), and shoot to your heart's content. Practice focusing on your subject's eyes (if it has any) and experimenting with shallow depth of field, assuming you've already invested in some fast glass. The best part, a statue won't ask to see the back of your camera to check if it "looks good."
As far back as I can remember, I've enjoyed going to museums for the people watching as much as for the exhibits themselves. Part of what drew me in to street photography when I was first starting out was the opportunity to capture candid moments of people's lives, and in this respect an exhibition hall is not that different from a busy downtown avenue. From newborn babies to elderly art connoisseurs, the possibility of capturing emotions ranging from infantile indifference to childhood wonder to mature appreciation is truly a unique opportunity.
If, like me, photography is a hobby far removed from your job/area of study it's very easy for life to get in the way of your photographic inspiration. There's no editor breathing down your neck or a deadline you have to meet. It's likely your digital (or film) camera is sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust, an expensive toy that's rarely played with. If this sounds at all like you, I urge you to find out where your nearest museum is. Art, natural history, air and space, it doesn't matter. Museums are about expanding your world view and they cultivate the primary pre-requisite to photographic inspiration: an open and curious artistic mind.