Leica Akademie - Street Photography with Quinton Gordon

It’s been over a month since I attended the Leica Akademie’s workshop on “Street Photography” here in Calgary. If you are anywhere near a city where this course is being offered and you are in the least bit interested in Street Photography (Leica user or not) or want to get a feel for what it’s like I highly recommend this workshop. I attended because I wanted to spend sometime with other photographers in real life rather than online, to learn from everyone’s experiences and soak up as much information as I could.

The workshop I attended was facilitated by Quinton Gordon from Victoria, BC. Quinton’s a damn fine photographer and enjoys teaching and getting the best out the attendees. I hope that Leica will bring his other course “Truth in Photography” to Calgary in the future.

Day one started with a quick overview of Leica and we had a chance to “fondle” the M9, the Monochrome; unfortunately there was no M Typ240 on hand. Since I had the M9, I signed up to use the Summarit 90/2.5 as I’ve been using the 45/1.8 on my E-P2 to cover that portrait focal length (remember, 45mm in m43 has the same FOV as a 90 in 35mm) and wanted to see if I should save my change for that or a used Elmarit 90.

After the usual howdy-do’s Quinton launched into an overview of street photography, various street photographers from past to present and the changing styles of street photography. As a side note, I’d highly recommend Eileen Rafferty’s video “Art Movements Through Photography” on BHPhotoVideo’s channel on YouTube.

Quinton then spoke about the importance of understanding composition: not only the rule of thirds or the golden section but also the concepts of perspective, framing, motion and flow. Of course, he reminded us that these rules are guides and once understood can be bent, modified and ignored as required. He spoke about the lack of “classical art instruction” in most photographic schools or courses of instruction and how vital this is for making compelling images.  If you want to improve your composition, go to a museum and study what the masters did.

If I had to summarize the first day, I’d boil it down to the following:

  • Be aware when you are in the presence of a photograph,
  • Be discreet, blend in but don’t be a voyeur,
  • Be intimately familiar with you gear, not only from an operational perspective, but how different lenses in you bag will render a scene and what lens works where,
  • You won’t apply everything you learn here tomorrow or the next day. They will come to fruition later when you are ready for them.

After lunch we headed to Stephen Avenue and worked the streets for the remainder of the day until the light our feet got sore.

I really liked using the Summarit 90. I’ve always enjoyed this focal length (or close to it) and some of my favourite film shots have been with the Olympus Zuiko 100/2.8 on my OM cameras. It allowed me to shoot discreetly and although I was worried about mis-focussing with a narrower depth of field it went fairly well; mind you I was “f8 and be there” for most of my time with this lens. A 90mm M-mount lens is in my future. I have no idea how I’m going to fund it though.

Day 2 we met up in Inglewood for more practical work. I got there early in the morning as the aviation forecast called for overcast skies around the meeting time and snow about two hours afterwards. (The civilian forecast didn’t say anything about the weather going sideways).

I struggled a bit as even with what little light there was in the morning, the whole vibe on the street just wasn’t working for me. I muddled around a bit but my mind just wasn’t there.

As the forecast snow squall descended we returned to the classroom to edit our two days of shooting down to three images. In the days of film and soup I might have finished 2 half days of shooting with maybe 4 or 5 rolls to develop. Editing down 180 images to three from 5 contact sheets is a lot different than editing down the 500 images you can stuff on an 8 gig card and display in Lightroom. I wasn’t multi-shooting all that much; you know, shoot, re-frame a bit, shoot again and so forth. I’d work a single location or subject from various angles but there wasn’t a lot of wastage.

Like Quinton suggested, my editing (and I don’t mean post-processing here) has been multiple passes, starting with a rough cut of “1 star” images. I then progress up through the star system. If I have two similar images I use Lightroom’s candidate/current view.
After every pass I filter on the current number of stars I’ve given. Ideally, once I get to 3 or 4 stars, I like to let my catalogue sit for a few days and then revisit the images but we had to get everything ready for critique in three hours so, like the Iron Chef I soldiered on.

By the time I got done, I was down to 3 images of two different themes: “Different Directions” and “Graphics”. I went back and forth and back and forth and decided on “Different Directions” by tossing a coin.

Quinton’s comments where encouraging. He suggested that I had a surrealist streak and preferred formal compositions. He liked my telephoto work in that he said I understood how the focal length compresses stories together and allows for juxtaposition of stories. He told me that I need to work on my framing, that is, I frame too tightly and don’t give the story enough room to enter and exit the frame.

What did I learn?

I learnt that

  • I need to work on visiting with people to photograph their stories. I visit but I end up listening to their stories and forget to take the picture!
  • my preference for distance from the subject is natural because I’m comfortable with the focal length and know how to use it to say what I’m trying to say
  • my framing is sometimes too tight; my photos need to breathe more
  • I need to stay on top of my writing, a month is way too long for me sit on a post!
I don't know about the surrealism bit. I always visualize Dali when I hear that word but HCB was an original surrealist so who knows?

Different Directions

Over There
Look Here
Different Directions


White Stripe

Vinyl Dress

The Blues Can


Recently Read "The Ongoing Moment"

It's been quite the hectic few weeks here fotographie wester.  Even though I'm on medical leave (long story, don't ask) the offspring have kept me jumping. I have been able to fit in some very good days of shooting and I'll be working through those and sharing the results and my thoughts soon.

I finished Geoff Dyers "The Ongoing Moment" a few weeks ago while waiting for my daughter to finish dance class. I've had this book in my hands several times over the last few years and every time I've put it back. I ended up buying the paperback version and wish I had bought the more sumptuously published hardback when it came out as the black and white reproductions in the text are barely newspaper quality.

It's a good read and really gets you thinking about the chain that binds all of us together from Fox-Talbot to Stieglitz to Strand to Keretz and so on. There where times that I threw the book down grumbling (quite loudly according to my kids and my dog): "Fercrissakes Geoff, sometimes a frikkin'  cigar is just a frikkin cigar!". He can sometime read a lot more into a situation than is healthy and in that regard he reminds me of my 1st year English professor at UVic; she spent several lectures belabouring the symbolism of "crabs scuttling across the ocean floor" in some poem or other (I think it had Prufrock in the title).

But then, after he gets the seemingly obligatory sophomoric tittering about Stieglitz and Strand and OKeefe and Strand's wife Rebecca's tangled relationships out of the way, he hits his stride (the cigars make
occasional cameos). I found I would read 10 pages and sit and think about what I had read (either that or I have late onset ADD). I'd get frustrated, annoyed and then pissed off. Other times it'd be "Yeah, that's it: Brilliant!".

It's a book that has to be read from start to finish, in sequence. It's a lot like Walker Evans book "The Americans" where Evans says "these photos are to be viewed in order". You can skip around, but each of Dyer's riffs builds on the previous riff and like a complex fugue it builds and builds and builds and then stops.

The bibliography is worth the price of admission and I do hope that I can find some of those books he refers to still in print.

What did I learn? I learnt that I'm part of a long history. Everybody takes a picture of a bench, a fence, a barbershop, a man in a black overcoat. It's not cliched because we all have emotional baggage that informs the bench, fence, or whatever we take a picture of. It's only when we want to photograph a fence like Strand  did or a the loneliness of a the man in the black overcoat like Kertez that we fail. That bench is my bench and it is up to me and only me to put my feelings into the image of that bench, not what I think someone else things an image of a bench should feel like.

Dyer was sitting on my shoulder quite a bit when I was at the Leica Akademie class on Street Photography. I kept telling him to go away and let Quinton Gordon speak so I could take what both of them were saying. Dyer, of course, did no such thing; my output from the workshop was a fairly bizarre hybrid of what Quinton was trying to teach and Dyer's musings. I'll talk about that workshop later.

It's a book anybody interested in photography should read. It forces you to challenge what and how you think about photography and when you come out the other side you'll find yourself returning back to listen to one riff or another or start riffing on your own as you walk around town seeing things through your viewfinder.