Street Photography In Paris, And The Leica And Painterly Tradition

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux Asph (with floating element)

There is a wonderful photographer and camera equipment reviewer named Sean Reid who, through his Reid Reviews, occasionally writes essays on photography.  One of the things his essays have made me realize is the relationship between street photography and painterly traditions that predate modern photography.  Maybe it was because we were in Paris that the photo above made me think of Renoir (a painter of whom I’m not particularly fond, but who did capture people in the act of enjoying life.)  When walking through the Luxembourg Gardens on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it’s hard not to think of the artists and photographers who have come before you.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux Asph

It was the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose foundation we’d visited earlier that day, that made us think in terms of “the decisive moment.”  Did we realize that the woman whose friend was taking her picture was actually looking at us take her picture that made us take this photo, at that moment?

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

There are these days a great number of fantastic street photographers, many of them Leica photographers, who publish websites about their activities — Eric Kim, for example, or Yannick Delafoge, or the more location-specific Shoot Tokyo blog, which is run by an expat street photographer who captures Tokyo’s otherworldliness wonderfully — and a constant theme is how important it is to “let the picture come to you.”  I think that’s a little different approach to trying to find “le moment decisif,” but it’s clear that if you stay in a particular well-trafficked spot, the world will come your way.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

There is a certain degree of discomfort, for someone who instinctively is polite, to capturing people who are strangers in the midst of their daily lives.  This is especially true for photographers who use wide angle lenses and need to be close to their subjects.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

In order to take an interesting and spontaneous shot, sometimes you have to get over the idea that you are essentially spying.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

It’s all worth it, if you can capture people in the act of being human.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

And every once in a while, you hit the jackpot — the decisive moment.

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux

For more images from The City Of Light, go here.

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