I’m not sure what motivates other photographers, but for me there’s usually a good bit of wanting to do something established—something that I’ve been drawn to and respect or even love—in a different way. In a better way, if I dare aspire.
I think we often start off emulating, but from a strategic or ethical realization that you can’t just try to copy (suffused with doubt that you ever truly could if you wanted) you decide to try something a little different.
So much of any kind of photography suffers from over-emulation, people who imitate what they admire, perhaps unaware of what they are doing. But we see what they are doing and it’s depressing. With street, maybe because I’ve been shooting street off and on for a long time, this seems especially tiresome.
I know prevailing thought says to specialize and become known for a particular thing—something to do with branding yourself—but what effect does that have on your growth as a photographer, as a person?
I like doing different kinds of photography, different formats, genres, color and black & white. The idea of confining myself to street feels like I would be buttoning up a tight collar, then treading a suffocating path toward a dead-end.
There is some interesting street work out there. I recently came across the Vivo collective and I like some of the work posted there quite a lot. But for the most part the street work I find on the internet, popping up in various feeds, is… pretty tedious.
Each photographer has themselves to draw upon, their ideas and personality, their experiences and fears, their gifts and handicaps (which could be one and the same). These are the things that need to be confronted out on the street. They are our own, and they result in gestures that point away from imitation.
I’ve long been interested in conveying the sensation of seeing rather than the details of what I see—which I often can’t make out anyway, being very nearsighted. This leads me to movement, shifting shapes, glancing impressions, transitory light, darkness.
I don’t believe that understanding is necessarily enhanced by ever more details or sharpness of resolution. It’s like that point in learning a new language when you stop trying to comprehend by deciphering and translating individual words, and instead the meaning of the sentence as a whole emerges at once, revealing itself in tone and rhythm.
I love street photography. But I might hate it even more.
That’s the subtext, the underlying tension to whenever I shoot street. The thrill, the fear, the exhilaration, the nausea, the joy, the self-loathing, the laying traps for beauty amidst a doubtful struggle against banality.
About the author: Peter Schafer is a Brooklyn, NY-based photographer and writer. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. You can find more of his photography on his website, and more of his stories on Medium. This article was originally published here.