Jean-François Cléroux | Flâneur & Lens Creative
Different Lens, Different Story!

Class Notes for Part-01 – Required Reading 1

As I mentioned I would be taking the Free On-Line Street Photography Class along with everyone else and that I would post notes. Here is the first installment.

• Part-1.1 – Howard Becker: Introduction to Visual Sociology



The paper explains the importance and relevance of Sociology and Photography in the early years and how in many ways they are the same, or at least, chasing the same goals. This leads to the importance of ‘candid’ photography or what we call ‘Classic Street Photography’. I feel it’s important to both gaining an understanding of Street Photography but also to explaining or defining What Street Photography is. There is more on this in the Required Reading Part-1.2.

Two important paragraphs and a great lesson stand out for me that should make you think, and hopefully help you change your ways.

“Laymen learn to read photographs the way they do headlines, skipping over them quickly to get the gist of what is being said. Photographers, on the other hand, study them with the care and attention to detail one might give to a difficult scientific paper or a complicated poem. Every part of the photographic image carries some information that contributes to its total statement; the viewer’s responsibility is to see, in the most literal way, everything that is there and respond to it.”

I think that when Becker says “Photographers, on the other hand” he is referring to accomplished or at least somewhat photographically educated photographers. Most new photographers have neither the knowledge, understanding, the eye for, nor the developed photographic language to notice the subtle nuances and statements that can be found within an image. But, don’t let that deter you. This stuff can all be taught, and learned, an Becker even gives the reader a valuable exercise.

“Using a watch with a second hand, look at the photograph intently for two minutes. Don’t stare and thus stop looking; look actively. It will be hard to do, and you’ll find it useful to take up the time by naming everything in the picture to yourself: this is a man, this is his arm, this is the finger on his hand, this is the shadow his hand makes, this is the cloth of his sleeve, and so on. Once you have done this for two minutes, build it up to five, following the naming of things with a period of fantasy, telling yourself a story about the people and things in the picture. The story needn’t be true; it’s just a device for externalizing and making clear to yourself the emotion and mood the picture has evoked, both part of its statement.”

I highly recommend you try the exercise to help train your eye and your mind to better read images and to help develop the language of photography. Judges and Critics do this, not as an exercise but merely from looking at images over and over many times for many years. Unfortunately, many do not learn to really look at them and thus are not better than those that merely read headlines.

“When you have done this exercise many times, a more careful way of looking will become habitual. Two things result. You will realize that ordinarily you have not consciously seen most of what is in an image even though you have been responding to it You will also find that you can now remember the photographs you have studied much as you can remember a book you have taken careful notes on. They become part of a mental collection available for further work.”

It’s that ‘mental collection’ that becomes a valuable tool for your art or photography. Keep learning, looking, and shooting!

Please know that I am always open to discussion, comments, and corrections. I’m not the expert. I work hard at learning as much as I can and at growing as a Street Photographer. Tell me I’m wrong! But please tell me why you think I’m wrong. I encourage you to share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns on this blog.

Want to share relevant images? Please share with us at our Facebook Group “Streets I Have Walked”.

All Class Notes (as I post them) can be found in the respective Free On-Line Street Photography Class pages.

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