For this assignment, we were required to produce five still photographs based on the theme – catalyst. These photographs must demonstrate technical proficiency in camera work and showcase an imaginative response to the given theme. No photo-editing software is allowed to be used for the submitted photographs.
A catalyst refers to a substance that causes a chemical reaction. The word that resonated with me was reaction. I wanted to produce a photo series that features a human subject reacting to a situation, object or person. In this case, I have chosen to use ‘traffic lights’ as a catalyst.
Pedestrians react according to the light sequence. For example, they would cross when they see a “green man” and stop at the “red man”. When a “flashing red man” is shown, people tend to quicken their pace and some may even break into an abrupt jog. The images that I’ve taken reflect the pedestrians at every light sequence.
Swanston Street was the perfect choice for this project as it is usually brimming with pedestrians, especially at the intersections of Flinders Station and Melbourne Central. I began my photo-walk from the intersections of Flinders and Swanston Streets and slowly made my way up to RMIT city campus.
I would usually position myself in front of an intersection and snap photos of the passing or waiting pedestrians between each light sequence. I also experimented with taking wider shots and diagonal shots. Taking photos while crossing the intersections didn’t prove effective, as pedestrians were aware of my presence and would steer clear of the direction the camera was pointing. This was overcome by snapping photos from the waist instead of the viewfinder.
Despite the rainy weather, the overcast day made it easier to expose the shots. In addition, the reflections bouncing off the wet pavement gave the photos more visual depth. The umbrellas also drew more attention towards the pedestrians.
The five selected photographs were taken candidly and feature a strong human element. Most of the pedestrians were captured in mid-stride as I wanted the portray movement and how they were reacting to the light signals. Rick Wester photo-series “Run” was the inspiration for the photograph “Catalyst 3 – Woman Running with Umbrella”.
Upon closer review, I’ve noticed that each photograph has a vibrant colour in them, for example, pink umbrellas or red scarf. Subconsciously, I may have been drawn towards the bright object which propelled me to document that moment.
Taking photos from the viewfinder (Catalyst 1, 2 & 3) reaped more accurate results compared to those taken from the hip (Catalyst 4 & 5). Shooting from the hip requires luck. Most of the time, photographs taken from the hip ends up poorly framed and skewed.
For this photo-series, I’ve chosen to reflect the aesthetics and approach of street photography. There are plenty of debates on the definition of street photography. These ranges from whether it is posed versus candid or in a public space versus indoors. Personally, I have taken a liking to Eric Kim’s definition.
“However at the end of the day, I personally define street photography to myself as: Proof of humanity.” – Eric Kim, 2013.