Breakfast can wait

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Much of my photography is done while travelling. However, even a cursory glance at my photographs confirms they are a long way from what might be thought of as conventional ‘travel’ photography. That is to say, colourful picturesque images of landmarks and ‘views’.

I do take this type of image sometimes and love to view great examples by others. The thing is, it’s just not the type of photography that really interests me. With the advent of global tourism there is already a surfeit of pretty pictures of every conceivable location. The challenge is to ‘see’ differently.

My interest is in grittier social documentary images and portraits of the people I meet on my travels. To my way of thinking this results in images which are unique to me and, hopefully, less prone to cliché. The legendary photographer Don McCullin summed up this position well when he said:

“The real truth of life is on the streets. Photograph the daily lives of people, and how they exist, and how they fight for space and time and pleasure.”  Don McCullin

One way I try to make a different photograph is to get out on the streets of cities early in the morning. I usually go out before breakfast (6-8am). This is my favourite time of day for street photography. Unlike many western cities, those in Asia start the day much earlier.

As a city is waking from its slumber there are often scenes and encounters that don’t happen later. Some cities have unique social scenes taking place in the early morning before the tourists flood onto the streets. An example of this is Hanoi’s seniors getting together every morning at Hoan Kiem Lake to catch up with friends.

While tact is required when photographing on the street at all times, this is particularly true in the early morning. People may be washing, enjoying a private moment with old friends, rushing to get the kids off to school or feeling harassed as they busily prepare for another day’s work.

Often people are surprised to see you out so early and more inclined to engage because they are often curious. This gives the opportunity to photograph. Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s said: “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” A little banter makes it fun for everyone without leaving people feeling you’ve intruded on their privacy.

This sometimes means a loss of the candidness prized by purist ‘street’ photographers. However, I’m more concerned with interesting images than dogmatic adherence to constraining definitions of street photography.

Here is a small selection of early morning shots. Nothing special, just the discipline to get up early and show a little respect for people who have to do likewise.

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Delhi, India 2016

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Delhi, India 2016

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Delhi, India 2016

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Delhi, India 2016

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Hong Kong, 2014

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Hanoi, Vietnam 2012

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Hanoi, Vietnam 2014

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16 thoughts on “Breakfast can wait

  1. some great shots John. what is your etiquette for approaching people? i want to get more photos of people in my local area as they are very photogenic & always doing something, which makes them worth photographing, but they are really not interested in being photographed, it is inconceivable to them to have the time to walk around taking pictures, & you are left with the sense that it is intrusive, so i try to take them without their knowledge, but this is prone to failure & i am still left with the feeling that i have invaded their person. McCullin talks about the photographer as intruder upon person & never seems to have completely justified his intrusions. the documentary about him is intense. great post John.

    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for your comment. As you know only too well, every cultural context is different. Generally, speaking I find the two best aids in gaining consent are flattery and lots of smiling. I don’t try to hide what I’m doing in the hope of gaining candid shots (you can always get them). If people see you looking confident going about your photography they are often more comfortable talking to you. I always want people to feel the interaction has been positive so I make a point of keeping the conversation focused on the person – not me – and a big show of gratitude for their kindness allowing me to make a portrait of them. And always show them the picture on the LCD. If there is a group, always try to engage the group so they share in the fun. Good luck. Regards, John

  2. I’m a little taken aback by the candidates of some of these images.. such talent. Especially the man washing. What a capture. What an enjoyable post!

  3. thanks for sharing these pics. Regarding subjects’ privacy, my personal opinion is that just like any other art form, photography is also very callous, so you should just click whatever you want otherwise the pics won’t look natural…they will have a contrived feel and lose their honesty…

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