People are by far and away the best subject for street photography and I prefer to photograph them when they’re engrossed in some kind of activity.
Why? Mainly because they’re less likely to be bothered by the camera, so I can get a truly candid shot — but also because they reveal a little bit more about themselves in the way they conduct their chosen activity.
I’m not saying you can’t get a great shot of people doing nothing. Perhaps someone is looking into thin air, lost in thought. Depending on other factors that could be a terrific photo. Yet, after a while, the do-nothing shot becomes tedious because it’s so static. Yes, they’re trapped in a moment of time, but it’s a long moment — and we’re trapped in there with them.
Which brings me to the subject of ice cream.
At Least They’re Doing Something
On a summer foray into the streets of London’s West End I encountered a lot of people eating ice cream. It had never occurred to me before that such activity could be a proper subject for street photography, but I now think it is.
I think the featured image (above) is intriguing because I’m not sure what’s going on. Is the man about to take a bite of the Mint Choc Waffle? Or is he inspecting it to see if there’s something unpleasant embedded in the top of it? Why can’t his partner bear to look? Or has something caught her attention off-frame?
Although the scene itself is utterly mystifing we know everything else about it. For example, it’s labelled with the location: Seven Dials, a short distance from Bloomsbury and the British Museum. We even know exactly what sort of ice cream it is: a Mint Choc Waffle — one of the vendor’s most popular waffles, being twice illustrated on the side of the van.
I’m always talking about the value of contrast within a street photo and the above shot is a rare example of informational contrast: a surfeit of information about the context of the action, but very little about the action itself.
The End of the Ice Cream
The two young women eating ice cream in the next shot are doing so in unison. That always makes for a good photo, especially when the subjects are clearly relishing the experience.
In this instance, we appear to have joined the activity just as it’s coming to an end. They’re both getting the last lick of enjoyment from it, emerging into the open area away from the market to embark on their next adventure.
It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll
Only one of the two gentlemen in the shot below is actually eating his ice cream. The other one is probably looking forward to sitting down to enjoy it at his leisure. Again, it’s given us a nice contrast between the two subjects, quite apart from the fact that one is wearing black-and-white and other’s in red.
Are they perhaps rock musicians, or stage managers? If so they probably thought I was from the paparazzi, but they didn’t break their stride.
Above the shoulder of man with the red tee-shirt (depicting our evolution from ape to rock star) is Hew Locke’s wonderful sculpture of the moon goddess Selene on the facade of the Nadler Hotel. She represents sleep.
Sleep is the epitome of inactivity and not nearly as photogenic as rock ‘n roll — or eating ice cream, for that matter.