There’s marine photography and there’s street photography. And never the twain shall meet?
Boats and ships have featured in art for at least 6,000 years, the earliest dating from around 4,000 BCE in rock carvings on the Aegean Islands. You can see why. Isolated in a seascape, a boat is the only object in view when you look beyond the shore.
Today, the shore is cluttered with all kinds of objects — piers, buoys, lighthouses, wind farms, oil rigs – and all kinds of boats and ships. The presence of a vessel is no longer remarkable, unless there is something particularly unusual about it.
Nonetheless, marine artists and photographers continue to create masterpieces of their chosen artform by keeping their focus on boats and ships, in all weathers. There’s drama aplenty on the high seas. It’s enough to make a street photographer envious!
Street Photography Fights Back
Yet I think it’s possible for the street photographer to make a challenge by observing boats on urban canals and rivers. You don’t even need to go down the port to find potential subjects.
My featured image (above) shows a boatload of cleaners whose job is to fish rubbish and weeds from the canals of Bangkok. When a rapidly moving passenger boat passes them they bob up and down in the water, doing their best to remain upright.
We’re close enough to see the actions of the figures and even one or two of their expressions. Such a picture, I contend, carries the spirit of street photography, despite featuring a boat.
I’m intrigued by the fact that the person at the front of the boat has a chair which is fastened securely to the deck. Yet apart from the skipper at the wheel he seems to be the only one without a pole and basket. It’s this kind of detail I love to find in a street photo, even when it’s not on the street.
In the Spirit of Street Photography
Here’s another candid shot (above) which in even closer to the spirit of street photography. This time I’m quite near to the subject, being on a passenger boat that’s going in the opposite direction. We can see the expressions of both men very clearly. Those guys in the Marine Department really enjoy their work!
As always, the street photographer needs a little bit of luck: in this case provided by an attractive background of trailing flowers. The jet of water from the back of the vessel gives the image an exhuberant touch.
The two images I’ve shown so far make a curious juxtaposition. The heavily masked figures of the cleaners, cloaked in green, betray the fact that they’re definitely lower down the pecking order in canal maintenance, compared to those impeccably dressed men on the jetfoil.
That’s the great advantage of street photography: we get to examine images at our leisure, all the time extracting additional information as we compare and contrast one picture with another.
Back in the UK I rarely get access to canals, although the River Colne flows past my window, just a few feet away. Further downstream it opens up into a large estuary and mixes with the sea surrounding Mersea Island.
Alas, it’s hard to get close enough to anyone enjoying “Jolly Good Boating Weather,” and frankly the weather isn’t always jolly good.
Wind surfers (below) protect themselves with wetsuits while they ply the muddy waters off Mersea Island. Before they stand upright they look like a giant dragonfly struggling to take off.
In this shot I’ve included just a hint of the horizon to contrast with the extreme angles of the wind surfers and their sails. Does the shot please me? Not like the others. It makes me feel I’m drifting out to sea, away from those comforting but unforgiving city streets.