Eye Burn is an ongoing series where Burn My Eye members take turns investigating the thoughts and stories behind each other’s photographs.
In this instalment Burn My Eye members JB Maher, TC Lin and Justin Vogel share their experiences and thoughts behind some of their selected images. JB’s images often include figures vying for space in the frame, TC’s centre on more subtle subjects with a focus on his experiences and involvement, and Justin speaks about the elements of chance that can play a vital role in candid photography.
The diversity of styles and reflections exhibited here emphasise the basis upon which successful collectives can exercise and build their own unique identities.
JB Maher: I was waiting to cross the road of a busy junction in the centre of town when across and down the road I spot this guy trying to navigate himself and a large ladder through the moving crowds. He had yet to hit anyone which I was kind of amazed at so I decided to cross and watch him go through the busy junction. Just as we left it he turned off the street and I was all but ready to move on when my eye just caught the new murial on the wall. He went over towards it and I followed. A few photos later and he reached to mimic it and I knew that was the one. I normally steer away from this style of street photograph but I think that this example goes a bit beyond the norm.
JB Maher: I had recently got a new digital camera and spent the day getting used to it with much frustration. I was heading home cursing it when I saw some teenagers in onesies. Curious, I followed them around the corner and suddenly there were much more. Turns out Jedward were in town for a show. I hung around for a little while feeling quite awkward and not taking any photos but eventually one of them came out the door and all hell broke loose. All I could see were backs of heads but eventually I realised that I now had an LCD screen to use so up the camera went at arms length for a better view.
JB Maher: Dublin in summer. Inner city kids jumping into the dirty Liffey water whenever the sun comes. Groups can range from 5 to 100 and the bigger the more hormones bouncing intimidatingly around. A handful had managed to get into the building and onto the roof to use as a jump off point and after a while of sussing out the vibe I bit the bullet and went on up to try take a few images before the Gardai came. The kid in the wet suit was the main showman but being so high even he was cautious despite a large group egging him on.
JB Maher: I’m a sucker for gestures and hands and this scene seemed like it had potential so I pretended to read the menu outside while keeping one eye on my camera settings and one on the scene. I could have done with a third as the woman on the left came out from the shadows unexpectedly but I managed to flinch down for one photo and went on my way.
Justin Vogel: I made this photograph in response to a brief issued by Martin Parr for the SPNC Project which was essentially “to photograph in Bad Weather”. I went down to the site of the September 11 attacks. It was the first time I had been down to that area since the towers came down, and I had very mixed emotions going in. It happened to be a rainy winter day and the atmosphere certainly matched my mood. After about an hour of frustration, shooting nothing good, getting rained on, wet and cold, I came across this woman just exiting Century 21, a huge “designer mark downs” store, that is just steps away from ground zero. She seemed almost frozen, staring at the gaping nothingness that would eventually become the Freedom Tower. I approached her slowly, getting my settings right (ish), and fired off a couple of frames. In these situations I usually take a few different shots. One when I first notice the subject, a second one from a few feet closer, and then, if the situation permits, I shoot a couple more until the moment evaporates. I knew after my second shot that I had captured what I wanted. I knew in my heart that if the photo came out as I imagined it would, that it would perfectly convey the scene and the emotional weight of the moment. I decided then to return home, mission accomplished. I finished off the roll of film on my walk home. This is by far the most popular photograph I have ever made. It marks a turning point in my development as a Street Photographer, a high water mark as it were that I have yet to surpass.
Justin Vogel: I made this photograph only minutes after I shot the Umbrella Lady. It is the very next frame on the roll. I posted it online around the same time as the Umbrella Lady but it was all but ignored. Here’s the thing: I have always preferred this photograph over the other. It isn’t nearly as popular, it didn’t open any doors for me, but from the day I got the roll of film back from the lab it has nagged at me. How can I reconcile this difference? Popularity vs taste. The truth is I haven’t really had to make any hard decisions about it because the one photo went fairly viral, while the other still languishes in the backwaters of my photostream, but I will always keep in mind: what is popular isn’t always what is preferable. I use it as a kind of reminder for myself to pay attention to the masses, but to be true to myself.
Justin Vogel: This photo is part of a long term project I have been working on which incorporates light leaks as divine intervention. When I came across this scene I had just finished off a roll of film and I recall frantically trying to load a fresh roll into my camera as the scene slowly unfolded before my eyes. In situations like this, panic is the enemy. For me, it is strange, most times scenes on the street evaporate quickly and the trick is to get yourself in position and try to get the shot off before it is too late, but at moments like this one, everything seemed to move in slow motion. I managed to get the film in the camera and began shooting. The first shot or two was imaginary, because the film had not advanced far enough through the camera yet. The light leak is the end result of a practice of squeezing out as many frames as possible on a roll of film.
Justin Vogel: This was the very next frame, but the magic had already dissipated. Obviously, I should have framed lower and swung over to allow room for the couple’s shadow, but that is life shooting on the Street, you rarely get second chances. You don’t always get what you want, and should always leave yourself open to the possibility of a happy surprise.
TC Lin It seems that taxis and scooters make up the majority of traffic in Taiwan these days, though there are perhaps fewer scooters in Taipei due to our excellent metro and bus system. But it’s still an impressive sight.
I was walking along Kaifeng Street, and as I crossed Chongqing South Road, I passed this fellow, the prototypical Taipei scooter rider. It was all there: The flip-flops, the short sleeves and shorts, the sunglasses, the slightly askew helmet tilted at a jaunty angle…all part of an attitude that says “Yes, I am out here in the world on my very own wheels…if I’m hit, I’m screwed, but I can be anywhere in this town in 15 minutes, damn it!” All that’s missing is a ciggie hanging out of his mouth, or a mouthful of betel nut, and I’d lay even money that one or both of those items appeared within two blocks.
In the face of this magnificent sight of the man on his scooter, his light blue helmet reflecting the same-colored sky above as he is flanked by two taxis, the love/hate antithesis of scooters in this town, surrounded by the canyon-like streets, I couldn’t help but take a shot. I didn’t want a reaction; I wanted him exactly how I’d first seen him, hands casually, almost arrogantly in front over his dashboard, legs splayed…so I hardly broke step as I crossed the road in front of him, raising my camera and shooting without pausing. Fortunately for me, he didn’t react, assuming from my gaze (I tend to look past my subjects before raising my camera, as if I’ve noticed something behind them, and they tend not to look behind them until after I’ve taken the shot), that I was photographing the view of the street.
TC Lin In old Taipei, with its densely packed warrens constructed over a century ago, people would squeeze every single bit of space they could for their buildings, no matter how irregular the plot of land, no matter how small. One of the results of this phenomenon is the “Brush Breast Alley”, i.e. a passageway between buildings that is so narrow that passersby have no choice but to feel each other up if they want to get by. It’s either that or go all the way back where you came in.
This passageway, (technically an alley, I suppose), is off Hengyang Road, near Taoyuan Street, near the site of Taipei’s first department store (now a bank). One would hardly notice the opening, which leads to a backstreet full of stands, eateries and noodle shops. Thick electrical lines, bearing inch-thick wrappings of dust, snake along its length, dodging the various utility boxes, holes and other detritus that dot the bulging, moldy walls. The area is also, as it happens, near the original locations of the old photography stores of decades ago, and it is certain that past masters such as Deng Nan-guang roamed here, looking for shots or even possibly just getting something to eat.
As my office is nearby, I also roam these alleys from time to time. On this instance, I was carrying my Leica M6 with a 35mm summicron, loaded with 400ASA Kodak film from 7-Eleven. I raised my camera as I saw the woman approaching, picking her way carefully over the puddles on the ground. She glanced up, but ignored me, continuing to walk towards me as the only other choice would be to turn back. I took a couple of shots, stepping back to allow her to pass, but in the low light, only this one reflected the dank gloom and claustrophobic atmosphere, leading her to clutch at her blouse as if chased by spirits of the past.
I’ve since gone back to “Brush Breast Alley” several times, not to brush breasts, of course, but to see if I could get something similar, or better, or just something. But though I’ve tried it a few times, nothing has worked, and in any case I’ve always felt that meeting such a scene by accident is far more rewarding that seeking it out.
TC Lin “Can we get there on time?” I heard someone in the family ask the taxi driver as they rushed to get all their luggage into the back of the Toyota parked in front of the old Cosmos Hotel. I was walking from the subway station to work, as I did around noon every day, down Taipei’s Zhongxiao West Road. It was cloudy out, the sky a featureless white wearing over the muted greys of the city.
“I have to pee!” a small boy’s voice called out.
“There’s no time, deal with it!” his mother said. By this time I was near enough to see the kid approach a nearby gutter, and by the time I had rounded the column, he was hurriedly pissing into the grate, all the while keeping an anxious eye on his family.
“Don’t leave without me!” he called. I took a couple of shots of the scene with a wide-angle lens, but I was ignored completely even though I was very close. As I walked on, they all piled into the taxi and zoomed away.
TC Lin I was walking with some friends down an alley off of Dunhua North Road one night when we came across little mom-and-pop barbershop, still open despite the late hour. Light from the brightly lit shop poured out into the street onto the parked cars and noticeboards across the way. Though Dunhua North Road is a fairly trendy, modern part of Taipei, all one has to do to penetrate the lofty veneer is walk into the maze of small alleyways and small, one- or two-story buildings that pack the spaces behind the wide boulevards with their high-rise apartment buildings and offices.
Curious, I peeked into the shop. An elderly man was busy cutting hair in the chair on the left, while his wife worked in the other chair next to him. The shop appeared to be tacked on to another building, with fake brick wallpaper on the walls, the ancient barber’s chairs upholstered with cheap red plastic trying and failing to look like leather, and the place apparently hadn’t been renovated since its inception. When I looked down, I saw telltale marks on the floor where the couple, who had worked the same two chairs, day in and day out, for many, many years, side by side, wearing their way through the white tile linoleum, right down to the black rubber beneath. The husband’s marks were wider, while the wife’s were narrower but just as deep. The sight moved me, and I took a shot of the marks bearing witness to the couple’s history.
I talked with the elderly barbers for a time as they cut the hair of two long-time customers. Theirs is the same story as countless other small businesses in this town, a tale of long, hard work, sacrifice, love, dedication, and the marks they leave.
Burn My Eye will be exhibiting their work as part of Brighton Photo Biennial 2014. Fore more information visit bpb.org.uk/2014