Monday, April 29, 2013

Blog Review: Street Photography and Other Snaps

Photograph by Chris Vanderwees

Over the next couple of weeks I will highlight some of the brilliant photographic talent in the city.  To start things off, today I will look at the fantastic photo-blog Street Photography and Other Snaps.

Chris Vanderwees is a graduate student who specialises in street photography. When I came across his tumblr account my jaw dropped; his captivating images capture the full palette of Ottawa street life in a way that I have never seen before. His photos range from the humourous (see above) to the disturbing (see below) to the tender (see the two men embracing a bit further below) and everything in between.

Photo by Chris Vanderwees
"A couple of years ago, I began to walk down Bank Street from the Glebe, through the Centretown area to Rideau Street, looping back down either Elgin or Bank Street," Vanderwees tells me an email.

"This has been my main walking route for a couple of years as a way to unwind from writing a dissertation through the English Department at Carleton University."

Working on his thesis into the late afternoon or early evening he began going on long walks until sundown.

"As I started doing this, I would talk to people on the street, running into interesting, intelligent, and eccentric people, over and over," he says.  "At some point, I decided that I'd carry a camera with me on my walks as a way to keep track of the people I met and the general happenings I saw on the street. And now I bring a camera with me everywhere I go."

Photo by Chris Vanderwees
It is a good thing that he decided to chronicle the people he met on the street, as his photographs provide a wonderful window into our city.  For me, his work left me with the feeling of having become better acquainted with my fellow Ottawa residents.  Whether it's drug users, someone getting a tattoo, regular people going for a stroll downtown, dogs on leashes, friends hanging out, smokers puffing away or a person in a wheelchair, his images paint a full picture of all of the city's inhabitants.

What I particularly like about his photos is their non-judgmental tone.  Everyone is given a chance to display who they air through his lens, even if they are completely different from each other.

"At first, I was using a digital camera, but I couldn't afford a very good one," writes Vanderwees in his email.  "It was compact, but had a long zoom lens. It felt very impersonal to take a photograph of someone with it. At some point, I realized what I was doing was street photography, a kind of documentary photography mostly involving candid situations. I figured that this digital camera would never work for my purposes.... So, I sold the digital camera and switched to a 35mm rangefinder, a camera that produces much nicer images by comparison."

Initially, he uploaded scans of his negatives to his blog so family and friends could see his photos.  He then began carrying a book, where he could write down email and address so he could send scans or prints of his copies if the people being photographed wanted copies.

Photo by Chris Vanderwees
While Vanderwees accepts donations through his site, and also occasionally receives money for developing his photos, his blog is purely a labour of love.

"I don't make any money from what I do with a camera," he says.  "To be honest, I don't really have a goal for this project except to accumulate as many good pictures as possible. I simply enjoy walking, talking to people, and taking photographs on the street. I didn't really expect the blog to gain much of an audience."

Despite his humble approach, his site has been earning a well-deserved reputation, as he now has a little over 1,000 followers.  He also has been contacted by dozens of people about his photos, had web sites asked if they could talk about his work or promote it, and also has sent a few photographs to some magazines.

"I suppose if I collect enough images, I'd be happy to produce a book of photographs with a small publisher," he says.  "Otherwise, my goal is simply to continue walking and taking pictures of people. Now that I've started doing this, it's just something I can't imagine not doing anymore. It's a bit of a compulsion, I guess."

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