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Seeking the Elusive 'Decisive Moment' in Foreign Cities

Some of the photos I took during my trips to Penang and Singapore may pass as street photography, but to be honest, they were more like my feeble attempts to capture 'decisive moments' that I don't usually find at home.

Okay, this may be a common sight elsewhere, but I felt that I had to press the shutter when she looked at me. The green light lit up a second after.

I was excited about attempting street photography in foreign cities since it’s pretty much hitting two birds with one stone: exploring and getting to know a city as a traveler (and taking travel snaps in the process), and sharpening my observation skills as a wanna-be street photographer. I thought it would be easy, since as a traveler, everything is bound to look interesting because you don’t get to see them everyday.

However, as soon as I started walking around the streets, I found myself faced with questions and issues which I now hope people like me — who are basically new to serious street photography — usually find themselves wondering about.

What makes a photo of everyday scenes around a city truly unique? How do you capture its character? These were the main issues that went whirling inside my head as I sought to take photos that would be distinctly Penang, or certainly Singapore. I don’t know if I was putting so much pressure on myself, if I was striving for the impossible as I was hardly sure if I can already take a “proper” street photo with story, character, and impact. In the end, I went with my instinct, guided by my curiosity as a traveler. I now believe I was only limited by my choice of camera and film combination (I fared better in Singapore with a Lomo LC-A+ loaded with fresh Fuji Neopan 400 than the Pentax Espio 120 SW loaded with a very expired Ilford Delta 400 I armed myself with in Penang), my timidness, and my impatience (I didn’t want to stay in one area too long, lest I seem suspicious or attract unwelcome attention).

Now, while I think I failed miserably with my black and white photos around Penang, I think I managed to do fairly well with some of my snaps in color. I think Penang is quite the interesting city with so many colorful things to see and capture, and so it must be my initial inclination to capture Penang in color that makes me think that I failed to do it with black and white film.

I also wondered, are locals usually more forgiving to foreigners taking photos of them or more wary of them? How should you — as a foreigner and street photographer — behave while chasing after a scene, especially in usually busy spots? I didn’t really think about it much while I was already out in the streets, but there were moments when I hesitated whipping my camera out. Now, looking at the distanced and hurried photos I took in Penang, I think I was more cautious and wary during my time there in late January than my stay in Singapore in early March. However, I think I can forgive myself since it was my first time to travel solo in Penang. In my second visit to Singapore, I was already more at ease with myself even if I was alone, and, looking at my photos, I became more focused on snapping away if there’s anything interesting before me. Nevermind if my subjects caught me raising and pointing a camera at them.

After doing the Garry Winogrand approach of editing — letting some time pass by before looking at my photos and thus, emotionally detaching myself from them — I eventually came to the conclusion that I liked my Singapore photos more because many of them had more activity in them, and thus, best showed my attempts at capturing something decisive. It was my own way of learning that the “type” of street photography I want to pursue involves capturing a moment frozen in time. It doesn’t really matter whether I’m here in Manila or visiting a city for the first/nth time; all that matters is the chase for those stories out in the streets, however elusive they may be.

Oh, and I should get rid of this shyness, too. “Shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to,” Morrissey once sang.

Would love to read your insights about this drabble, so please do leave a comment below!

written by plasticpopsicle

1 comment

  1. rbruce63

    rbruce63

    The color photographs are almost monochromatic showing lively reds and blues where they matter the most! The black and whites are almost living in color with dark blacks and luminous whites and all the gray and silver tones in between them, thanks documenting a busy metropolis with time for a smile and for affection. Bravo!

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