I wonder if what I’m doing on the streets of Toronto these days isn’t illegal, immoral — or both.
What began as a temporary diversion to beat boredom during my 40-minute commute, has turned into an obsession.
For the past few weeks, armed with my point-and-shoot camera, I’ve been snapping “in-the-moment” pictures of people and things on the street — all from the comfort of my MINI Cooper.
It began at the stop lights. With nothing else to do but sit in traffic, I became an acute observer of the teeming life and oddities on Queen Street West — my most common route home from work.
These observations dovetailed with my renewed interest in photography.
Recently I’ve been using my “serious” camera, a Nikon D40 DSLR, to learn how to shoot in manual mode. This allows me complete creative control rather than letting the camera make all the decisions about exposure, lighting etc.
For the beginner, shooting in manual mode requires constant mental gymnastics in order to balance several conflicting elements like focal length, shutter speed, aperture and ISO — every single time you take a picture.
Checking. Fiddling. Adjusting. Rechecking. As with anything new, much practice is needed to eventually become fluent.
Unfortunately, I have limited patience and expect stellar results almost immediately. (One could argue, based on that character flaw alone, I might be ill-suited to photography)
Given my temperament, slogging through the learning process became tedious and I started feeling stifled. Hemmed in. So, I sought relief in my tiny Nikon Coolpix camera. Doing it all with one hand. On automatic. Clickety-click-click.
Therein began my Jackson Pollock approach to photography.
Here’s how it works: camera in my right hand, steering wheel in my left, I photograph much the same way as Pollock, the famous American painter, created his abstract expressionist paintings — with controlled freedom — flinging, dripping, pouring and spattering paint on canvas.
I shoot the same way, the street as my canvas. At every stop light I’m hyper-alert — watching, responding, pointing, zooming, and clicking — first out the passenger window, then through the windshield, and sometimes up through the sunroof. Shutter speed? Aperture? Who cares? The camera’s on auto. White balance? Metering? Out the window!
My subject matter is anything that captures my attention in a lightning-quick moment: people carrying dogs like footballs; couples holding hands, having a conversation, an argument; a priest in full clerical collar; bizarre footwear; weird reflections in glass windows. The list is endless.
And it’s amazing how, in a short time, I’ve begun to see the extraordinary in the very ordinary.
The adrenaline rush of this Pollock-like practice is exhilarating! It’s a visceral, split-second, snap-happy kind of shooting. I feel like a sniper, operating under the camouflage of my moving little cabin. Point, click! Point, click! Green light — GO!
So, is this stealth-like behavior immoral? I tell myself that I’m just like one of those street photographers shooting from the hip (or the car as the case may be) in a hip part of town. No transgressions there.
Is it illegal? I don’t think so. It all takes place in a fraction of a second at a stop light or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just like putting on mascara in the rear view mirror (which, for the the record, I never do).
The results? Surprisingly beautiful given the modus operandi.
– 30 –