Look at the work of these three photographers and understand why they favour the ‘unaware’ method of taking photographs.
Born in Ukraine, Weegee (formerly known as Arthur Felig) came to New York with his parents in 1909. He worked in various jobs in the commercial photographic field until becoming a freelance press photographer in 1935. Best known for his graphic black-and-white images of crime and fire scenes he describes how he got his work:
What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something. (1)
Robert Frank (1924-2019)
The Swiss photographer Robert Frank moved to New York in 1947. Most famous for his seminal book ‘The Americans’ which was shot on a road trip around the states in the mid-1950s. Using an unobtrusive Leica rangefinder camera with a 35 mm lens his style was to capture the ordinariness of American life. Discussing his methods with SFMOMA in 2015 he said:
You have to be quick as a photographer, you have not to be noticed too much. (2)
One of Frank’s favourite photographs (below) from the book is the 1956 photograph of a couple laying in Alamo Square Park overlooking San Fransisco. He describes their look as being one which a photographer often gets from people when disturbed – he is an intruder.
I find this photograph fascinating because it was selected by Frank as one of only 83 images from a selection of over 27,000. And yet it is so imperfect – the highlights are blown, the horizontal isn’t straight, the couple cut off at the waist and shoulder. But he selected it for publication. This is an image of a couple and a photographer.
Bruce Gilden (1946)
Gilden is an American street photographer famed for his flash lit close-up images. I’m afraid my attitude towards his work is similar to my attitude to Dianne Arbus. I find them exploitative and unpleasant.
(1) Weegee, 1987. Weegee By Weegee – BOMB Magazine. [online] BOMB Magazine. Available at: <https://bombmagazine.org/articles/weegee/> [Accessed 2 April 2020].
(2) Frank, R., 2015. Robert Frank · SFMOMA. [online] Sfmoma.org. Available at: <https://www.sfmoma.org/artist/Robert_Frank/> [Accessed 2 April 2020].