Romanian Man

Street photography scares me.

My only phobia in life is fear of crowds. Street photography requires the photographer to be on the street, in the crowd. You cannot control the lighting, you cannot pose the model, you cannot carefully study the form in front of you, look at it from different angles, shoot multiple shots and select the best. Life unfolds before you in chaotic random sequences and you have to see the fleeting moment, make sure you don’t change it in any meaningful way, control your camera gear and capture it.

Street photography is something I admire. It is genuine. It is a candid, unscripted, unrehearsed moment. To create the images the photographer has to doing something I fear.

The handful of street photos I have taken have been serendipitous. I was “at the scene” for another purpose, a fashion shoot or capturing cityscapes; I saw an opportunity and had the courage to take the shot.

One of my first street photographs is also a personal favorite. I took the photograph several years ago on the streets of Cluj, Romania. While walking around the city photographing architecture, I came upon a highly reflective building. The sun was at just the right angle to light up its entire surface, and it was bouncing soft light out into the street. Surrounded by tall buildings the light would not last long. I knew anything that came down the street would be covered with wonderful reflected light from the building. So instead of photographing the building, I leaned against it and waited for life to enter the scene.

As fate would have it, after a few moments a trolley car came down the center of the street and stopped as traffic crossed in front of it. I scanned down the line of trolley windows and a man seated near one caught my eye. His face and the silhouettes behind him told me a story and I briskly walked down the sidewalk to be straight across from him. I quickly raised my lens to capture the scene. Just as quickly, I put the camera down.

The camera and lens I had that day were large and I felt very conspicuous. I did not want to be “caught”. I was afraid someone would see me and yell to the man, “Hey, someone just took your photo!” The man might come out of the trolley car and protest, I might ruin his day. Silly but true.

The man never noticed me and the next moment the trolley pulled away.

It was one moment, one shot. It said something to me. I look at the photo occasionally and wonder how the man is doing. Are there any smiles on that face? Did those three people see each other often on the trolley and sit together in lonely solitude?

I have always been proud of that photo. It was genuine and for a moment I had overcome my fear.

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