My 'Lost' Street Photography From 30 Years Ago

Nov 25, 2023

I Just Revisited My Old Photos: 3 Lessons I Discovered About Photographing The World Around You

When I finished high school, instead of undertaking National Service in the SADF, I deferred it for 3 years and started studying photography.

It was Scary (was I any good?). Overwhelming (oh, there's a lot to this photography thing I didn't know). Immensely frustrating (why does Travis take such good photos and mine seem rubbish?).

Honestly, the whole thing was really challenging—mentally and emotionally.

However, it was also exciting and forced me to confront things I felt uncomfortable with.

Like photographing strangers.

I recently found in a stack of negative sheets, the very first time I went out onto the street photographing people.

I think this was the second assignment we had at Photoschool. Looking back at these images I'm reminded of three lessons

The information on this neg strip simply says 'people'. So I'm guessing that it's portraits or images of people on the street. Rather than Street Photography in the broader sense.

Lesson 1: Don't Just Randomly Shoot Images

Looking at the negatives I can see images I know 30 years later what my younger self was trying to photograph.

But there's also loads of frames where I'm scratching my head struggling to see any reason for this image.

Feels like I'm just randomly pointing my camera at things expecting an image to magically appear.

Lesson 2: Don't Shoot And Run

I was only 19 when these images were created. Extremely shy, especially around strangers.

What I noticed in a lot of these photos is that it feels like I'm taking a quick photo without any thought and then trying to get away as quickly as possible!

If I'd taken a little more time talking with people, then I'd have ended up with images that were more considered and composed (in both senses of the word)

Lesson 3: Be Mindful And Respectful

As a youngster I would imagine, like most youngsters, I was self centred and not really the most compassionate.

There are some images in this roll of people who are living on the streets.
I photographed them not out of any empathetic way, but as simple curiosities.
Some of the photos feel like I'm intruding or being 'shifty' in some way.

These days I would think twice about these images, and probably not take them.

These photographs were taken 30 years ago.
Looking at them I can see little suggestions of what I now consider to be my 'style'.

I also see a photographer who is just finding their way. The exposures are generally ok, but a lot of the images seem to hang on some small random idea that is lost in amongst all the other noise.

Aside from the nostalgia aspect of things (the mostly empty streets, the shops long gone), it's also fascinating to see how far I have come as a photographer.

It's difficult to see our improvements sometimes, so if you are able to revisit some of your first work - be it last year or 50 years ago - have a look at see how far you've come.

Thanks again so much for reading and I hope you have an awesome weekend.