Street Photography, a genre loved by millions but pursed by just a few. A genre if practiced well can be an intense exercise for your creativity & perspective. But to practice it full time might not be the best of the ideas is how the world treats it!
In this interview with James Maher, you’ll know the genre better and fall in love with its twisted simplicities.
A free-willed, curious soul, James Maher has captured the city of New York like no one else. The city speaks to you through each of James’ stills. As he rightly says, ” I capture the stories on the street!” These stories truly come to life when you observe his images.
We were extremely fortunate to have been able to get in conversation with the man himself, James Maher. To interview him about his art & how he made it big in this genre of street photography. Read along for some candid and from the heart answers!
- What has been your inspiration to take up “street” as a genre knowing it’s not that commercially viable?
I never really thought of the commercial viability of the genre before getting into it. I just thought it was such an interesting art form and I loved to walk the city, so taking a camera and photographing my surroundings just seemed like the normal thing to do. I did this before I even knew there was a term street photography.I just love trying to capture stories that I find interesting throughout the city. I think street photography is a beautiful mix between documentary and personal work and it is a fantastic way to express yourself.At first, I made my living strictly through events and portraits and still continue to work in those fields, but street photography has opened a lot of avenues for me. It’s the engine of my business – people find it interesting even if they hire me for other jobs. I write about the genre, teach it, sell prints, and give workshops that now account for about 50% of what I do.
- Capturing New York is something you love doing, what attracts you to this city?
When people talk about the energy of New York, what they mean is the energy on the streets – the fact that you can walk out the door and suddenly have incredible interactions with all types of people from all different backgrounds.I love that you can never see it all. Just walking and getting lost is my way of relaxing and taking the camera with me allows me to pay attention more to my surroundings. Then I get to go home and put the best work into series that best show off what I want to portray about the city.There are surprises around every corner. The city and people here never fail to surprise you.
- What are the places you have traveled to, for shooting the streets?
I shoot my best street photography at home. While I photograph when I travel, I’m not one that loves to travel to take photographs. There’s enough to photograph in this city itself to keep me busy and I’ve been here my whole life so I feel like I understand it best. I feel like there’s much more nuance in my work here because of this.Up until 3 years ago, I lived in Manhattan for my entire life and shot there primarily. 3 years ago, I moved to Brooklyn and this allowed me to start an entirely new series of color work. I just get lost whenever I can, explore more and more each day, and learn about the place through my photography. It’s such a fun experience and I’m starting to learn about a lot of the borough because of this.This is how I believe I do my best work.
- Which is your favorite place to shoot, & Why?
In Manhattan, I love shooting in SoHo, the East Village, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and of course Midtown and 5th Avenue.In Brooklyn, I love the Brooklyn Waterfront, but really my favorite thing is to go deep into the borough, to see the quiet, diverse residential neighborhoods. They feel worlds away from the crazy and intense streets of Manhattan.
- What/ who inspires you?
Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Alec Soth, William Eggleston, Trent Parke, Garry winogrand, Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Matt Weber, and Daido Moriyama.
- What do you love more? Capturing or guiding others to capture?
Nothing beats walking by yourself and photographing. That’s where I find mental peace and clarity. But a close second to that is sharing my enthusiasm with others. Seeing the excitement on other people’s faces while sharing what I love is a wonderful thing and it helps to keep my motivation.
- Can you please give us insights into your process of capturing the streets.
I use a Fuji X100T camera and either a 35mm or 50mm (full frame equivalent) lens. It’s such a light and incredible camera for street photography. I just act like I’m a tourist looking at the backgrounds and not noticing my subjects and this works really well. It allows me to get close to take candid photographs of people without making them uncomfortable.I’ve been doing this for about 20 years and I have not been stopped once over the last five years. Generally, I feel pretty invisible even though I get pretty close.
- Being an accomplished portrait photographer, how has street photography influenced your portraitures?
When shooting portraits, I always look for the candid moments that people experience when they don’t quite realize I am photographing them. It’s the moment in between the shots that I’m looking for. I love to catch people off guard and to show what they are really like.
- Can you give a brief about your photo tours & workshops? Where did you get the idea from? How has your experience been so far?
I teach frequent private 1-1 (or small travel group) street photography tours and workshops all around the city. Probably 3-4 times a week. It’s such a fun time meeting people from all around the world and showing them my favorite spots.I also give frequent 10 person weekend street photography workshops. These usually have a Friday, meet-and-greet dinner, 2 hour Sat and Sun classroom sessions in the mornings, and then the rest of the day is spent out photographing in a bunch of different neighborhoods in the city with a diverse group of photographers. It’s such a fun experience.Overall, it’s been an incredible experience. I got the idea about 10 years ago from seeing other photographers offer photo tours. However, I decided to also include a historical aspect of my workshops. I’m a certified history tour guide and along with the photography teaching and sightseeing, I give historical and current event accounts of the neighborhoods and cities.I think this is a really important aspect of learning to photograph a neighborhood. The more you know about it, the more interesting and nuanced your photos will be.
- Could you please give us some key learnings from your journey in street photography for our budding photographers.
The key is just to go out there and do it over and over again. You can do this type of work whether you’re in a suburban or quiet neighborhood or in a big city. Even taking 20 minutes here and there to go for a quick walk from your house will yield some incredible results if you keep doing it.Get a small camera and prime 35mm (or similar) lens that is easy to take around with you during your daily life. Don’t just take pictures in the most interesting areas. Seek out the boring and quiet areas where you don’t think you can find good photos and then search for interesting photos. You’ll find that eventually, you will create some of your most interesting work there.And editing is really important. That’s really where the art form of street photography is created. This is where you take these disparate moments and bring them all together into a sequence to tell a fascinating story.
Check out the Website of James Maher here.