(Street) Photographer Reuben Radding, currently visiting London, gives us a very insightful and honest interview on photography, meditation, iPhones and more.
Reuben, you're a street photographer based in New York, tell us a little about you:
Well I’ve been shooting on the street for about 8 or 9 years. It was the reason I began in photography. The whole point was that every day I was seeing these amazing things happening all around me and would always say to myself “I wish I had a camera.” This was before all of us had cameras in our phones, so it meant actually buying a camera and learning how to use it. It changed my life completely. I went from just carrying the camera in my bag hoping to catch these elusive memorable moments, and ended up advancing to where I would go out specifically in search of things to shoot. That was when I knew I was in it for good.
I relate to your view that photography is some form of therapy, could you explain?
Well, what I meant by that statement you read was…that it’s probably more like meditation for me, or what I understand to be one of the benefits of meditation: from doing street photography I receive the amazing gift of appreciation for life. I tried Zen, and I went in for therapy at times, but I was motivated to be in the streets and then found out that if you observe life closely enough, and get out of your own ego, you can find an enormous amount of healing. That doesn’t mean I always feel good on the street, but if I keep at it long enough, by the time I go home I have slipped into this state of feeling free and joyful.
You've had some very good press coverage including the NY Times, how did that one come about?
Ah, the Times publication was a lucky break. I was hired to shoot a concert, not by the Times, but by the promoter of the show. The next morning I got an email explaining that the Times had sent a reviewer to the gig, but they didn’t send a photographer and if I could get them an image in 30 minutes it would run in the paper. I was out at breakfast with a friend and had to stall them another hour so I could get home to my harddrive, but it all worked out!
Taking photos on your phone doesn't seem to be an issue for you whereas some purists would disagree. Is it something along the lines of "The best camera is the one you have with you"?
Something like that. I’m really glad that iPhones weren’t ubiquitous when I started shooting because they are remarkable photographic tools and I might never have ended up shooting film or learning about the whole craft of photography. That said, after some time of being a snob about not using a smartphone I finally took the plunge a couple years ago and I think it’s fantastic. The best camera is the one that gives a voice to your eye or brings you the excitement that inspires you to shoot more. Sometimes for me that means an iPhone. Also an iPhone is silent and inconspicuous. Everyone on the street these days is staring at a phone. It’s easy for me to look like I’m just checking email when I’m shooting people.
Does your photography lead you to travel a lot? What's your favourite city to shoot street work in?
Actually traveling for photography is a new thing for me. I’ve always been pretty content to shoot in New York. It’s the reason I started shooting and remains my favorite place I’ve ever shot. People live so publicly there. People there have interactions and experiences on the street in New York that few people in other cities would ever have. I have travelled to about 14 countries and I’ve never seen anything that quite compares. I felt that way from the moment I landed there in 1988, long before I was a photographer, and I still feel that way to this day.
What else do you shoot? I see headshots on your website?
Headshots, portraits, events, concerts, bands, documentary work…anything with people. The only photo jobs I’ve done that I hated were the ones that didn’t involve photographing people. Lately I just love doing portraiture and am trying to find a way to bring my worlds of the street and the posed portrait together in new ways. Fortunately most of my clients are enthusiastic about this.
I ask everyone that question. What is the single piece of advice you wish someone gave you when you started photography?
“Don’t use watermarks.”
Thanks very much Reuben, I couldn't agree more on watermarks!