The Street Photography of International Collective OBSERVE

With the increased popularity of street photography, collectives are naturally on the rise.

Some focus on a particular camera model or brand, others on a particular location, and some on colour or black and white street photography only. 

In reality, anyone can launch their own group of photographers. 

Get a website, domain name, Twitter and Instagram account and get a few street photographers together to increase exposure of your work.

But launching something is only a small initial step. 

Finding a way to be different, not elitist and original whilst producing quality photography time and time again is how the most interesting street photography collectives stand apart and thrive. 

Meet International street photography collective OBSERVE.

© Danielle Houghton

© Danielle Houghton

We featured street photographer Jason Reed last week in our article "What makes great street photography?" in which we asked 14 top International street photographers to share their unique view on the subject.

Jason talks to us.


Q: Jason, please tell us about you and the Observe Collective

JR: Firstly, thanks for asking us to contribute to the blog Nico.

Well, I'm just one of 13 friends that make up the collective. I moved out of London four years ago and now live in a small village in Buckinghamshire. However, the collective is made up of people from all corners of the globe. We became friends through our participation in a private critique group on Flickr. Just over two and a half years ago Danielle Houghton suggested that we should consider forming a collective and it went from there.

It took about a year to organise everything such as the website, etc., and we launched in the summer of 2013. It’s been said many times before but we really do get on incredibly well. It truly is a photographic group that exists and continues to run smoothly (ish) due to the fact that we are close.

© Larry Hallegua

© Larry Hallegua

© Monty May

© Monty May

© Marcelo Argolo

© Marcelo Argolo

Q: The first thing that strikes me when visiting your site is how colourful it is. Pretty refreshing I think since everything is a bit too black and white in the street photography world sometimes. What’s the reason behind this choice?

JR: Well that's largely due to the skills of our resident design experts! In terms of the colour vs b/w issue, the majority of us shoot colour (some shoot both) and I suppose that it felt like it was more reflective of our style. We wanted something vibrant and eye catching and the guys on the team delivered in spades.

© Fadi

© Fadi

Many of us believe that life is in colour so why not reflect that in our work? Monty May used to shoot b/w for twenty years until Marcelo Argolo told him that his colour work is better and he hasn’t looked back! The benefits of friendly and honest constructive criticism in action.

© Greg Allikas

© Greg Allikas

Ilya put it very well, I think. He told me:

“The world is colourful, and it's beautiful. Shooting colours is a very exciting thing. When shooting colours, you have much more possibilities to show the true resonance between the surrounding, fluently changing flood that we call reality and your own state of mind.”

© Ilya Shtutsa

© Ilya Shtutsa

© Larry Cohen

© Larry Cohen

© Jason Reed

© Jason Reed

Q: Do you feel there is a bit of an establishment / old school rules in street photography, that people maybe aren’t daring enough to innovate?

JR: If by innovation you mean the practicing of new styles and techniques, I think that there are a lot of innovators out there.

Like any art form there are those who follow the more traditional route and those who try and push boundaries. As someone who falls into the former camp I would obviously say that there's nothing wrong with maintaining a traditional approach.

Pictures don't have to explode off the screen or page to be successful. There is a danger of being too innovative in street photography. It all depends on what you shoot and how you make the image. It's all about a body of work.

© David Horton

© David Horton

There are a lot of people who spend a lot of time worrying about whether they're original enough, whether their stuff is unique enough, whether it's all been done before. We are more interested in whether it is good than whether it is presented in some novel way.

For us, the practice of street photography is just about how we live. There are billions of stories to be told every day. The visual shape those stories can take can be interesting in almost as many ways, if the visual storytelling is well done.

© Chris Farling

© Chris Farling

Another important thing is that street photography should be candid. Photography should be, first of all, honest. Both to yourself and to the viewer.  In that light, "the old school rule", as well as "street photography" itself, is no more than a label.

Looking at art through the lens of innovation in this day and age is actually the most stifling viewpoint of all. Avant-garde is old, old, old already. And music basically ended over a century ago with Wagner's "Tristan" chord.  As Chris Farling would say: “Give me some Delta blues and make it soulful”.

© Ilya Shtutsa

© Ilya Shtutsa

© Oguz Ozkan

© Oguz Ozkan

© Larry Hallegua

© Larry Hallegua

Q: “OBSERVE doesn't believe there is a need to choose between pudding and cake.” (quote from the website)

This sums up perfectly how I feel about photography. Personally I cannot imagine always shooting the same stuff all the time. I recently wrote about it actually. Can you explain your views on this?

JR: This neatly follows on from my last point. I do think that being repetitive can be boring and, again, as someone whose thematic subject matter can tend to be a little samey, it's very difficult to avoid falling into that hole. But consistency and storytelling can be powerful if done right and that could (I hope) compensate for a lack of variety in subject matter. Let's face it: there's an infinite variety of scenes available wherever you look. It's just finding the gems that makes it very difficult. Trite as it may sound, it really is a matter of personal taste at the end of the day.

© Larry Cohen

© Larry Cohen

© Marcelo Argolo

© Marcelo Argolo

Q: It’s good to see a truly international street photography collective which at the same time doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Do you have a particular philosophy in that respect?

JR: First and foremost, we want to enjoy our photography. There are times that one or more of us hits a trough in confidence which then has a knock on effect on output. I'm in a deep one of those right now. But the group is always incredibly supportive (back to friendship again!). We do enjoy sharing our work via the site, Tumblr, etc. We are also very happy to be running and curating a Flickr competition/critique group (Street Fight). It's great to see so many talented photographers taking part in that group and also seeing others pushing themselves to improve to get through to the voting stage. Supporting each other, and others through our various activities, is a big part of who we are as a collective.

I think we think it's more fun to think about the next picture than to promote yesterday's. We lighten the burden for each other in that respect. But no, irrespective of our personal outlook, we don't take ourselves too seriously. It's supposed to be fun.

© Monty May

© Monty May

© Tom Young

© Tom Young

© Oguz Ozkan

© Oguz Ozkan

Q: You are all quite active in entering competitions and festivals. How important are they for raising your profile?

JR: I'll be honest and say that I'm not a fan of competitions in general. But as a group we do think that it's worth keeping ourselves in the mix by taking part in some competitions and events. We were honoured to be the featured Collective at the Miami Street Photography Festival in 2014, which was great. It goes without saying that the more your work is seen the more ‘popular’ you become (in terms of exposure) however, I think it's crucial to draw the line between naked self-promotion and maintaining a respectable presence. Hopefully we are on the right side of that line. 

There's a point in your development where it becomes a good benchmark to enter a few reputable (emphasis on reputable) competitions and see how you fare; there's also a point where it's just not something you want to do on a regular basis. Being involved in the overall street photography community is very important to us, however, and to be able to host a competition like the "Under Construction" contest we held as an adjunct to our group show in Iserlohn, Germany (with a good reward, no entry fee, and judged by the likes of Richard Kalvar) was a great experience.

© Fadi

© Fadi

© Greg Allikas

© Greg Allikas

Q: Since your members are based pretty much all over the globe, do you ever manage to meet up?

JR: Our only Collective gathering took place last year at our first exhibition in Iserlohn in Germany in June last year. 9 of the 13 of us were able to make it out for a magical few days. Even more wonderful was the number of our online friends who made the journey.

© David Horton

© David Horton

Other than that, the meetings are a little sporadic. It’s pretty common for a few members to be meeting up at some point during holidays, etc., throughout the year. I think Tom has just been visiting Larry Hallegua in Thailand, for example. We do however chat all the time via a private Facebook group. Rarely does a day go by without most of us bantering online.

© Chris Farling

© Chris Farling

As wide as we are spread, the most convenient place to meet up for the North American contingent has been NYC. Chris lives there, David's a train ride from Boston, Larry Cohen is a car trip from Baltimore. Tom, Fadi, Marcelo and Greg have all made the trip to the big apple at some point. I’m saving up to make my pilgrimage! Istanbul has also been a popular and central(ish) venue hosted by Oguz.

© Tom Young

© Tom Young

Q: Is there a long term plan or aim for Observe or are you pretty much happy to just see where it all takes you?

JR: There is talk of a book but nothing firm yet. There are also discussions for a bi-annual festival (watch this space!). Aside from that, we are all happily enjoying seeing where the journey goes from here. As in any journey, it's much more fascinating when you don't have any plan and then you find amazing things around each turn of the road.

Chris Farling made the point that it would feel contrary to the ethos of street photography to plan ahead too much. We will recognize the moment and be decisive about it!

© Danielle Houghton

© Danielle Houghton

© Jason Reed

© Jason Reed

Q: Now that’s a question for each one of your members...

What would be the single piece of advice you wish someone would have given you when you first picked up a camera?

JR: Buy (and study) more photobooks. Learn from the masters. They are our teachers.

© Jason Reed

© Jason Reed

Larry Hallegua: Carry your camera with you everywhere as you never know when something will be worth shooting.

© Larry Hallegua

© Larry Hallegua

Larry Cohen: Cool shit is cool without you. What are you going to do with it? Put a box around it? Try to meet up to it.

© Larry Cohen

© Larry Cohen

Danielle Houghton: Don't take a 20-year break.

© Danielle Houghton

© Danielle Houghton

Monty May: Go and buy good shoes.

© Monty May

© Monty May

Ilya Shtutsa: As Danielle said, don't leave this for 20 years, go and study, you will regret it when you realise how much time you have lost.

© Ilya Shtutsa

© Ilya Shtutsa

Chris Farling: Listen to interesting music, look at interesting art, read interesting books, travel to interesting places, meet interesting people. And bring a camera.

© Chris Farling

© Chris Farling

Oguz Ozkan: Don't think too much, obey your instincts.

© Oguz Ozkan

© Oguz Ozkan

Tom Young: Seek dialogue. Find others who like street photography and who actually want to discuss it (rather than just fawn over your stuff so you will fawn over theirs). Look for constructive feedback, not empty compliments.

© Tom Young

© Tom Young

David Horton: Follow your heart. Take pictures of the things that interest/resonate with you. Don't take pictures for anyone but yourself. Period.

© David Horton

© David Horton

 

Thanks very much everyone!

This was OBSERVE, international street photography collective, we highly recommend you head to visit their website, check their individual photography and follow them on Twitter!

Nico