More often than not, I find myself hanging around various airports, bus stops, and train stations. Thankfully, the number of busses in there is pretty small comparatively, as I’m not their biggest fan. Also, when I say ‘hanging around’, I don’t mean in some sort of suspect way, but in a legitimate capacity as a traveller. There are always times when you have an hour or so to kill before moving on, and don’t fancy lugging your suitcase any further – so just decide to stay where you need to be rather than wandering much further. Oh, whatever, you know what I mean.
Anyway, I used to hate these times. I’d get deathly bored just skulking around, and always felt like it was dead time. There’s nothing really useful happening. I tried to adopt the attitude of C.S. Lewis who said he always relished getting delayed, as it gave him time where he had no choice but to relax (I’m paraphrasing heavily, if not entirely making this up), but I obviously didn’t have his patience or grace.
This has changed over the years… or at least my attitude towards the situations have, even if there hasn’t been a marked increase in either patience or grace. Now, I actually almost relish having time to spend waiting on a train, as I get to sit and practice the art of taking candid pictures. Not that I’m necessarily fantastic at it.
All too often I find myself with a desire to head into town and do nothing else but take candid street photographs, but fail to find the time to make it happen. Taking a train somewhere for the express purpose to simply wander around, rather than to go anywhere in particular can be a tough one to grasp mentally, and my brain just tends to dismiss the plans as a fool’s errand. After all, there are plenty of other more valuable things that can be done on days off from work and University.
That doesn’t work when you’re waiting for a train though. You’re stuck there, with nothing else to do. The time has already been written off, so you may as well make the most of it somehow. Rational resistance from the brain demanding you do something productive swept aside, it leaves the space free to sit, look, and take pictures as things unfold in front of you.
This is a different kind of street photography to that which happens on the ‘street’. In one, you are always on the move – grabbing people as you pass by. It’s easy to get a picture and then slip away un-noticed, and the scenery is always changing. When waiting for a train though, you are largely confined to the same place. You can’t keep moving around the station, or else people will begin to wonder what on earth you’re doing, and you can’t quickly escape if somebody spots what you’re doing. You put yourself in a more vulnerable position, and that can feel pretty un-nerving.
Whilst a Leica rangefinder is a great camera for street pictures where you’re on the move, you can’t really deploy the same kind of approach to a situation where you’re sitting down for a long period of time. All of the tips about ‘looking like a tourist’ and not hiding what you’re doing don’t apply in the same way. Even the most hardcore of tourists don’t sit and take pictures for an hour solid in a crowded train station, and the situation is complicated somewhat given that you’re not on public property… and there are plenty of police about who are on the look out for strange behaviour. Let’s not forget that they specifically state that taking photographs for an extended time is deemed suspicious. It’s best to be more discrete.
For these kinds of pictures, I love the Sony RX100. It’s black, tiny, takes amazing pictures, and is all but completely silent thanks to its leaf shutter. Even the person next to you won’t realise you’re taking pictures if you do it right. Positioned strategically, you can shoot away using the display on the back whilst looking as if you are just tapping away on your phone, or looking through other shots. It’s great.
People sometimes get worked up about the prospect and ethics of taking candid pictures, with an instinctive reaction against the idea of being photographed in public without permission. You very rarely get the same sort of disapproval when somebody speaks about a love of people watching from a cafe window… and to me, one is the natural extension of the other.
People are fascinating. That’s what makes them so much fun to watch, and it’s what makes them so interesting to photograph. Give me an hour in a train station over taking landscapes any day.