Ode to art deco

Odeon Skies III

The Odeon cinema in Loughborough has drawn me like a moth to a flame since our arrival in the town last year. I find the art deco façade of the building to be inspiring and I have photographed it on many occasions. The lines and contours of the building look to me as if a graphic designer has taken a pen and drawn across the sky. I love the way the Odeon sign works with the building. The lines of the sign like the façade are very clean but in a very different way, modern and shinning. Where the sign meets the building the paint has flacked away as if it is sympathetic to the older façade. The overall result is extremely pleasing.

It’s not clear as to whether the building you see today was how it was when it was built. The cinema was originally opened as the Empire in 1914 and was designed by Archibald Hurley Robinson. It seems that the building was refurbished in 1936 and perhaps the façade was updated (1). I would image that the architecture would have been even more splendid when it first opened it’s doors.

Odeon Skies I
Odeon Skies II

Recent news in the town is that we are to have a new multiplex cinema. The cinema including it’s new bars and restaurants will be built on the site of the old hospital at Baxter Gate. The construction has began but there is little above the ground at this stage. The hoarding around the site includes an artists impression of what the finished building will look like. I can’t say that it fills me with the same level of inspiration as the Odeon. I wouldn’t expect the new cinema to be built in a similar art deco style but I would have preferred it if they had designed something more inspiring than brown brick and shop fronts.

I wonder what the fate of the existing Odeon will be? Whilst the university increases the number of people in the town during term time I can’t imagine that there will be enough demand for two cinemas. It would be a shame if the Odeon were to be abandoned and it fell into disrepair. The cinema in my old neighbourhood of Kings Heath was left in this way and it wasn’t long before it was struck by arsonists. That would be a sad ending indeed for a building which has inspired me the way the Odeon has.

Odean Skies IV

Ultimate people watching

Loughborough Market III

Everyone has a their own likes and dislikes and I would imagine that most photographers find certain photographic genres that they enjoy more than others. There are a few genres which stand out for me however since starting to take my photography more seriously again street photography has become one of my favourite past times. There are many reasons why street photography has captured my imagination and I hope to explore this a little further in this post and talk about the genre as a whole.

I love cities and could happily sit for hours drinking coffee and watching the world go by. I enjoy looking around at the people, architecture and general goings on of the city. Something that has fascinated me is the way in which our environment shapes our behaviour. I have carried out a small study on the subject deliberately omitting the people, more interested in the thoughts and feelings my images would evoke when they were out of context. I really enjoyed putting the project together and I intend to return to it at some point.

Typically however street photography is characterised by its focus on the people that live and work in our cities and towns, putting them in the context of the environment which they reside. Since the dawn of photography we have been drawn to photographing the human condition. Some photographic genres attempt  to place its human subjects in a staged environment however many images attributed to street photography are candid, capturing people going about their everyday lives. Even when the subjects are posing for the camera in street photography the images are trying to capture the street as much as the person in it. This can lead to interesting juxtapositions with the advertising and other imagery that is commonplace in modern towns and cities.

Smoking Companion.jpg

With the variety of  people and viewpoints that one might encounter in any urban space the possibilities are endless and you never really know what you might find. The opportunities are also often fleeting with an image being made and lost in a moment. This can lead to street photography being exciting as well as frustrating. The good thing about street photography is that you can often take a break and then find some new inspiration around the very next corner. In fact when faced with some disappointing shots I have headed towards the nearest pub and struck up a conversation with a stranger over a pint only to get back out on the street with a new vigour (hopefully derived from the conversation rather than the alcohol).

Like most genres of photography we are standing on the shoulders of giants, many great photographers have made a name for themselves by creating stunning street photography. What is striking to me is the different approaches that have been taken. For example Henri Cartier Bresson would spend vast amounts of time in a location working a scene where the backdrop created a perfect geometric composition, waiting for a person to step in and complete the image. Others like Bruce Gilden took a different approach, striding through the crowds with camera and flash filling the frame with his subjects. Personally I find the images by both of these photographers absolutely mesmerizing and there are many other approaches to being a street photographer.

All of the different definitions and approaches to street photography can lead some to question whether or not it is a genre worth pursuing as it can appear diluted with some regarding it as a scatter gun approach to imagery. For me it is this flexibility which makes the genre so appealing. If I were to imagine the most eclectic place that I could, I would probably have a city street in my minds eye. Each street photographer conjures up their own view of the city making them sinister, sultry or a celebration of what it is to be human. Depending on your technique you can draw out the harsh colours, graphic and claustrophobic press of the metropolis or wash this away and draw on the loneliness, decay and  corruption which exists in the spaces surrounded by people. If photography is about showing your view of the world then showing your personal view of the city is a worthwhile endeavour in my opinion.

Paris books

One of the other reasons why I have been drawn to street photography is that when I picked up my camera again I promised myself that I would put myself out of my comfort zone. The act of photographing the stranger in a public space is at first nerve racking. If you are trying to shoot candidly then you always have a question about how somebody might react to your pointing a lens in their direction. This feeling took me a bit of getting used to and I still sometimes feel a little self concious today. What you don’t want to do is try to look like you are hiding. Be bold with your camera instead of making yourself look a bit creepy. If you catch somebody’s eye then smile and perhaps indicate that you would like to take their photo. Now that I am more confident I quite often ask people if I can take their picture although the act of asking can dramatically change someone’s reaction to the camera and I am always concious of how this might change my image.

There are plenty of resources on street photography in books and on the internet. Eric Kim’s website alone is a treasure trove of information. You will also find plenty of groups on Flickr to use for inspiration. So what are you waiting for!? Pick up your camera and head off into town.