Amos Farnitano is a brilliant street photographer with a keen eye for contemporary society, with a huge and solid background in this genre. By going though his exceptional photographic artwork, we will try and understand how street photography has changed over the years, what is a street photograph and what is the message behind it.
by Luigi Coluccia
Our today’s focus is on a very popular kind of photography which so many photographers all over the world love and practice. Street Photography is a genre that records everyday life in a public place. The very publicness of the setting enables the photographer to take candid pictures of strangers, often without their knowledge.
Street photographers do not necessarily have a social purpose in mind, but they prefer to isolate and capture moments which might otherwise go unnoticed. Street Photography and Documentary Photography are sometimes overlapping, though they have very distinct qualities. While documentary photography aims at recording history, providing emotional intensity, Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying un-manipulated scenes. They are also candid ad often produce ironic amusement.
To better investigate this photographic genre, we have asked Amos Farnitano, a brilliant street photographer with a keen eye for contemporary society, to tell us about his huge experience. By going though his exceptional photographic artwork, we will try and understand how street photography has changed over the years, what is a street photograph and what is the message behind it.
Amos, 56 years old, lives in Rome. He loves motorbikes, especially for that feeling of freedom of action or thought which he has never turned down in his life. He is a keen observer of the world around him, which helps him a lot to grasp every candid aspect of the contemporary society. Amos embodies all those values that are behind this photographic genre and his street photographs are mirror images of our, contemporary society and habits.
He says: “I am a witness of what I see on my way, I try to tell small stories, often trivial and insignificant. I think the world is made by ordinary people, coloring daily life with their gestures. I’m attracted by common scenes that remain unseen to many people, just because they are ordinary and irrelevant scenes. Images and stories that would never end up in newspapers, books or sociology pamphlets, but will remain forever in my memory and hopefully in the viewer’s memory. ”
Common people then. Faces, gestures, expressions, emotions. All inclusive in a single frame, that can tell the whole story, with the candidness of a man who always manages to get to the heart of every circumstance. With his clever eye and deep sensitivity, Amos is able to capture everyday life events, always rendering a candid and storytelling vision of what he sees, without any tricks and with a simplicity that makes each image a very original one.
AVB: Amos, thank you for accepting our invitation to have this chat. Before focusing on Street Photography, let’s start from the beginning. Where does your passion for photography come from and how was the start?
AF: Thank you so much to you for this opportunity. Actually photography has always been part of my family. My mother worked in a photographic studio, my uncle was a great photographer in the latest ‘50s, during the period of the Dolce Vita in Rome. It has been so natural to me to approach photography. I was given my first camera at 11. It was a Kodak Instamatic. Since that moment fun has never ended, because to me, photography is especially fun.
AVB: You have probably landed to Street Photography after having experienced several other photographic genres – correct me if I’ m wrong! – as it has happened to many of us. How did you come to street photography then? What was attracting your attention?
AF: You are completely right, of course. I started taking some “souvenir” photographs, the typical ones you shot while traveling. It’s only when you become aware of the high potential of photography that you start being more selective. I was born and raised in the suburbs of a big city like Rome, I grew up in the streets, where I played, where I found my friend and my loves. The rest came almost spontaneously. I think street photography is very peculiar, I would say a bit anarchic, where chaos is regulated by chaos and this reflects my way of being.
AVB: You are part of the Admin Staff of a Facebook group that is an important international benchmark for the genre. That is Street Photography in the World. You have been there for many years, taking up this role with dedication and passion. Your point of view is definitely a “privileged” one. How has street photography changed over the years? Do you think your approach to street photography has changed over the years, maybe influenced by a general evolution of the genre or did you stick to your values?
AF: It is a very exciting but hard task, having to manage a group with 160,000 members. “Street Photography in the world” is the brainchild of my friend Roberta Pastore, who got me involved since the beginning. We are very proud of it, indeed. Early March we released our first eBook, “Street Photography in the World – Volume 1”, which is on sale on Blurb.com. It is a wonderful publication in which we collected 38 photographers participating in the group and their photographs, to give them visibility and a chance to become popular to a larger audience. It has been a nice experience.
Coming back to street photography and its evolution, it actually is an atypical genre, as I said before. As in many things in life, you can have different visions. It is constantly changing and evolving. Even though it sometimes loses that peculiar vision rendered from the “street”, I believe that it is good to test, experiment other points of view, as long as you stick to your, own, personal expression. The greatest risk is emulation: the same captured scenes resulting in photographs which are all the same and more oriented to stylistic perfection rather than communication.
AVB: That’s something really peculiar in most of your photographs. If we have a closer look to your artwork, we can suddenly realize the peculiar framing. When the subject comes closer to you in fact, the POV appears to be on a lower level than the usual one. Why is it so? How can you shoot in this way? I know the answer already, but I think that our readers can find it very interesting.
AF: It basically comes from the fact, I do not want to interfere with the scene. I do not look into the camera to shoot, but I shoot by holding it in my hands at a lower level. With a bit of experience you can eventually find the right framing, the one you are looking for. Using fixed 28-50 lenses makes the rest. You can get closer, being involved in the scene, even though you remain “invisible” for the subjects. This is my, personal technique. However it is not a dogma.
AVB: As it often happens, photographs reflect a bit the photographer’s personality and temperament. Your photography is never trivial. While shooting, you always develop a theme. It is not about single images, but series of photographs linked by the same “fil rouge”, each of them belonging to a specific story. Is it simply for searching purpose, rather than a real, inspirational, creative path, which starts anywhere and ends anywhere else? In this case, how does it start and when does it end?
AF: It’s all based upon the places, the people and the situations I see around me. My state of mind also plays a role. I always know where to start with an inspirational path. It is more difficult to me to see the end. I think, I am a storyteller, I tell short stories through images. They randomly come to my eyes, while walking in the streets and watching what’s around. There’s nothing programmed in my job. In short, I never walk out to shoot, I just go out for a walk and let myself be inspired by things I see around me.
AVB: It’s hard to go through all our creative inspirations, they are so many and so many are your works. Among them, I think that Japan can actually represent one of you most successful creative inspiration. I would say, Japan and Japanese are your trade mark in street photography. Why do you love Japan, Japanese people and their culture? What has Japan added to your experience as a street photographer and what did you give back to this beautiful land?
AF: It has been by chance, I fell in love with Japan and Japanese the first time I went there for a trip. Then, I went to Japan several times and each time was different. I’m not used to travel to visit monuments, I like visiting countries to get closer to people, their daily life, culture and habits. In japan I found chaos, which I love so much.
I live in a big, chaotic city, where chaos and confusion are limiting and badly affecting your daily life. It is different in Japan. The Japanese chaotic way of living is in some way relaxing to me. I love their contemporary, modern way of life, they seem to live in a cartoon, their lives are like cartoon strips to my eyes. Last but not least, Japanese women are so beautiful. Japan has given so much to me in terms of growth and inspiration. I hope my photographs can effectively tell how amazing those people are.
AVB: We have already talked about the evolution of street photography over the years. Do you think that the digital image post processing has in some way affected street photography as well? Digital post processing is a very controversial topic, however it is considered part of the modern, digital photography. What do you think?
AF: I agree with you, this is a very controversial topic. Personally, I’m not looking at digital image post processing as the “evil” of photography. It’s not the new technology, but the usage we make of it. In other words, a piece of wood is not dangerous, it is dangerous if someone hits it on your head! As for me, I don’t make heavy post processing. I can adjust brightness or contrast, but that’s it, I don’t even crop my photographs. What you see is actually what I shoot.
AVB: I know you have a professional photographic kit, but your street photography images are mostly shot by means of a mirrorless Fuji. This is probably because you do not want to interfere in the scene you are capturing. Is this the only reason?
AF: I would say yes, this is the main reason why. It is also a matter of convenience, but also the quality is increasing, especially in the new models. My suggestion is not to pay thousands of euros for a camera, unless it makes coffee as well!
AVB: The thing I like best in your photography is the atmosphere. In a picture you fix a moment in time, but it is often aseptic, an abstraction from the atmosphere that hardly can be rendered in a photograph. You have that ability. In your images the atmosphere is always tangible, real, as it happens in the documentary photography. What do you think is the secret of your amazing ability? What is the border line between documentary and street photography?
AF: Thanks a lot for your appreciation. I don’t have any secret, it is probably because I always get close to the subject and this is much more involving for the viewer. I also pay much attention to what is happening around, trying to figure out in advance a certain action.
Last but not least you don’t have to feel ashamed. I’d suggest to be alone when you want to shoot street photography and always try to get involved in the situations, without being prominent. You need also to be lucky to get a great capture. Switching to the difference between documentary and street photography, the border line between the two genres is actually very thin. Perhaps it is in the way of telling. A reportage can fix everlasting situations that are always there. The street is more unpredictable, it’s all in a second, if you lose it, you won’t be able to take it again.
AVB: Amos, we just have to thank you for your kind availability and for letting us know you better. We wish you all the best.
AF: Thank you for this opportunity. Greetings to all ArteVitae readers.
Amos Farnitano – Photogallery
Amos Farnitano on Flickr
Amos Farnitano on Facebook