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Melbourne photographer and author, Ian Kenins reflects on the challenging nature of street photography

Melbourne photographer Ian Kenins likens street photography to a frustrating, exciting, confusing, disappointing and victorious night out at the Pokies.


You’d reckon that when considering what photos – taken over a 26 year period – to include in a A Snapshot of Melbourne, there’d be thousands to choose from. But not when it comes to street photography. Sure, I’ve pressed the shutter thousands and thousands of times, but more often than not that’s meant processing negatives that would never be printed, printing photos that would never be published, and deleting images just not worth keeping.

The thing about street photography is that you can’t pick and choose the people you want in a photograph, what you want them doing, or the surrounds. And if you can, then that ain’t street photography – that’s portraiture. What that means is a street photographer has to rely on the most important element of all – luck.

Luck is when you take a different route home, through a park, where two old ladies are sleeping in the shade of a tree. Or when you’re out shopping and a guy walks into the bakery with a cockatoo on his shoulder, surprising the two women being served. Or visiting your mum in hospital where four patients are having a smoke right next to the No Smoking sign.

This is not to say skill isn’t a factor, but the very least a professional photographer can be expected to do when chancing upon a moment worth capturing, is to compose the image in front of him using the right shutter speed and f-stop. The skill is in the timing, and, should the opportunity be there, to better compose the image.

Before switching on a camera, most street photographers will recognise a moment that, to most other people, is of little significance. Part of a photographer’s skill is to see the world through a lens and capture such moments that, when reproduced, say something about who we are and how we interact with others. Some photos even make statements about society, while others are just plain fun to look at.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said something along the lines of “There are no missed opportunities; only captured ones.” It’s a brave snapper prepared to argue with the Grand Poobah of street photography, but on this one I reckon he’s wrong, for bad luck also plays a role.

Bad luck is when, after spotting an old couple holding hands walking out into the sea, you’ve double-parked your car, raced across the sand and into the water and, just as you’re about to take the shot, the couple then part ways. Bad luck is seeing a birthday party being held for some dogs in a park and discovering there’s no film left in your camera. And real bad luck is when you see three teenage boys standing beneath an illuminated Men’s sign, click the shutter then realise that had you zoomed in a little less you’d have included two women jogging by in micro shorts and singlets the boys were ogling (see attachment).

Regrets? Every street photographer has had a few.



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Ian Kenins is a Melbourne based photographer and journalist, who has produced dozens of feature assignments for some of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The Age, The Australian, The Bulletin, Inside Sport, Good Weekend and National Geographic. His work has mostly focused on people engaged in their passions, particularly those keeping traditional skills alive. Kenins has three published books, Open for Business: Melbourne’s living history, Beyond the Big Sticks: country football around Australia and his latest book A Snapshot of Melbourne: capturing 26 years of Melburnians at work, rest and play. Each book captures and reveals the colour, vibrancy and history of ordinary people living and working in a culture unique to Australia.

Kenins’ favourite challenge is street photography, particularly in his home town Melbourne where he loves roaming the streets, beach fronts and laneways looking for the unexpected and hoping to capture moments in time that show ordinary people enjoying life in unusual and humorous ways. Now, after capturing thousands of photographs over 26 years of walking, riding and driving through the city, The Worldwide Publishing Empire has published 154 of those images in a new title, A Snapshot of Melbourne.


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