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Self-Reflection #2: Imitating Daido

The decisive moment--that's the street photography credo. And like any good credo, it means different things to different people. For some (I think of Cartier-Bresson), it's about capturing an exposure when moving elements line up to tell a story. For others (I think of Lee Friedlander), it's about capturing an exposure when moving elements come together in a striking composition.

Whatever the case, I've been looking at images from many different photographers, especially those who take spontaneous, personal pictures. That spontaneity, that warmth, is what I'm trying to go after.

Simultaneously, I've also been drawn to black-and-white photography and trying to get back into it. Looking back, I first wanted to get into color photography because it was a new challenge to tackle. After years of shooting almost exclusively in color, I want to refresh my approach by taking on a new challenge. Additionally, life in San Francisco is conducive to monochrome.

Under these circumstances, Daido Moriyama's photography stood out to me. His images aren't posed, they're contrasty, they're grainy. Sometimes they're moody or even a bit creepy. But what I really liked about them is that his images made it seem as if their subjects were in the process of emerging. They weren't polished, it seemed, because they weren't quite fully formed.

The picture of the snarling dog is a famous example of Daido's look. Here's a link to his website where that picture, along with many others, can be found:

Although I tend toward an aesthetic that is more polished than Daido's, I wanted to try something outside my usual approach so that I could learn something. After all, it's possible my black-and-white aesthetic could be different from the aesthetic I've developed for my color photography. An imitation study is a good way to learn because it provides a measuring stick. It's extremely hard to improve spontaneously--it's much easier to imitate and think afterward about what was successful and what wasn't.

I decided to imitate Daido by doing two things: shoot in black-and-white only and shoot instinctively. It helped that I could carry my Sony RX100 with me. In interviews online, I've seen him carry one of these cameras. Although he's famous for using the Ricoh GR1 (the hipster point-and-shoot that I want but can't justify purchasing), it makes sense that he'd experiment with this little camera. It's quick, discreet, and silent. Plus, it has a fine little lens. The nominal downsides with using a camera with a sensor as small as the Sony's--lack of dynamic range, increased noise, slow aperture--don't matter as much when you're taking a high-contrast, grainy approach.

With all that in mind, I've been shooting around the apartment and taking the Sony out with me on walks. Here's what I've come back with:

I think the experiment was really helpful. In post, of course, I imitated Daido by going for high-contrast and grainy images. Grain and contrast sometimes work at cross-purposes. While grain complicates the image by adding texture, contrast simplifies it by reducing the tonal range. What I like about both images (as different as they are) is that they give the viewer a sense of things on the threshold, of the subject coming together.

This is different from photos by Cartier-Bresson or Friedlander where the images have a concrete quality. These appear more fluid in a sense. The use of black-and-white also makes the pictures more surreal, less relatable to the everyday. For that reason, I think I did an okay job imitating Daido even if neither image contains the darker facets of life that clearly fascinate him.

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