Something about me and the street photography
Estimated reading time: about 8 minutes
Hi everybody! I’m Stefano Carotenuto, born in ’84, in sunny Napoli, Italy. I work full-time as IT specialist at the National Research Council of Italy. Anyway it’s for my street photography that I’m known around.
Everything began when I was just a child. It was the era of analog cameras and films when my father introduced me to photography. Thanks to him, I realized very early on how different the world around us can look like when observed within a frame, the one created by the camera viewfinder.
Growing up, I took a long break from photography, which remained quiet somewhere inside of me, while I was making time to study and work. In 2016, after having gone through a difficult period – as it so often happens – it suddenly came back very strongly in my daily life. Since then, following this passion has become a need.
Once I had rediscovered my passion, I started studying the contemporary history of photography through its most influencial exponents. So I ended up buying photo books of the Masters, studying them and letting myself be inspired by their images. The money spent on those are certainly the best investments I’ve made in my life so far! Right now, my favorites are: Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, Martin Parr, Elliott Erwitt, Alex Webb, Trent Parke, William Eggleston, Daido Moriyama. Just to name a few.
The benefits of street photography
I soon discovered the pleasure of wandering with a camera around my neck or tied to my wrist to capture the world around me: interesting characters, ambiguous situations, paradoxes, juxtapositions and so on. Basically, I was trying to reproduce what I saw in the books, with very bad results – believe me! – but having fun. Meanwhile, I realized that my passion for graphic and web design would help me a lot in the composition phase of the shoot, being naturally used to thinking in terms of grids and spaces.
At any rate, it became the right “therapy” to feel better about myself and the others and to make sense of things. Moreover, all those long walks I did almost every day were good for my health and, over time, allowed me to meet and get to know other enthusiasts like me.
That walking and watching and shooting has turned into an amazing hobby. They call it street photography.
Trying to define street photography
After years, a lot of practice and even more missed shots, I started to shape my own style and ideas about what to look for in the street and where to find it. Definitely, I’m not a teacher. However, over time and grinding kilometers on the road, in the end I’ve learnt something. That’s why I thought it would be cool for me to share some small suggestions with those who are just starting out as beginners or those who want to approach the world of street photography.
To be honest, my tips may not work for you because, after all, everybody has its own way of approaching things and this kind of photography is no exception. Actually, the approach can vary according to your nature, education background, attitudes and personal interests. Luckily, we are all unique!
Let’s start from the fact that giving a definition of street photography is more or less like… walking through a minefield. So I keep well away from it. Probably its main characteristic is freedom: it cannot and must not be trapped inside precise labels and fixed rules. Neverthless, at the risk of being considered a purist, I allow myself one and only one non-negotiable condition: all the shots must be unstaged.
The pure essence of street photography would be lost, that is to say, telling and recording spontaneous moments of the ordinary life, the classic leitomotiv of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
My recipe for street photography
Anyway, I have elaborated my own “recipe” for street photography. Try it and make it yours, by changing and adding the ingredients as you like.
First of all, remember to feed and train your curiosity every day in every possible way: by reading, studying, watching movies, traveling, etc… Then, trust your instinct: it’s essential. If you feel a powerful impulse coming from your inner part pushing you to bring the camera to your eye, follow it and shoot. You will think about the result later.
So let’s move on to the main ingredients to look for in the scene:
decisive moment; connections; light; composition; a bit of luck (actually, lots!)
Finally, mix it all together and there’s a good chance a “lovely” picture will come out. (ok, interesting should be the correct term).
The Decisive Moment
The decisive moment is the famous concept introduced by Henri Cartier-Bresson for which in a moment, often just a fraction of second, a series of factors converge to make something unique and unrepeatable happen before our eyes. A necessary condition is luck which – as we know – favours the bold. In other words, those who are able to perceive the potential of a scene, studying it, working it and waiting confidently for the magic to happen. The moment will be the decisive one once in a thousand times but, that only single time it will happen, you will understand why the other nine hundred and ninety-nine ones were worth failing.
Connections are what seize my interest more than anything else. It’s a kind of addiction: I look for them with all my energies. They are any kind of juxtaposition (or even the exact opposite, a clear separation) between two or more elements that are not directly and naturally related to each other. These elements can be people, colors, objects but also – and above all – ideas, concepts, abstract symbols. Strong connections contribute to create stories within the image.
Light is our best ally. Good lighting conditions provide an enormous advantage. Find them and everything will be more pleasing to the eye and the heart, as if by magic. This is the main reason why I try to be on the road as much as I can in the hours just before sunset. However, not only sunsets and sunrises but also special and artificial light spots might do the trick as long as you find that “something special” that gives the right mood, the right atmosphere to the shot.
The composition of an image when shooting is also crucial. If it is good, it guides our eye between the various points of the image unveiling little by little the story behind it. On the contrary, if the composition is not well structured, we will have the feeling of looking at a disordered image, ruled by chaos. Composing the elements by balancing them correctly, managing spaces and voids, on multiple levels of depth, can be problematic. You have to train your eye so much to develop this kind of overview in a split second.
Exhibitions and achievements
As time went by, some satisfactions arrived. Recently my photos have been shown at collective exhibitions around the world. In addition, I have also participated to several international competitions. I won first prize at the Bangkok Street Photography Festival 2020 and was a finalist at the Miami Street Photography Festival 2019. In 2018 I was among the winners of the Life Framer Open Call with Magnum photographer Martin Parr as judge. If interested you can read a resume including all the results I’ve achieved in other competitions too.
Some of my photos have also been published in national and international newspapers and magazines. Such as Corriere della Sera Style Magazine, Il Mattino, Eyeshot Magazine.
Ok, we have talked about street photography, and now what?
First of all, thank you for reading so far. I hope you have appreciated my work and some small tips on street photography that I have allowed myself to give you without any presumption at all.
As for me, right now I am mainly focused on participating to national and international competitions and festivals. Since people ask me from time to time, let me say that at the moment I don’t sell prints or I work on commission. Except for collaborations with newspapers or magazines. My way of doing photography is moved more by a therapeutic need than an economic reason. Most importanlty, I want to feel free to document our times and the ordinary in my own way without any impositions or pressures from clients.
Of course, I have some dreams, for instance to organize a personal exhibition and publish a book of my photos. So, if you are curator or a publisher and would like to get in touch with me, let’s talk about it.
Last but not least, I want to thank you all and wish you good photos around. Have fun, enjoy shooting and always respect people around you, whether you are on the street or not.
© 2020 Stefano Carotenuto.