Street views from Daina-zi, interviewed by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman
How long have you been shooting street?
I don’t really know. I did some in my late twenties, but then moved to NY wine country upstate. And living on a farm, street photography was not an option. Eventually we moved back closer to the city. I got back into street photography when I got my first digital camera about 10 years ago.
What camera do you shoot street with? Digital camera/film etc.
I shot with a Sony A 6000, but my son gave me, as a Mother’s Day gift last month, a Sony A7II. I have wanted a digital full frame camera for years, however, it was out of my price range, so I am thrilled to have it now. When I was young and shot film, I had a Leica M4 which was my favorite camera. But now I am happy with digital, and film is simply too expensive for me. I also do not want to deal with processing my own film anymore. I no longer have the patience, energy or time for that.
Why do you shoot street?
People interest me more than anything else. And the unpredictability of street photography is also an important component for me. When one shoots pre-arranged situations or static ones, the experience is relatively predictable. One has time to pick and choose. But, when one has to react quickly, as in shooting the constantly changing street conditions, then one’s subconscious comes into play, and street photography becomes a form of self-discovery. One reacts without much forethought, and what one captures may be telling and surprising. As you can see, self-discovery is something that interests me.
Some choose to shoot more predictable situations by choosing mostly similar subjects, even in street photography. And there certainly is an element of surprise within those parameters, but it is limited by seeking a style, situation or subject. It is a repetition of the familiar, and there is more predetermination in that than I would like. I grab whatever I am drawn to in the moment.
I think one of the most difficult things to know is oneself, and here I am almost 76, and still trying to figure myself out. The trouble is, one is constantly changing. So yes, I guess street photography is, for me, a way of understanding myself. It is other things as well of course. I love the challenge of it and the occasional synchronicity at what chance, or “fate,” places in my path.
How would you describe your style of street photography?
I don’t really have a style beyond the limitations of my awareness or what attracts me. There probably is a thread linking the images, but does it add up to a style? — I don’t know.
You were born in Latvia but grew up in Brooklyn and now reside upstate. Though you were in America most of your life, do you feel your culture at all influences your style?
I don’t think so. All my exposure to art and photography and literature is firmly rooted in America and the English language. The culture of Latvia, though very important when I was growing up, was mostly limited to folk songs and the language itself, which has a sensibility all its own as all languages do, but it was not linked to the arts such as painting, photography and literature. And Latvia itself did not seem quite real to me, since I don’t have any memories of it. It almost seemed like an invented place. The Latvian culture may have had a hand in shaping my perceptions and that in turn may have affected my work, but I have no way figuring out in what way.
Are you more of a mover (constantly walking/chasing etc.) or a waiter (seeing backgrounds and waiting for the “right” person to walk into frame)?
Mover most definitely, however age is forcing me to become a waiter. I walk, walk and then have to find a place to sit.
Do you speak to people on the street or is most of your work done with the subjects unaware?
New Yorkers tend to talk to each other — I love New York for that. But I like to capture the subject unaware, and very rarely process a photo where the person has posed for me when they became aware of my camera. I often get into conversations, but rarely use the photos that may result.
What helps you decide B+W versus color, and is that something that when you shoot you know which route you will take? Or does the decision happen in post processing?
It is always in processing. Since I try not to preconceive what I am photographing, I do not know what I have until I bring it up on the computer. Often, on the train home, I go through the photos on the screen of the camera, but am often wrong in my appraisal of what I have shot until I see the photo enlarged on the computer.
Favorite part of NYC to shoot in?
Midtown for sure. When young, I worked and lived Midtown, so I feel most at home there. Besides, now I need places to sit down and Midtown is the most accommodating.
Do you think you are at an advantage as a 75 year old female shooting street? (i.e. less threatening on the street?)
Yes, and no. Being the little white haired, non-threatening old lady certainly has its advantages, but at times it works the other way, and someone who might object to having their photo taken has no qualms in confronting you.
I know as photographers, all our images are our “babies,” but do any particular images make you stand more proud when you think “I got it!” ?
Yes, the ones that surprise me most, or the ones that I think of as going beyond my usual. However, the photos that fall into those categories change all the time. How I perceive my own work is always changing.
If you didn’t/couldn’t shoot street what other genres of photography intrigue you?
That is something I need to figure out. It is getting more difficult for me to do street photography. I guess what I would gravitate to would be abstract images — compositions. I wanted to paint when young, and this would seem to be the natural choice, yet I can’t say I am happy about it.
Any influences, photographer-wise, whose work you are drawn to, be it street work or other?
The photographer I loved most when young was Andre Kertesz. I came to admire Ralph Gibson, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Richard Avedon and many more. There are many I follow on Instagram and Flickr whose work I admire. However, I often question the idea of influence, because even when one tries to do something similar to whomever one admires, the results are so very different, so does the influence really matter?
Any words of wisdom to your fellow women out there as they navigate the world of street?
The primarily male dominated photography world has become more accepting of women photographers. I have seen it evolve slowly over my 75 years. However, women street photographers are still included mostly as tokens in collectives, and what street photography is, or is not, is defined in large part by the male ethos. I wish for my fellow women street photographers to have the confidence in their vision, and to challenge the status quo so that eventually there is parity.