In this episode, we meet Australian photographers Julia Coddington and Rebecca Wiltshire while they are visiting Varanasi, India. They explore ghats and alleys, and discuss different street techniques. Video by Gerry Orkin.
Please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live now? Your background with photography, how and when you were drawn into the street genre.
Like all street photographers I find people endlessly fascinating. People watching has always been a favourite pastime and since discovering street photography I no longer sit and watch, but watch and capture.
I don’t really have a “photography background”or any formal training but have always enjoyed it, and as a design professional perhaps I’m more tuned in to what works well visually. As a kid, and probably like many kids growing up the 60s and 70s, I had a trusty polaroid and loved to take candid pics of family and friends — especially at parties — of which I recall there were many. I grew up in the bush, and we had a very social time with all the cousins, aunts and uncles etc.
In the 80s I lived in Indonesia for a while, and armed with an Olympus OM-10, I enjoyed wandering the streets taking photos. I didn’t realise at the time that what I was doing was street photography.
In 2008 I got my first iPhone, and this is probably when I got really hooked after discovering I could discreetly take candid photos of random people in the street. In the last couple of years my partner and I have travelled quite a bit and actively sought out great places for street.
A few years ago I moved to a small coastal village on the south coast of New South Wales — south of Sydney, Australia. It’s a special place, but not exactly a street photographer’s dream, given the population is less than 3000.
How do you define “street photography” for yourself?
For me street photography is about many things. I haven’t yet formed a particular “definition” because it’s still very much an exploration and learning process for me. It’s about exploring the world of people — observing the interactions between them, tuning in to these interactions, and waiting for the moment, inserting myself into a place where I become invisible, and the challenge of getting as close as I possibly can without being noticed. But when I am noticed, being comfortable enough with what I’m doing that I’m not a threat. What I love most is when I lose myself in my invisibility and meld into the scene. It’s almost a fugue-like state, like I’m not there, or like a fly on the wall.
In what ways do you think being a woman has affected your work?
I think my ability to become invisible is very much about being a woman. I’m not a threat. I’m not obvious. I’m a woman in my 50s, and I’m small, I don’t stand out. No one really looks at me or notices me. At last I have an advantage! And it gives me a sense of power that I’ve never really felt before. As a woman it’s easier for me to take photos of children. It irritates me intensely that men complain about this. Men have it all, can do anything in this world. But it is much more difficult for them to take photos of children — some are quite comfortable doing it, but most don’t because they fear the consequences. That women have an advantage doing this is a great thing and men should shut up about it.
Color or black and white, digital or film?
I used film in the past, although I didn’t ever develop it myself. Digital is the bomb! We are so lucky to live in this age of technology. That being said, we have film cameras in the house, and rolls of film waiting to be taken out. The other day I listened to a discussion between Valerie Jardin and German photographer Monika Andrae, who experiments with vintage cameras and expired rolls of film. It was inspiring, so now I’m keen to give it a try.
I shoot both colour and black and white. Both have their advantages. My favourite at the moment is colour, and I shoot primarily using a vivid colour profile. I prefer black and white if I’m using flash, or if I’m shooting events or performances.
What photographers can you name who are the most inspirational to you?
Of course many of the street photography “Masters” inspire me — Elliot Erwitt, Shirley Baker, Joel Meyerowitz, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Saul Leiter, Alex Webb, Henri Cartier Bresson, Vivian Maier, Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand. But most of my inspiration comes from contemporary street photographers, and of course from my fellow street photographers. They’re the ones who truly inspire me. I love Graciela Magnoni’s work, and of course fellow Australian Narelle Autio’s wonderful work. Some of the contemporary Indian photographers like Swapan Parekh, Vineet Vohra and Rohit Vohra are doing amazing stuff, along with many of the Israeli photographers. Last year in New York, we saw an exhibition of Ernesto Bazan’s work. He is primarily a documentary photographer, but I love his South American based projects and would love to do one of his workshops.
Perhaps the style of street photography I currently enjoy and strive for is attempting to create layers, to capture the oddities and peculiarities, capturing that one moment where everything lines up to create an Alex Webb-like masterpiece!
I listen to a lot of street photography podcasts, read blogs, magazines, watch videos, and actively look at what people are posting online. It helps that I have a partner who is also a street photography nerd.
Is there a special project you are working on? Or is there a certain theme or series that often comes up in your work?
Given that I am very limited to what I have in the place where I live…. I’m working on a project at our local rock swimming pool. We are blessed in this country with the most amazing light and blue skies. My goal is to capture the essence of this place in which I live — the laid back beach culture — and the joy that living by the sea and this place, brings to people as they experience it — and which culminates at the pool. The late afternoon sun heightens the colours, and by using a vivid colour profile I can accentuate this. I sit by the pool or wander around it, listening and observing, moving slowly or sometimes very quickly, but discreetly, to position myself in the right place — looking for layers, movement, detail, bright colours. In particular I love to capture people dripping with water as they just come out of the pool in the late afternoon sun.
My courage and confidence has grown exponentially in the last year, and this has physically changed my approach and creatively transformed the way I do street photography. One of my favourite things to do is to get as close as possible to people. I was inspired to try this after listening to an interview on streetpx with Willem Jonkers, a street photographer from Rotterdam who uses a fisheye or 14mm lens at a very low angle and up close. It gives you an interesting ‘Gulliver’ effect. (Willem Jonkers partner Sandra Jonkers is a wheel chair bound photographer who also uses an interesting approach!)
I’ve also been trying out flash after the flash photography challenge on the Women Street Photographers Facebook challenge. Thanks to Michelle Groskopf for the inspiration! I really loved the photos Rebecca Weston took in Austin for this challenge.
I have a couple of projects in the pipeline. They will present great challenges for me because firstly they involve getting up early, and secondly they involve engaging and talking with people. In fact one of my major goals in the coming year is to overcome the fear of engaging with people and to try more of a documentary form of street photography. In January we’re off to Myanmar for a week long street photography workshop with Maciej Dakowicz, who challenges his students to engage with people — so hopefully this will help ease me over this major hurdle!