0

JAMES BEHRENS: Street photography reveals beauty in unexpected places

I arrived rather late on the scene of street photography.

I have taken pictures for years, but it is only in the last few years that I have discovered the joys of street photography and street photographers. There are many of the latter. There are books and lectures, websites and seminars, college courses and gallery exhibits all on the techniques and art work of street photography.

I am slowly being drawn to a gathering of my favorites -- Vivian Meier, Milton Rogovin, Helen Leavitt. Those are the well known ones.

Among the lesser known are Kenny Vena, Salvatore Coppola, Louise Fryer, Thomas Leuthard, Dirk Vogel. They are easily found on the major social networking sites. Their photographs are posted there -- and they embody photos from all over the world. The streets of Russia, Poland, Ireland and Italy pour forth in wondrous image after image on my computer screen.

I think their photos are just as enticing as the better known figures. I sense that they are just as happy to be out on the streets shooting away to their heart's desire, as opposed to dealing with agents and gallery openings.

Not infrequently, they have said on their websites that fame is fine as long as others push it for them. They would rather be giving a gentle push to the shutter release on their cameras.

I am amazed at the generosity of street photographers. They are generous with their praise of the work of their colleagues. They are all too willing to share some hard won techniques, newly found places for their work, contacts to help each other get here or there, places where cameras can be repaired or bought cheaply.

I suppose that is why the word "disciple" strikes me as apropos. I follow them, learn from them, am open to trying to learn their craft and absorb whatever enthusiasm I can from them. They offer me a real gift -- a way of seeing the beauty of every day life, on every day streets, with every day people.

I came across a new friend yesterday. His name is John Mack and he has done a lot of work in Mexico. He was interviewed on the Internet about his work. He was raised in this country and when he went to Mexico, he went with a lot of cultural bias that he had picked up here. He expected all the problems associated with poor countries.

He gradually fell in love with Mexico -- with the people, the culture, the vibrancy and the color. Admittedly, he said, they have little in terms of material things but they know how to live, and to share from their want.

By comparison, Mack began to see how the excess of our country has dulled our appreciation for beauty in places like Mexico. We just do not "see" it because it is not like our expectations of the good, the beautiful.

He showed a picture of a kid playing before a wall and the simplicity, even the barrenness, of the scene highlighted its beauty. We have to relearn how to play like that, how to see it and perhaps photograph it.

I have long spent time reading religious books and listening to religious words, lectures and the like. I am often aware that so much is left unsaid, perhaps purposefully so, in between the lines.

I know where to go to fill in some of the gaps, to read what is in between the lines. I take my camera and go to the streets and watch what or who is at play on those lines of life.

Books are good; they write of life. Streets are better. They hold it, and for some, hold it for view.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net.