Inspiration : Suzanne Stein

Suzanne Stein in a documentary/street photographer who lives in New York. She started photography in 2015, taking photos of her son with an iphone during a trip to Europe. She bought a “proper” camera on her return and now has a substantial portfolio. She seems to have a special interest in people who live on the streets, the homeless and the desperate. A part of the work she has attracted a lot of interest is her photos taken on Skid Row, a neighbourhood of Los Angeles that contains one of the largest stable populations of homeless people.
Her photography is mainly in colour. She has recently shared her workflow in Lightroom and she slightly desaturates some colours, and adds contrast and clarity in spades.
Suzanne is the “in your face” kind of photographer. Some of her portraits remind me of Bruce Gilden.
I think the main and most important difference is in the approach. Suzanne spends a lot of time roaming around a neighbourhood and engaging with people. She gets to know some people over an extended period of time and returns time and time again to the same places and to the same people.
In her portfolio, some of the galleries bear the name of a particular person : Doreen, Christine, Leanne … and she shows a particular interest in women.Suzanne used some Fujifilm cameras for a while, the x100v (with a 35mm equivalent lens) and an x-pro2 with what seems to be wide angle lenses, maybe a 16mm (24mm equivalent in full-frame terms) She has been using a Sony a7r3 more recently and has been experimenting with a 135mm lens, a short telephoto lens.
Her portfolio is amazing, it is so rich and diverse. I illustrates so well what she says in an interview with the LA Times : “I want many people to see aspects of the world from my perspective. I want very much to have the privilege of creating a window for others to view scenes and people that exist in places that are often ignored or treated dismissively. I am intensely motivated by inequality and the untenable situations that people with mental disabilities face every day and that are not adequately or realistically expressed.”

So what can we learn from Suzanne that can help us with our own street photography ?

1) The approach to the world around us is the main point. Let’s stop being stealthy and pretending we are not there. Engaging with people is a great way to get the pictures we want. That doesn’t mean always asking for permission. It means not hiding, being open minded and sometimes accepting that the photo will not come on its own, you have to go and get it.
I started a project on Flickr called the 100 strangers project : (link here). The aim is to talk to a person on the street and afterwards ask them for a photo. It is a great way to overcome shyness and to learn that most people are open-minded, even talkative and have an inner desire to talk about themselves and their life. I found it very difficult when I started, but now I am less shy and sometimes just talk to people without the aim of a photo.

2) Composition is key : a low angle is very immersive.

3) Portraits taken up close with a wide (or widish) angle lens are very engaging.

4) There are no rules about what you can take, there are no taboos. If you have looked around the internet for guides about street photography, you have probably often seen the “rule” that you should not take photos of homeless people. As a general rule, there needs to be a great respect of the people you photograph, voyeurism is something to avoid at all costs.
Although many of Suzanne’s photos are of people in a desperate situation, her methods and her outlook on humanity is always respectful in the sense that she is curious about people and wants to tell the story of our societies.
Be warned though, it isn’t always safe and Suzanne admits to have being attacked and injured several times, quite severely on some occasions.

Click on any of the images presented here to visit her portfolio. Some other interesting links are :

There are also some interviews on YouTube you can easily find.

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