Street Photography

A New Take on an Old Genre

By David Lykes Keenan Back to

Keenan_JF_2008_1

After a fairly long and relatively successful run as a software entrepreneur, three years ago I embarked on a path to reinvent myself as a fine-art/documentary photographer. Dramatic life changes such as this are never as easy as they might seem, but photography is far more rewarding, emotionally and spiritually, than debugging C++ code.

My first love is street photography, in black-and-white, using small, unobtrusive rangefinder cameras. People, usually random and anonymous, are essential elements of these photographs. My preferred method is to see and photograph—but not be seen.

Street photography is a very liberating experience for me. After years being cooped up in an office, getting out into the world is a joy. And I’ve found my camera opens the door to meet people (usually not the same people that I photograph), and I have made friends on both sides of the Atlantic after my camera offered an initial introduction.

When seeking out photographs, most of the time I simply start walking. This method works best in the cities of Europe for the old-school-style street photographs I prefer (think Henri Cartier-Bresson). It works occasionally at home in the United States too, but I often find the results less satisfying.

On these photo treks, my little camera, usually affixed with a wide-angle lens, becomes part of my right hand, and I just see where my feet take me. Coffee shops, known or unknown, are welcome stops along the way.

Florence, June 2006

Florence, June 2006

Since a photograph can be taken anywhere, I am always looking, composing in my mind’s eye, seeing the world in black-and-white as best as I can. Sometimes the camera comes to my eye for an exposure, sometimes I use it more stealthily from my waist or alongside my leg. Whatever it takes to capture what I see without being noticed.

Occasionally, of course, I am seen, as is evident in some of my photographs. Wary eyes are captured on film. To these people, I smile and wave, and we both go about our business. Knocking on wood, I can relate no horror stories of unpleasant encounters with my subjects—but I do admit that my style of street photography is much easier in Europe than it is in the States.

Most of my black-and-white photographs are exposed on film, though I’ve taken a few with a digital rangefinder camera. Generally, however, digital capture for street photography doesn’t appeal to me primarily because I haven’t found a digital camera well suited for it in terms of dependability, size, and stealthiness.

When traveling, especially abroad, I prefer to use a chromogenic black-and-white film (usually Ilford XP2), which can be processed immediately wherever I happen to be. This provides me with a quick “contact sheet” to check my work, while eliminating any concern about airport X-ray machines.

Vienna, September 2006

While many of my photographs are made viewable on my Web site, (www.david-keenan.com), I am from the old school that believes that a photograph is something you hold in your hand. My prints, however, whether to be shared or exhibited, are made digitally. The film is scanned, edited as necessary using Photoshop, and printed onto high-quality paper using an inkjet printer. For scanning, I use a Nikon CoolScan 5000 with the roll-film adapter to make low- resolution JPEG scans of entire rolls for indexing and to produce Web images. For exhibition and sale prints, I create high- resolution files using a Minolta Elite 5400 scanner. An Epson V750 sits in reserve for medium-format and Xpan scanning.

For prints, I have percolated up to an Epson Stylus 3800, having migrated from an Epson 2200, and then a 2400. My preferred paper is the remarkable Innova fiber F-type gloss. Black- and-white inkjet print makers seem to either prefer matte papers or glossy. I am firmly in the glossy category for its deeper, richer blacks.

I find the built-in Advanced Black-and- White (ABW) mode of the latest Epson printers, using the manufacturer’s UltraChrome inks, preferable to the more complex and convoluted third-party systems of inks and RIPs. My prints, however, are always made using the Qimage Professional Photographic Printing Software package (www.ddisoftware.com/qimage) rather than being printed directly from Photoshop. I find that image quality is remarkably improved with Qimage in my workflow.

The components for a first-class wet darkroom, a locale I know well from my more tender years, sit boxed in my garage—but as the quality of digital printing continues to advance, they may never see the light of day again.

Since returning to photography in 2005, I’ve had more than 10 exhibitions in Austin (where I live) and central Texas restaurants, coffee houses, and galleries. My work has been published in or selected as a winning entry in eight different major publications and/or competitions during 2007.

Austin, April 2007

Frankfurt, May 2006


About the Author