Street Photography – Observation and embracing anxiety (Interview)

Saram takes a range of photographs, including street photography, offering new perspectives on what we take for granted. In this interview article, collated from a series of interview answers, he discusses his photography approach, how it is influenced by his anxiety symptoms and life in Poland.

Saram shares his photos on Twitter, Instagram,
OpenSea and on an online print shop, saram.darkroom.tech.

Collage, Saram Maqbool

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Could you talk about your experiences of working and living in Poland, having moved from Pakistan?

I came to Poland two years ago to study for my Master’s degree in architecture. It has been a great experience overall. I find it a different experience doing street photography here simply because I walk pretty much everywhere as opposed to driving. I walked to my university and took photos on the way and back. I now walk to work and take photos on the way and back. In Pakistan, I used to do the same thing but while sitting in a car. So I would say it is definitely different and I guess easier in some ways. However, I also sometimes find myself feeling much more anxious while doing photography here because of the language barrier that exists. Other than that, it has been great exploring new places and being able to take photographs wherever I go.

I wondered how you fit in your photography alongside your other commitments, such as your job in architecture?

I’ve always tried to take my camera with me to work. I would take a ride to work with my brother and would take photos from the car while on the way. Nowadays I’m in Poland and I carry my camera whenever I go to my office. I like to notice things happening around me and take pictures every chance I get. I love shooting through windows too because it gives an interesting perspective to mundane street scenes. 

I’ve been taking photos for about ten years now. I developed this hobby when I joined architecture school in 2011. Back then, I used to take photos with my phone and would sometimes borrow a friend’s camera. I got my first camera, a humble Sony a58, in 2014 and have been doing primarily street photography since then.

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I’ve never really asked anyone to take their photo. I just do it after kind of figuring out whether the person will mind it or not. Sometimes I can tell by their body language etc. and sometimes they look at me and don’t say anything anyway. I would suggest getting a longer lens so you can take pictures from a distance. Most people don’t mind unless you get really close to them and make it very obvious that you’re photographing them specifically. When you’re in the distance, it doesn’t look suspicious usually as you could be photographing anything around the person.

I wondered whether you have much experience of negative reactions to you as a photographer in a public space and whether you have any strategies to manage any fears? Is there much difference to how you work in Poland, compared to when you were in Pakistan?

This has been something that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. I don’t like confrontation and I don’t like invading people’s personal space, even if they are in public places. That is why I always try my best not to get in people’s faces or photograph their faces at all. Most of my street photos don’t show people’s faces for this reason and also because of the fact that I get very anxious when I’m taking someone’s photograph. Even if they are not looking at me, I find it very hard to take their picture. 

This was the same in Pakistan but I feel even more anxious about it in Poland because there’s a language barrier and if someone ever came up to me, I might not be able to explain to them why I’m taking their photo. So, I generally avoid taking photos of people’s faces. And now I feel like that has become a style of photography for me. It adds a sense of mystery to the images and makes them more about the scene and the moment rather than about how someone looks.

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When you have been outside taking photographs, have any interesting conversations been sparked with strangers? Could you describe any that are memorable for any reason?

I haven’t had too many interactions or conversations with people simply because I don’t like to get in people’s faces to take their images. I try to stay out of their way and seldom take photos from head on. With that said, I do remember one interaction I had in Pakistan. I used to have a tiny Fuji x20 with me at the time and after leaving work, I would walk around a little and take photos. That particular camera had a lens that could take pretty decent macros. One day, I was trying to photograph some tiny flowers on the sidewalk and a guy stopped by and was pretty mindblown that I could photograph such small flowers so closely. It was pretty interesting trying to explain to him how macro photography works. 

What do you look for when you’re taking street photography? How does taking photographs make you feel?

There are a number of things that I look for. Most of my photography is based around finding relatable or interesting moments. I also look for the play of light and shadow, sometimes waiting for something interesting to happen within such a frame. Composition, colors, contrasts, harmonies – all of these things matter to me when I’m looking to take a photograph. And when I get an image that I know is great, that feeling is of pure joy and excitement. I often cannot wait to get home, develop the RAW image, and share it online.

Would you say that you have grown personally from doing street photography? Could you describe examples of changes that you’ve noticed in yourself, if any?

I think it has made me much more observant over time. Even when I’m out, not taking images, I find myself looking for interesting scenes or compositions (being borderline obsessed) and then wishing I’d brought my camera after all. It has also helped me appreciate the little things more. I’ve always tried to notice and showcase the little things, the everyday moments in my images but over time, I feel like that appreciation has definitely grown.

What inspires you to take street photos that include people performing everyday actions?

That is how my photography has developed over the years. Ever since the first mobile photo I took, I’ve tried to photograph everyday objects and scenes that might be considered mundane. I find that I appreciate a sense of relatability in street images so I take photos that people can somehow relate to. I want them to see my images and feel like they’ve seen that scene before and that they can understand what’s happening in them. 

You use Twitter and Instagram to interact and share with others, including photographers and, also, promote your work commercially. How useful has the online world been for you?

I haven’t had too much success on the commercial side of things but that hasn’t really been my focus with social media. I use it mainly to share my images with people who appreciate what I do. Both platforms (Twitter and Instagram) have been helpful in not only getting my work out there but also in improving it because I am constantly looking at amazing photographs from amazing photographers. Twitter has been especially helpful in this regard because of the interactive nature of the platform – in terms of people actually conversing with you and having discussions about your work. I have found some great photographers on there whose work I admire and who make me want to be better myself. So, these platforms have been very helpful in that sense. 

September, 2021,
From an interview conducted with Saram Maqbool

Links:
– Social media: @SaramMaqbool
– Print shop: Saram.darkroom.tech
– NFT: https://opensea.io/SaramMaqbool

Car watching, Saram Maqbool
Smoke break, Saram Maqbool
Waiting for the bus, Saram Maqbool

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website: https://samuelaliblog.wordpress.com/

One thought on “Street Photography – Observation and embracing anxiety (Interview)”

  1. Hi Saram,

    I often don’t take pictures of people for the same reason.

    Also because I learnt in Lonely Planet about “soul stealing”.

    Love the way your photos are alive.

    Like

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