Urban Portraits Book.
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A journey of momentary encounters with others…
This book invites you on a journey of momentary encounters with others.
It is a visual account of the people we meet on the streets.
It is also a textual account of our approach to urban portraiture.
Image and text combine to explain: what urban portraiture is, the ethics of capturing other people, ways of seeing, getting started, developing yourself, getting closer to people and what to do with the resulting images.
In short, we provide a guide to how to undertake urban portraiture through written word and image.
What is Urban Portraiture
Ways of Seeing
Getting Closer Still
After the Streets
The purpose of this book
The purpose of this book is to introduce you to the world, challenges and pleasures of Urban Portraiture. Keith Moss’s photographic brilliance combine with Robert McMurray’s writing to guide you through a completely new way of approaching and photographing people in the street. It is a visual study in ways of seeing, relating to and capturing other people – an exploration of what it means to observe and recreate the world around us.
This beautiful and engaging publication is designed for complete novices as well as experienced photographers looking for a new challenge. The book encourages you to consider: issues of context, who to approach and how to gain their trust to produce uniquely intimate images. While based on decades of experience and scholarly thinking the book is designed to be light and engaging. Images dominate the book. The text works with the images to explain how they were taken and how you might do the same.
Keith Moss is an international photographer who has worked with prestigious photography brands such as Leica UK, Phase One and Ilford and with international companies, fashion leaders and universities. His passion is Urban Portraiture and teaching others to photograph the people they meet.
Robert McMurray is Professor of Work & Organisation at the University of York. He employs image and visual methods in his research, writing and teaching.
Book Size is A4 Landscape orientation, total pages are 189.
Coffee Stop Publishing ISBN number: 978-1-9997831-0-5
Urban Portrait Book Reviews
Urban Portraits: Photography by Keith Moss
By Keith Moss
Published by Coffee Stop Publishing
Reviewed by Daniel Pateman
With the publication of Urban Portraits, Keith Moss has produced a book both lush to look at and informative to read, particularly for the aspiring street or urban photographer. Resulting from over thirty years of experience in the field, the handsome A4 volume is a collaborative venture between the photographer, Professor Robert McMurray, and wife Pat Moss. It combines richly detailed snapshots of strangers in cities across Europe with advice on how to obtain the best outcomes from your explorations in urban photography, while maintaining respect for your subjects.
This sturdy volume is a pleasure to peruse, broken down into seven easy-to-follow sections which guide you through various considerations necessary to obtain the most effective portrait. Some topics detailed include: body language; how to engage your subject; ethics and a respect for cultural specificities, as well as advice on planning, technical concerns, and the post-production process. These sections are punctuated by Moss’s stunning black and white photographic portraits; evidence of the seasoned application of his particular methodology.
His aptitude for making his subjects comfortable in their own skin and in front of the camera is evident throughout his work. There is no sense of distance between subject and photographer, with his shots feeling immediate and unmediated. Expressions are often soft and unguarded, with eyes returning the camera’s benevolent gaze, resulting in intimate images that provide a radiant expression of the subject’s inner being in a kind-of communion with the camera. The Italian is a perfect example of this; a beguiling image created in moments, despite the lack of a common language.
The relaxed demeanour of his sitters is proof of an astute understanding of body language. As detailed in the book, this is central to gaining your subject’s engagement for a portrait, as well as in ascertaining consent – something integral to Moss’s ethical practice. This is gauged with the reciprocation (or not) of eye contact or a smile. If returned, this is followed up with a verbal confession of interest; often a compliment about what attracted your attention (an item of clothing, their appearance). He cautions the intrepid photographer against insincerity however as “we can all smell bullshit”. Once approval is granted, Moss advises being conscious of how they present themselves. The way they are most comfortable being photographed will be indicated by a number of “tells”, such as which hip they lead with, the side of their face they present, or the way they part their hair. Being cognisant of their body language will allow you to capture them at their most relaxed and receptive.
Urban Portraits is not dogmatic in its advice but gently guides the reader, acknowledging that some situations may require a more adaptable approach. What is most clearly conveyed in the book though is the (almost sacred) sense of connection urban photography can facilitate with others, being for Moss a practice that hinges on “the empathetic encounter with fellow human beings.” His work, like the American-German photographer Evelyn Hofer, privileges the “ordinary” working-class, and he includes here an assemblage of manual labourers: from agricultural workers, to cleaners, builders and bakers, each portrait acting as a testament to their individual dignity and occupational pride.
Dynamic milieus and captivating juxtapositions comprise a number of particularly eye-catching shots. A smiling young couple pose next to an image of a besotted elderly pair, a celebration of enduring love, while city streets depict zany characters, trendily dressed individuals and a lively urban culture. The impact of these images is slightly muted by a greater number of more conventional, straight-forward portraits; of market-traders and artisans in the midst of their daily routine, their more literal representation yielding less evocative results. However, for Moss, the final photograph is less important than the practice of urban portraiture, an undertaking which provides opportunity for meaningful engagement, no matter how fleeting, with people from all walks of life. This celebration of interdependence and social connection, in abundance throughout Urban Portraits, is something to cherish in what is gradually becoming “an increasingly virtual world”.
– reviewed by Daniel Pateman
For much of history the portrait was for the powerful and the wealthy, the aim as much to show the image the sitter wished to project as the artist wished to achieve (and to be paid for). Few were like Oliver Cromwell, wishing to be shown warts and all.
Photography changed this, democratising the portrait. Much however remained mannered – the family portrait or the official photograph, with formalistic poses or arty backgrounds. Urban Portraits are of people on their daily business, in shops or cafes, on the street or in the market, in their milieu. Photographer meets subject not as hired hand and subject gives freely of themselves for no cost.
Keith’s background in fashion photography, but also in the craft of developing and enlarging, show clearly in the quality of the photos that shine from the pages of this sumptuous book. Filmed entirely in black and white and mostly in film, the book sets out to show what is possible and ethical, and guides you chapter by chapter as to the development of your skills, technique and how to engage, treat and photograph your subject.
The advice flows from Keith’s experience of the photography and the importance of getting the image right the first time. Not merely because the subject gives freely of themselves but also skills of the darkroom require a good negative. That image should reflect the person you saw, rather than a processed image of what software can deliver. The subjects expose their souls, the photographer has a duty to capture that without artifice other than sound technique.
In this era of the digitised image available free online and the advice of numerous practitioners on online videos, why buy a book? The answer to me lies in physicality of photography, it is a physical medium, printed on paper that changes and defines an image, and on paper can you see the sumptuousness of the final result. The logical guide and organisation of techniques and ethics in written form is not just a great bonus though, it is an essential part of this book.
Finally, apart from its personal inspiration to me to be out photographing in film (with one of Keith’s film cameras) is that the portraits in the book are also self-portraits of Keith – a humane man, capable of forming an easy bond and giving of himself. What shines from the page is his personality, even if behind the camera. All together this is a lovely and rewarding work in so many ways.
INSIGHTFUL PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE HUMANIST TRADITION
In recent years photo publishing has been awash with ‘How To’ books, as digital developments initiate a new generation of photographers. However, if photography was just or even predominantly about technique we would all be Henri Cartier-Bresson! The photographer who wants their work to have an immediate as well as a lasting impact has to have more.
The strength of this book is its unusual mix of street photography and environmental portraiture and if there’s one message that comes from it loud and clear it is that respecting and empathising with your subject is the key.
Keith Moss’s professional background is in magazine and lifestyle photography and he has transferred his ‘people skills’ to the capture of humanity at work and play. For Keith the challenge was to take his photography above the level of passive voyeurism.
Make no mistake, he sets the bar high aesthetically as well as spiritually but what comes over on page after page is his passion for analogue and his commitment to the dignity of his subject. Flicking through I’m reminded of the work of the 1950s French ‘Humanist school’ like Boubat, Doisneau and Willy Ronis. Fast company, I know but not an invidious comparison. For Keith Moss has the same instinctive engagement with the people in his images.
And this is the ‘How To’ message I take from this excellent book.