Episode 10: Europe 2016 - Prague Part IIThis is the 10th post in a series chronicling my photography project through Spain, France, Poland, & Prague. Sandra the Firedancer. Click on this TAG to view all of the articles in this series. If you want to skip all the text, you can scroll all the way down to a gallery of images.
As a rule I avoid shooting street performers, beggars, the homeless, drunks, etc, because I see these people as being “low-hanging fruit” for street photographers who haven’t quite built up the courage to approach someone and ask for a portrait. It’s far easier to act like a sniper and shoot these folks from relative safety than it is to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Also, we tend to treat people on the street like free models, and that’s where things can get exploitative pretty quickly.
That said, I have been shooting some homeless people lately in my own town because I’m working on a project that focuses on some of the social inequities that my community is facing and our homeless population represents an important voice in that project. I’m also not shooting them while I’m hiding behind a dumpster. I prefer to converse with them, offer lunch in exchange for their story, etc.
Street performers tend to be running the same racket from year to year and it’s the same in any major city you visit across Europe. Shoot these folks if you wish but you’ll find that you rarely come away from that “session” with anything better than a snapshot. Shoot it for posterity or to show your friends. Nothing wrong with that! I’m generally shooting with an intention of turning a shot into a large format print, so snapshots are just sort of not on my menu, if you follow my meaning.
Sometimes, however, I run across a street performer whose act is truly unique. Something that they are uniquely suited to do, rather than the street performer who’s simply mimicking what that other guy across town is doing.
I saw a couple of such examples in Prague.
First there was a pair of musicians playing intense compositions in the Old Town Square. One on violin and the other on accordion. These guys were hardcore rock stars all the way and played with complete abandon. I loved their act and was as impressed with their virtuosity as with their presence. What fun. That said, it’s not easy to photograph what a band sounds like, and I got nothing from them but snapshots and some video footage with which to bore my wife upon my return home.
Then there was Sandra the Firedancer.
Wow. This. Woman. Brought it.
We saw her perform two nights in a row in the Old Town Square. The first time I saw her she had just apparently wrapped up her act and was fleeing the scene. Her attire caught my attention, but she was gone before I knew it. The next night smiled upon us as we were in the right place at the right time and we caught her entire act.
Sandra is obviously a trained dancer. She worked elements of Tango and Ballet into her Fire Poi performance. There were other fire dancers working the Old Town Square during our stay but they were sort of brutish and their acts were standard fare. Sandra was graceful and elegant. She romanced the fire and her performance was incredible. I was entranced, and I worked the show for the better part of 15 minutes.
When she finished her act, she wrapped up her stuff and vanished into the night like a woman pursued.
I went home that night and edited up the hundreds of shots I took of her act, putting the best dozen or so on my phone in hopes that I’d see her again the next night and could approach her with something to show her. Once again the night smiled upon us and she was back in the Old Town Square at dusk.
I introduced myself and showed her my photos from the night before. She was overjoyed with the images and asked me to email them to her. With that relationship in place, I stayed on to shoot her performance again, but this time the performance was partially directed at me, and I was able to make some images that far exceeded the quality and intimacy of my shots from the previous night’s performance. She knew I was there shooting her, she had seen the quality of my work and we had created a basis of relatedness. And so she was able to play to my camera in a way that was a real joy for me.
You’ll see from this gallery that I played with several settings designed to freeze her motion and to blur it. You’ll also note that much of the crowd is only minimally engaged in her act. This was a disappointment for me, as I felt that she was worthy of a rapt audience. I gave her the equivalent of $25 USD upon the completion of her act and promised to email her the photos that I had made. In truth I should have paid her more because I’ve turned 2 of the images into prints for sale here on the site and any relationship of this nature is a partnership — one that I’m more than happy to share the wealth on!
Build Relationships. Always.
My personal takeaway from this experience is to make an effort to build a personal relationship with any subject that I want to share intimacy with. Respect boundaries, work hard to produce the best possible images of that person, and share the wealth.
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