There are two kinds of street photographers in the world — those who wait in one spot for the shot and those who keep walking.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh associate journalism professor Timothy Gleason is a walker.
“I’m a photojournalist who responds to the scene. Street photography is an interesting way to understand people and places,” Gleason said. “I keep moving, walking back and forth and finding new side streets to explore.”
Last summer, Gleason put on the miles for a UWO Faculty Development research grant that involved photographing pedestrian shopping areas in such cities as Appleton; Madison; and Bowling Green, Ohio.
“The importance of this project is the evolution of street photography within commercial public spaces,” he explained. “These spaces have dwindled because of private shopping areas, such as malls, and the development of shopping centers near highways.”
For the project, Gleason used a higher-end consumer digital camera, not his typical digital single-lens reflex camera, because he wanted to use a quieter, more subtle approach.
He looks for locations that are busy, so the people he takes photos of are acting naturally in the scene, not reacting to his presence. He wants to discover people’s emotions and study whether they appear happy or sad in a particular environment or time in history.
One photo from the project, which depicted a woman carrying a bouquet of flowers and a Rolling Stone handbag featuring Kurt Cobain, appeared in the online photography magazine F-Stop.
This summer, Gleason plans to revisit some of the same locations with his 7-year-old son to see if the images they capture show any change in the way people seem to be feeling. He also plans to experiment more with shooting video of the street scenes.
Worth a thousand words
Samples of Gleason’s work, along with explanations for each photo, follow:
"This image was made during Madison’s Maxwell Street Days. I like how cities have visual collisions of people. They are not literally running into each other, but there are miniature stories that exist within different scenes. A man passes by a store without noticing anyone. One woman watches over — literally and figuratively — shoppers. The shopper at the left is delighted about something we don’t get to see, which can lead us to wonder what the fuss is about. If you look between the legs of the woman on the ladder, you can see the face of another woman. This particular woman looks unhappy. Is she jealous that someone else found an item she likes? Does she not like the item? I don’t know, but the lack of complete information allows the viewer to finish the story."
"This image was made during Madison’s Maxwell Street Days, but it feels universal. These guys look unhappy. They both have their arms crossed, and their faces show frowns. They both wear similar shades of green. This could have been made almost anywhere. I made this image by walking closely past the first man and holding the camera without looking through the viewfinder or rear camera display. I had to be subtle to capture the moment. I like cutting off heads sometimes because this man becomes every man you have ever seen who is bored while shopping. It also places emphasis on his frown and his arms. I often find people behaving similarly in crowds. I think it makes someone more comfortable to express him/herself when another person is doing the same thing."
"I have several different crops of the original image. One emphasizes the surroundings, and this one emphasizes the people. I love this couple at Madison’s Maxwell Street Days. She looks so retro, and he is a mix of a handful of styles. They are colorful, and a photographer is lucky to trip across people like this."
"This image appeared in F-Stop magazine, and I like it because it shows contradictory messages. The man on the Rolling Stone bag is Kurt Cobain, who personifies the anti-corporate nature of the grunge movement. The woman with the bag displays some alternative culture aspects herself, and she was likely drawn to the bag because of Cobain. I just found it odd that colorful flowers were coming out of Cobain’s commodified head at Appleton’s farmers’ market."