Seeing the unseen in New York city through the lenses of two leading street photographers, Jörg Rubb
In 2016, RAW Streetphoto Gallery which is now located in the heart of Rotterdam was founded by Alexey Shifman. The gallery’s main objective is to provide emerging photographers working in the field of experimental and street photography with the platform to express themselves. Simultaneously, the gallery is also known as the only one platform that concentrates on these two fields in the Netherlands. RAW Streetphoto Gallery exhibitions permit to discover the emerging photographers alongside with giving anyone who joins the exhibition extraordinary artistic experiences. Every month there is an exhibition that covers a specific theme. More interestingly, not to mention the diversity present within the gallery where the exhibited artworks are created by artists coming from many countries.
On April 20th of 2019, the gallery joyfully celebrated three-year anniversary with a duo exhibition titled “Intimate Strangers” by Jörg Rubbert and Jürgen Bürgin - two Berlin based photographers.The artworks revolves around the subject of exploring New York scenes by means of street photography which is the field that the gallery is specialized in. Also, the theme of this exhibition has a strong association with the gallery’s founder - Alexey Shifman. It reflects his personal journey of establishing RAW Streetphoto Gallery ever since he was a newcomer in Rotterdam and began to delve into the unknown. In spite of setting foot in the same city, each artist showed very different images of everyday moments, ranging from the subways to the side streets of Brooklyn, by incorporating their own perspectives into the techniques employed. Furthermore, this might lead to the difference among viewers with respect to their emotions and reflections not only on New York city but also on life in general. However, upon a further examination, it can be said that the artworks by both Rubbert and Bürgin all draw our attention to New Yorkers’ life on a micro level. In contrast to the fact that New York has always been famous for being a vibrant metropolis which is full of hustle and bustle, there is a feeling that the loneliness lingers somewhere in those photographs taken by Rubbert and Bürgin.
Jörg Rubbert himself believes that only through black-and-white photography, the nature of street photography can be revealed. In fact, he thinks that “color photography would significantly change elements, would add new layers, and therewith dilute the essence of a picture”. With the emphasis on authenticity and spontaneity, in the series of exhibited photographs, he used 35 mm-analog negative film (Kodak T-Max). Besides, despite having a strong interest towards discovering innermost feelings and thoughts of people through their behaviors and facial expressions, Jörg takes the ethical principles in photography into account whenever he does his work by using standard lenses to avoid obtrusiveness. In his point of view, instead of waiting for the moments to happen, the role of a street photographer is to anticipate and proactively capture them.
Please find below some thoughts regarding photography that Jörg shared with RAW Streetphoto Gallery.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What made you feel engaged in street photography instead of other genres?
Jörg Rubbert: Street photography considers itself part of „live photography“, which represents the authentic and undisguised life – fast, spontaneous and directly captured often as a snapshot which freezes the living here and now. In this way street photography touches on 'documentary photography'. Street photography as a self-defined working field plays an essential role for me. It not only represents a large portion of my work but also defines my esthetic approach.
The themes are less about the city as a developing urban organism, but rather the city as stage and action field for people who have entrusted themselves to it. It is not about the view of the city, in with architecture and city landscape or tourist sights are predominant, but the many-layered and fleeting life of the city. No staged scenes but life itself in its current constellation which – once fixed – transcends itself and literally says more than a thousand words. Such “crucial moments” need from my perspective not necessarily be world-shaping events.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What do you think about photos in which landscape plays the role of the subject?
Jörg Rubbert: Every photographer has to find the right genre for him- or herself. But I would say street photography is the supreme discipline within photography probably only comparable with the art of portrait-photography. Street photography means that the photographer is strolling through public areas with his camera, always searching for the “decisive moment” as Henri Cartier-Bresson defined it. This leads to a sense that the street photographer even has to anticipate those situations before they really occur.Street means, to be in a city, mostly outdoors during certain times of the day dependent on weather and lighting conditions. Street means to be outside, in the world, covering everyday life and to be at the right time in the right place. And still no street photographer is the same. The individual approach shapes the photographic picture. It represents a view on the world from a very personal standpoint. The picture should describe a certain atmosphere or even deliver a specific story or message. This can only be successful if the photographer is close to the object, according to Robert Capa’s statement: "If the picture isn’t good enough, then you were not close enough …". Those prerequisites together with the focus on a specific social or human-related topic make street photography not the easiest one of a kind. But surely landscapes, industrial landscapes or urban landscapes can also deliver a certain picture language or even transport a certain message. Especially if they cover critical topics, such as environmental issues, gentrification, the decline of cities or entire regions and others.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What are the implications of putting the human element in photos?
Jörg Rubbert: If someone takes photographs of people in the street certain rules have to be considered. Those pictures shall not condemn or compromise a person.
Mostly the displayed persons are only metaphors to underline a certain picture language. It is irrelevant if someone special is shown in the picture – it is merely important to transport a certain message, comment on a specific topic or show a humorous situation. This is entirely different in the area of portrait-photography: here the personality, the character of a person, his or her mood is playing a decisive role. Implications may occur when a photographer gets too close to an object and undermines one’s personal proximity and therewith loosing respect for the people. But if someone is really interested in people and seriously and carefully deals with their problems, personal and social environment, should not face any substantial problems.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: How did the techniques that you employed associate with your perspectives on the field of photography in general?
Jörg Rubbert: For me black-and-white photography represents the ideal way to capture life in a big city. From my point of view color photography would significantly change elements, would add new layers, and therewith dilute the essence of a picture. Even today I only take analog pictures. Thereby I always rely on existing lighting conditions ‒ no illumination, no flash or other technical refinements. I use 35mm cameras because of their great mobility and the fact that they are hardly noticeable. They are ideal for snap shots in which chance, empathy and premonition are combined. I prefer to use standard lenses to have the framed detail appear as authentic as possible. As an analog photographer I avoid any manipulations in my reproductions. That is why the finished prints are not high-resolution pictures which could give in-depth-view of the urban fabric but mood pictures painted with light, sometimes grainy, picturesque and full of contrast.But it’s not a question of technology but a question of recognizing and seeing. To see and sometimes even to anticipate situations before they appear.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: How did you approach the people appearing in your photos?
Jörg Rubbert: People are standing in the middle of my oeuvre: People in relation to their environment, in their social context and with regard to their city and neighbourhood. It is about spontaneous street portraits, in which the photographed persons are represented in a positive way. The pictures shall not rate or condemn anyone, but cover the scenery in a realistic manner like it appeared to me in the moment I shot the picture. Thereby I try to get as close as possible to the object: With a 35 mm-camera and a standard lens I try to capture typical street scenes and compose the details of the picture intuitively, so as one could imagine the situation with one’s own eyes. The results shall be timeless pictures which show a strong interest for social themes and deep empathy for the interests of people: I’m interested in people who are on the edge of society – their daily struggle for a perspective and recognition within society. Generally speaking I prefer the humanistic directions of photography which aims to put – with its focus on people in their social environment – the small stories of everyday life in the center of a photographer’s attention.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What are the differences between a megacity like New York in comparison with other places to which you have ever been to do the Photography work? Jörg Rubbert: For me black-and-white photography represents the ideal way to capture life in a big city. From my point of view a photographer can only achieve meaningful results in such a complex subject by working over a long period of time. Thereby I always travel on my own to discover the specific photographic topics. It is at the same time a journey to myself – for me photography is an experience of life to open up one’s eyes for the world around oneself and to decode the complexity of life. Today megacities in other countries and on other continents are competing with New York in terms of size, metropolitan structure, architecture and social diversity as place for photographic expeditions. But New York has kept its charisma and seduction, although in my opinion today’s New York isn’t the same place as it was before 9/11. Later I travelled a few times for business purposes to NYC, but missed something from the liberal and tolerant atmosphere that was typical for the city. But this is my own personal impression. Which megacity a photographer is (dis-)covering at least doesn’t make a difference. Instead one should work on a specific theme; a city or a certain place alone won’t make a complete story.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: What are your future plans with respect to the career (as a photographer)?
Jörg Rubbert: Currently I work on a new photo-book about beaches. In my long-term plans I would like to return to the American South to start a project about rural life and the religion down there. Of course I’m still interested in further exhibitions especially in galleries and institutions, which focus on a humanistic direction of photography.
Find more about the exhibition the Intimate strangers at the second part of the article including the interview of Jürgen Bürgin.
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