I want people to experience an emotional reaction when they view my work. As we all know emotions run the gamut from the euphoric to the totally depressed. Whatever the emotion, it is important that work evokes a strong response in the viewer or it will simply be forgotten by the time the viewer leaves the gallery/museum.

I remember listening to futurist Faith Popcorn talk about effective advertising and saying that for advertising to be effective it must evoke a strong emotional reaction from the viewer. Positive or negative didn’t matter as much as the strength of the emotional response. I feel the same way about my photographs. I want them evoke a strong response whatever that response may be. Of course, I would prefer a positive response but who is to say what a positive response is and what long term effect any strong emotional response will have on the viewer.

I bring this up now because on my visit to the Michener Museum this past Thursday for one final look at my “Street Stories” exhibit before it comes down on Monday, I encountered two examples of the type of emotional response that I hope my work evokes. While sitting quietly in the gallery, I watched a husband and wife come in and begin viewing the photographs and reading the accompanying stories. After looking at four or five photographs (there are a total of 17), the husband turned to wife and in a hushed tone said “these are very depressing”. They looked at one or two more and left the gallery. Now I don’t necessarily want to evoke a depressed response (and I wish they would have viewed all the portraits) but if that’s what this couple took away, so be it. It was obviously a strong reaction and I am confident that they did not immediately forget the work upon leaving the gallery and museum. That’s the worst thing that could happen… have someone look at one’s work and feel nothing. Have them walk away and never give a second thought to the work. I want my work to make people think… to make them feel and I believe I have succeeded.

After spending about an hour and half just sitting in the gallery with my work and trying to soak in the entire experience one last time before it comes down, my wife and I headed into the town for some lunch and a walk before heading home. On our way back to the car, we ducked back into the museum for a minute to leave a message for the team that will uninstalling the exhibit on Monday. The receptionist upon seeing me said to the two women she was talking with “there he is, you can tell him yourself.” The two ladies came over and immediately said that the photographs and stories brought tears to their eyes. Again the type of strong emotional response that I hoped my work would evoke. They asked many questions and we must have chatted for 15 minutes before going our separate ways.

Over the course of the three month run for the “Street Stories” exhibit, I received many notes expressing the same kinds of emotional responses. To have the work viewed, to have it have a profound emotional effect on the viewer, to have that emotional response last, and to have them feel obligated to write and express their feelings is really what it is all about.

And it is a sure sign that the “Street Stories” exhibit was a success.

P.S. To see samples from my “Street Stories” series visit my website at http://www.edvatza.com/street-storiesportraits-from-the-street/. Click on any photo to read that person’s story.

Even as my “Street Stories” exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, PA) winds down (it closes on July 5), I continue working on my Street Stories/Portraits from the Street project. This is a project that I do not see ending anytime soon as there is still so much left for me to do. I need to expand this series beyond New York City where most of the photographs have been made and do more shooting in other areas. My plan is to get more involved in the Philadelphia area, Atlantic City and my own home the Lehigh Valley (PA) with an occasional foray to other cities. I also feel a need to dig deeper and pay more attention to the day-to-day lives of the people I photograph. So as I said, I don’t see an end to this project anywhere on the horizon. With that in mind, here are a few of my more recent street portraits.

“Edward” — I met Edward in Bryant Park (NYC). Small things sometimes catch my eye and I was drawn to the way he was sitting, balancing on a stair railing without sliding down. So I approached and asked how he was doing it. Well Edward is a talker and with that opening, he talked my ear off. He learned the balancing act in the military. He is a veteran. He is half-Cherokee. He is from upstate NY (Ulster County). He is an insomniac and as he describes it borderline autistic at least in the way his mind races. He says he doesn’t drink but does do weed because it helps with his insomnia and racing mind. He is a self-described computer wiz with his own computer technology start up company. He pointed to his office, a table in the park. And he has been on the streets for months now. I gave Edward a buck or two and he went straight to a street vendor and bought a bottle of water. This is Edward.

L1005372

“Melissa” — I met Melissa on another trip into Bryant Park (NYC). What first caught my attention was the guitar setting on a chair next to her. That provided the opening. I asked about the guitar and she was off and running. Another real talker. Melissa is homeless and has only been in NYC for six days. She spends the nights just outside the park and the days in the park. She came from Southern California where she also lived on the streets. I asked how she came up with the money to get from California to NYC and she told me she saved enough from her Social Security Disability checks to pay her way. She was very open about her battle with schizophrenia and how she had gained a lot of weight from the psychotropic drugs she was on. It sounded like she had stopped taking the drugs and now she is trying to go the homeopathic route. Melissa said that she had worked in the hospitality industry for many years prior to her diagnosis and mentioned a number of major hotel chains that she had worked for. Her jobs took her around the country. She said the last time she was in NYC was 20 years ago when she was 22 years old. Back to her guitar… she had broken 3 strings and was waiting for another guitarist, Dusty, she had met to come and hopefully replace the broken strings. Melissa said she loves music, loves to sing and likes languages. She was smiling almost the entire time we talked.

L1005413

“Bobby” — I met Bobby on a Broadway street corner in NYC. He really seemed very depressed at the time. I got down on one knee and began talking with him. Bobby is 32 years old and from NYC. He’s been on the streets for about a month now. He worked as a non-union painter and spackler but lost his job when the work ran out. He had no money saved up and soon lost his room when he couldn’t pay rent. He told me he was also in a methadone program and trying to straighten out his life. He contacted his parents but said they would not help him saying he is 32 years old and responsible for himself. He tried a shelter but they were terrible (something I have heard over and over) and he said that he feels safer on the street. What little he had including his phone was stolen while in a shelter. He told me some good samaritan ended up giving him an old iPhone to use. By the time we were done talking, Bobby referred to me as his good luck charm. While I was down on one knee talking with him, three people stopped by to give him some money and encouragement including on lady who gave him a five with the words “you’re going to make it.” I certainly hope so.

L1005423

Yesterday I was walking through Bryant Park (NYC) in the morning with my wife when I saw a guy sleeping on a bench. This is a very common sight in the city and something to which I very rarely pay any attention at all. But this was different. Not because of the person but because of the surroundings. From the angle I was approaching, the sleeping man looking totally enveloped in the greenery. It triggered an image of a person laying in a casket surrounded by flowers… different yet somehow the same. I pulled up and sat on the bench immediately before him. I turned toward him, positioned him in the frame surrounded by the greenery and I made the photograph. One image and I got up and continued walking on with my wife.

Little did I know it at that moment but there was another guy sitting on a bench a little further on who saw the who thing take place. As I approached where he was sitting, he called out that he saw what I did. He saw me take a picture of the sleeping man. And with that he told me in no uncertain terms that I ever tried that with him, he would beat the shit out of me. And he punctuated the rant with a “f@#k you”. I just looked at him and said “have a nice day” to which he responded “go f@#k yourself”. Now I don’t get worked up about such things and I just moved on to have a great rest of the day filled with street photography.

Then this afternoon, out of the blue, my wife asked me if I felt I did anything wrong. (I must hasten to add that she accompanies me on probably 90% of my street sojourns so she has often seen me in action.) I said no I did not do anything wrong. She said that she felt I did and asked how’d I feel if someone took a picture of me while I was sleeping on a bench. I responded that for one thing I probably wouldn’t even know. For another, who knows how many photographs we have ended up in while walking the streets? If you’re out in public, you can be photographed whether you like it or not, whether you want it or not.

As I often tell people when the question arises, I have every legal right to photograph anyone doing anything in a public place. Does this mean that I do? No, there are situations when I choose not to photograph for one reason or another. I also say that people have the right to cover their face, hold up a hand, say no pictures, turn away, yell at me, give me the finger, or I guess even dish out some verbal abuse. What they can’t do is what it is illegal to do. They can’t assault me. And no one has.

So I return to my original question. Did I do something wrong? My answer is an emphatic NO! At the same time, I recognize that others choose to draw their line at a different place than I do and that’s okay too. But then we must just agree to disagree.

Oh and the photograph… I’ll just it speak for itself…

L1005411

So I am sitting at a Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A affiliate) baseball game last night with a friend and fellow photographer when I started to receive a series of feedback posts from folks who had just been to see my “Street Stories” exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA. I am certain these people do not know each other but they all had very nice things to say. Here are some excerpts from their comments…

Mary said “Your work is amazing! I was intrigued when I saw the article in the Go Guide of the Morning Call…The exhibit did not disappoint… I hope you continue to produce this excellent work and I wish you much success. You are brilliant!”

Ruth commented “Guess where I was tonight. What an awesome display of your work and the stories that went along with each person you photographed.”

And finally Tom sent me an e-mail which read “I’m a member of the Michener Art Museum and I had a chance to view your exhibit this afternoon. I was impressed with the authenticity of your images.  It’s obvious you were able to gain the trust of your subjects. I’m also impressed with the resolution you have achieved.  I’ve been shooting and processing B&W since I was in grade school (early 50’s), and have not seen those kind of results from a 35mm format… Thanks again for a very enjoyable exhibit.”

So there you have it. Time is running out but you have have until July 5 to see this exhibit at the Michener. After that, who knows when and where it might next appear.

I will be the first to admit that I am old-fashioned (as well as old). That’s probably why I shoot with Leica rangefinders rather than the latest and greatest DSLRs… why I often often shoot with film instead of shooting digital… and why I like tinkering around with old Polaroid film cameras.

That old-fashionedness carries over in a strong preference for real by God, hold ’em in your hands and turn the pages books over any type of electronic reader/e-book combination. So when I see people out there reading real books, I feel a need to photograph them.

Books… they can isolate you from the world immediately around you while at the same time taking you to a brave new world in your mind.

Here are several photographs from a recent trip to the streets of New York.

L1005385

L1005370

L1005367

Almost a year ago, when I retired from my day job in healthcare marketing, I had near the top of my “To Do” list the need to make my long-neglected website more reflective of the photographer I am today rather than the photographer I was in the past. It looked nothing like the website of a serious humanistic street photographer and everything like the website of a generalist photographer. Now a year later I finally got around to giving the website a total overhaul. I can’t tell you how many hours I put into this over the past week or two but I finally have a product that is, let say, 98% done. So I want to share it with you. I think the only thing left over from the old website is the “Contact Me” page.

So if you would be so kind, please visit my new website at www.edvatza.com and please let me know what you think. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Even as my “Street Stories” exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA continues its run through July 5, I continue to work on my “Portraits from the Street” project. As I have said before, the project has a life of its own as I continue on my road to self-discovery through the people I meet on the streets.

Here are two street portraits from my most recent trip into New York City which took me way downtown and into the Wall Street financial district. I met “Jay” down in NY’s financial district. A pleasant fellow with a smile seemingly always on his face, Jay is originally from New York but no longer has any family in the city. Jay has been on the streets for several years now. He told me he was attacked while sleeping on the streets a week or so ago. The small cut under his eye is a remanent of that fight. Meet Jay…

L1005340

I must admit that my interaction with “Phil” began strangely. I stopped and said hi and started reading the two signs he had with him. He quickly pointed out that the signs were not his… they belonged to a friend. So Phil said I didn’t have to give him anything because the signs weren’t his. I diverted the discussion from the signs by asking him about himself and he told me that May 31 would mark his third year on the streets. I asked what he did before he ended up on the streets and Phil told me he was a carpenter’s helper and a union member. He said he was from Brooklyn. Then he told me that he went through a divorce and ended up in psychiatric counseling before landing on the streets. By the way, I did give him a dollar or two even though the signs weren’t his. Meet Phil…

L1005361

And so the “Street Stories” just continue to unfold before our very eyes if only we open them to be able to truly see.