A Photo Walk Through Downtown Vancouver
February 20, 2017
For a while now, I've been dying to get into street photography, so I took a little early-evening walk downtown just to see what happened. I was a little nervous to get started, because the idea of pointing a camera at strangers was a new one: I've always been very careful to ensure I'm not making anyone feel uncomfortable in front of my lens.
The first few captures from the walk were pretty tame, but as I spent more time wandering I stumbled across things I had never noticed before. Spontaneous events began unfolding in front of me. I found areas of the city I never even knew existed. Eventually, anxiety gave way to the thrill of capturing images that can never be replicated of people as they live their lives.
Beyond simply taking photos, I found myself interacting with the city and my community on a deeper level. At first it was a smile as someone noticed me taking their photo. From there it evolved into a myriad of other interactions as I captured (and sometimes completely missed capturing) moments of humanity, happiness, grief, and desperation going on everywhere throughout the city.
Puddlegazing. A dumb-but-classic puddle reflection of me and my camera. I love the opportunities that reflective surfaces like puddles present, and can't wait to find one with more than just a few cars in a back alley surrounding it.
The walk began with simple shots of buildings, construction areas, and art that adorns many of the walls in my neighbourhood of the West End. I began down Davie towards the water, but found myself diverted from English Bay quite considerably, and I decided to just roll with it.
Keep Out. I've always felt the chain link fence ruins this otherwise amazing looking building in the West End. It's unfortunate that these beautiful landmarks cannot be left unguarded.
Under Construction.
One of the most amazing parts of my photo walk was discovering places I'd never seen. I know to a lot of people, this colourful alley just off Granville Street is probably old news - but I had never heard of it, and after stumbling across countless alleys filled with trash, cars, and telephone poles, a vibrant basketball court was a pleasant surprise.

Colourful Pilgrimage.
Photo Op.
Colourful alleys are neat, and surprise discoveries in your own city are a huge part of what makes street photography so much fun. But the core of street photography has to do with humanity and the lives and communities we build in our cities. As I continued walking, I heard this guy busking at the corner of Granville and Robson. I approached him and snapped a couple of quick shots, and he noticed me almost right away during an interlude in the song he was playing. He gave a me a smile, a little bit of attention, and this great head on portrait, reminiscent of from Humans of New York.
The Guitarist.
Permit Required.
After dropping some change into the guitarist's case, I knew I was coming up on another cultural goldmine: the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was expecting to wander through a small protest or street performer, but instead I was lucky enough to catch the end of a skateboarding photoshoot, and nobody seemed to mind having an extra lens working some different angles.
Flyin'.
Ollie the Chair.
Alternative Transportation. This photo was tough for me to come to terms with. I loved the look of it, but something about not capturing the bottom half of the skateboard made me uncomfortable. In the end, I included it in this series based on the feeling evoked from seeing a skateboarder among the pedestrians, but I will always wonder if having the full length of the board and curb would have made this image a true standout. It was an important micro-lesson from my shoot: perfection isn't always the goal.
A Captive Audience.
As you might be able to tell, I've been experimenting more and more with black and white images. It's a style I've never felt fully comfortably creating, but the more I work with it the more I have to remind myself that not EVERYTHING works in black and white. Sometimes removing the colour actually adds something extra: in cases where this isn't true, the black and white is probably unnecessary.
Gastown is an obvious stop on any photo walk going through downtown. The picturesque brick sidewalks and squat buildings from a bygone era, along with the famous steam clock, provide plenty of opportunities for striking images.
Coppertop.
A View to the North Shore.
Women & Men.
Brick by Brick. The symmetry in many older buildings is truly captivating. I love how only one of the lights is on in the stairway windows.
Beyond the City. One of the only places in the world where you can spot a mountain or two from between buildings downtown.
Vinyl. This storefront seemed to catch the attention of many pedestrians, both young and old.
There is so much great street art around Vancouver - from alleys completely covered in spray paint to one-off murals and elaborate tags on the sides of otherwise average buildings. This proved to be a great exercise in editing to bring out colours without overdoing it. I can already feel the urge to capture and record all of the graffiti around Vancouver, and indeed I think this will grow into its own side project.
Not all colour in the city is found in alleys on the sides of walls, and as the sun went down and the light got even more elusive, it took centre stage down Granville Street. It's a different kind of beauty.
Signs.
The Fabulous Commodore Ballroom.
As the lights of capitalism shine down the most famous street of bars in Vancouver, the darker side becomes all too apparent. It's well known that the wealth gap in Vancouver is massive, and people without stable addresses make their homes where they find the space - hiding in plain sight from the crowds downtown.
What You Can Spare. This image is one of my favourites. I approached the man in the cardboard boat after taking this photo, placed some change in his cup, and asked him if he was okay with my intrusion. He smiled and said, "of course!" I stooped down for another closer photo, and he gave me a big thumbs up. Although there's a world of privilege separating me from him, our humanity connected us in some small way.
The Captain.
Walls. What's striking about this image is the lack of space available for this woman to live, and the abundance of space not a foot behind her. It's an interesting juxtaposition that highlights the housing - and more generally, space - problem in Vancouver.
These three photos broach an important ethical consideration in street photography. As someone who has enjoyed just about every privilege that exists in society, producing images at the expense of someone else's misfortune without giving anything back feels wrong. I don't want anything I produce to simply become "poverty porn" without any actual meaning.
I gave change to any homeless folks that were the subject of my photographs, but even that didn't feel like enough. For next time, I'd like to make it a rule to have a small chat with these people as well - ask their names or how they're doing. After all, the essence of street photography is humanity, and having respect for that humanity is just as important as capturing it.
Big and Small.
Coffee shops are great places to observe people. Many of the shots I have of others are quite reserved - I snapped them quickly from across the street or down the block a little ways. As I get more comfortable with the idea of strangers being in my photos, and pointing a camera at them, I hope to improve the sense of intimacy in these types of photos a bit.
Revolver Brew Bar. When I originally snapped a series of photos looking at the front of Revolver, I lucked out and stumbled upon a very cool composition. A man with his head buried in his cell phone happened to walk in front of this woman, neglecting her studies for her own device, and I thought I had just taken one of my favourite photos of the day. But it only served as a reminder that street photography moves fast, because thanks to fading late-afternoon light, my shutter speed was down and the man only appeared in the frame as a streaming blur.
All Roads.
Let's Heal. I knew right away when I saw this often-photographed message on the wall behind the flags in the foreground I needed to get a shot of both together. It took me a few traffic light cycles and standing in the middle of all four crosswalks to get it, but finally I was able to put the two elements together in a meaningful way.
322 Water St. Many of the shots in this collection are not perfect, and I think that's often why I'm hesitant to delete them. This is one such shot. But together, they form a complete account, and while not all images stand out on their own, when shown collectively they highlight the character of the city.
Gastown Gridlock.
Peaks. Towards the end of my walk, I started to get a little bolder. This photo was taken over a barbed wire fence down a back alley near Railtown. I scrambled on top of a dumpster in order to see over it, much to the confusion of several people around me. The artificial peaks backed by natural mountain peaks made for an interesting image.
Mountains are my usual subjects, and so they're right in my photographic comfort zone. They don't struggle, they don't feel, they don't get mad when you point a camera at them, and they don't move just when you think you've found the perfect shot. But they also don't bring the same type of emotion to photos that street photographs do, and the thrill of capturing that one precious moment of a human being in the midst of living their lives is something unique to this genre.
Purple Haze. Easily one of my favourite images of the walk was this from-the-hip shot as I was heading back towards my apartment. The vibrant, jubilant colours stand in stark contrast to the otherwise depressing imagery of the garbage cans, messages of protest, and reminder that not everyone in Vancouver gets to enjoy the same standard of living as I do.
Modern Cowboy. The pose of this man coupled with the lettering of the tattoo shop and the cactus in the background reminded me of a scene from the Wild West, while the phone and the reflection of the bicycle stand as symbols of the modern world.
Sikora's Classical Records.
Quiet Contemplation.
Breaktime. Some dizzying lines provide the backdrop to this man's late lunch.
Flutter. I often have a hard time freezing movement while still getting an image of acceptable quality, so I'm quite happy with this shot of a man strolling through a crowd of seagulls. Just moments before he had been spreading some bread across the ground for them to enjoy, and their feeding frenzy provided a seconds-long opportunity for a great shot.
Humans of Robson Square. As I've said before, humanity is the highlight of any street photography session, and there was something about this couple that struck me.
Views. A pair of onlookers stand watching Davie St. from their balcony.
Wheelie. If I had to pick a favourite standalone image from this set, it would have to be this. As I was headed back home for the evening amidst the fading light of day, these two were wrapping up a bit of biking underneath Robson Square. I spent a minute or two shooting them from through the glass, and thought I would descend to take a few closer shots. But before I was able to make it down the stairs to where they had been, strangely, they had vanished.
My new camera, a Fuji X-T1, has opened up a whole new level of light to play with: evening light. While my last camera couldn't really handle low light, the Fuji thrives in this environment. I had stayed out on my walk a little later than expected, which provided me an excellent opportunity to turn focus away from people and towards what human's have created: a concrete jungle with a million hidden gems and opportunities for exploration.
Corkscrew. One of the many pieces of art I had never seen, or at least never noticed, just a few blocks outside my neighbourhood.
Robson Square.
Window Panes. The twilight colours in the background skyscraper were too amazing to simply walk by.
Robson Rink. The emptiness of this rink, which I still associate with the hustle and bustle of the 2010 Olympic games, provided an interesting photographic opportunity.
Cathedral Glow. The final shot taken on my photo walk. This cathedral stands on the corner of Nelson and Burrard amidst towering glass buildings on one side, and small, quaint character homes on the other.
I left for what I assumed would be a quick out-and-back walk, but ended up wandering for well over two hours. What's amazing to me is that if I were to do this walk again, I would produce a completely different set of images. The thrill of the hunt is addicting, and I've found myself scouting out more neighbourhoods, and even cities, to see through my lens. 
Thanks for reading!
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