The abstraction of reality David Edelstein's 'Urban Surrealism' and street photography

David Adam Edelstein grew up in Hawai’i and China, and currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington with his brilliant daughter and smart, beautiful wife, neither of whom take any of his whiny artistic crap. He has had a camera with him at all times since his parents made the expensive mistake of giving him one when he was eight. He thinks sharpness is overrated and is moderately distrustful of color.

This particular style of street photography brings the viewer’s attention to the subject, rather than the blurred backgrounds, how has been the process of defining this style?

This style evolved out of a flash of understanding I had about twenty years ago. I realized that when you take a sharp photo at 1/250th of a second, it’s one kind of distortion of reality – it’s snatching a narrow slice out of the flow of time. That made me curious about doing the opposite – what if I grabbed a wider slice out of the flow of time? I experimented with that idea and fell in love. It took a long time, though, for me to learn how to control it so I could use it to tell a story. The biggest challenge was that I don’t want these photos to fall off the edge into complete abstraction, but I don’t want them to be too literal, either. They need to be right on the edge between those two states.

You mention your photographs don’t focus too much on a ‘fixed moment’ but rather on ‘abstracting reality’; how is this abstract reality perceived in your images?

When someone looks at one of these photos, I don’t want them to see the specific person in the photo. I’d rather that they can’t quite see the details about how this person is dressed, or what the person’s face looks like exactly. What I’m hoping is that the person in the photo reminds the viewer of someone else they know – not “a specific woman passing a specific man on the street”, but “that woman reminds me of my aunt, who was always going somewhere in a hurry”. The blurring, in a way, helps create space that the viewer can fill in with their own memories.

Please share your thoughts on using the Leica Monochrom in terms of performance.

I know some people complain about the Monochrom’s raw files being “too flat”, but to me that’s their great strength. When I shoot film, I don’t want the proof sheets to be the final art; I try to make negatives that have all of the information I need on them, to make the print I have in my mind. The files from the Monochrom behave exactly like that – the amount of detail I can pull out of the shadows in a Monochrom file is astonishing. In my black and white work I do a lot of burning and dodging, just like I did in the darkroom, so it’s wonderful to have that kind of flexibility in the raw files from the Monochrom.

Can you please share a bit about the creative process for achieving these images? Is there a lot of thought put into each image or is it more randomized occasions?

It’s a little of both. What I try to do is create a situation where I’m going to find these photos. In the case of these specific images, they were mostly taken on streets where there were a lot of people going in both directions. I’d wait for the right combination of movement – a bit of a break in the crowd, an interesting subject, ands the right density of people in front of or behind the subject. So there is a great deal of thought in the setup for these images, but the actual images I get are a controlled accident.

Why did you choose black and white to shoot your street photography?

Well, the short answer is that I love black and white. The longer answer is that I like to shoot in black and white because it isn’t how the world looks. I agree with what Aaron Siskind said: “When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained.” Removing the literal reference of color helps me to make my photos new objects, instead of just describing the world. And also I just love black and white.

What is Dogma of No Dogma?

Besides being a silly philosophical joke, the Dogma of No Dogma reflects my lifelong refusal to follow any rules about how I work, how I think about my work, or what sort of work I’m going to do. If you look at my photography site, there’s this body of work, which is dark and abstract; there’s also travel and documentary work, which is in color, and tends to be much more literal. When I’m in nature, I like to shoot nature. I photograph food, I shoot portraits… I don’t limit myself to one subject, and I don’t follow any particular style.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share for our readers to know? Maybe other projects you might be working on right now?

Generally I don’t know what project I’m working on until the project reveals itself to me. I suddenly realize that I have been taking a lot of pictures of mannequins, or faded numbers, or plant life forcing its way through concrete, and I discover I have a project going. So right now I’m doing the only thing I know how to do, to find the next project: just keep shooting.

Thank you David!

To know more about David Edelstein’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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