Spontaneous relationships Moments from street photography with images by Allen Bourgeois

With influences from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand, Allen Bourgeois focuses on street photography, even though he doesn’t use this label very much. The work he presents here, “Spontaneous relationships” is about visual relationships and seeing and capturing those moments that usually happen in the fraction of a second and then they are gone. He became interested in photography back in the 1970’s in Okinawa while serving in the Marines, after then discovering the Leica M9, and using Leica equipment both for professional and personal work.

Please describe the approach you had when working on Spontaneous Relationships.. What were your objectives?

When working on Spontaneous Relationships my objective is to capture visual relationships between objects in the frame. The moment that they form something that I find interesting. This is usually measured in fractions of a second so I am constantly working on my timing. Seeing and capturing things in that moment do take some practice. Bresson called it a developed instinct and I am constantly working on it.

Monochrome images set a stage for the viewer to fixate on contrasts, attitudes, and moments, rather than on aesthetics or colors. Why is monochrome your preference in terms of doing street photography?

For my personal work over the past 8 or 9 years I found myself seeing in values,tones, shapes and those spontaneous relationships and when they all seem to come together so it seems the way I am seeing now lends itself to B&W.

You speak about the transition from other DSLR’s to the Leica M system. What is your perception of the evolution of this camera (from analog to digital)?

I am an old darkroom rat and this is truly the only digital B&W I have warmed up to in a size that is intuitive for the type of street work I am doing at this point in time. For me and the way I am now working on the street I find Leica M to be far more intuitive and far less intrusive than a DSLR. The MM is a tool that allows me to shoot at high ISO so I can have a large DoF and a fast shutter speed to be ready when I see a relationship starting to happen.

© Allen Bourgeois

This image has a perfect composition, with the kissing of the woman’s head slightly tilted to her left. It was definitely a fast shot, judging by the small blur, but still amazing. Was this picture planned? 

Thank you. When I was walking past this ad I saw the relationship of a person walking with the image in the background. So I stopped and I began to photograph people as they walked by. I shot 4 of 5 frames and every one of those shots had people looking straight ahead and the relationship I wanted wasn’t happening, though I wasn’t sure of the relationship I was looking for, until this women that noticed me turned her head and by turning her head I knew I had the shot. I then moved on. I sometimes find objects that my gut tells me might work and thats what happened in this instance so I wait for something to happen. I try to remain open to whatever that might be. And sometimes I’ll be walking by something or something will happen in front of me and there is only time to react. I have no one way of working in that regard. I just try and keep my eyes and my reflexes open to what is there and not try and preplan anything. I try to remain a blank slate when working and I really try push out any preconceived ideas and allow for the moment.

How do you envision street photography in the future, given the current circumstances of continual use of smartphones?

I don’t have a web presence. It’s not, at this point in time, the way I want my work to be seriously viewed. The way I work is the image isn’t finished until it’s a print. I think there will be some that work with smartphones but if they do there still needs to be some kind of content other than just people on the streets. In my opinion something needs to separate an individual’s work from all the pictures of just people photographed on the street.

When doing client photography, do you always look for having an “Allen” touch into them? Or do you focus more on the actual outcome of the images as per the client’s desires? 

When doing commercial work (mostly healthcare advertising) ultimately it’s the clients. So if I don’t consistently exceed the clients expectations then I don’t stay in business. My professional work is built on long term relationships. I still have my very first client.  Most of the work I do professionally is a collaboration between other visual professionals so it’s never all mine. Having said that I have built up trust between myself and those that I work with and I do get a lot of freedom with some. I work professionally to pay the bills, buy the equipment and support the family and I enjoy that aspect a lot. It is the base that allows me to do my personal work and without the work that is all mine I probably would have been burned out a very long time ago.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers or maybe about other projects you’re working on right now?

I am working on a couple of different things at the moment as well as building on Spontaneous Relationships. I have a body of work that is all street portraits. Those are images that I talk to the people before I photograph them and not about the moment. I also have another less representational body of work I am working on. The working working title is” In the Absence of Color” but that’s in the very early stages and all subject to change.

Thank you Allen!

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4 comments

  • Great street photography from Allen Bourgeois. Allen: your black and white work is every bit as good as your work in color. Very impressive and very inspiring!

  • Waiting for a right moment is so important from the time when Cartier- Bresson used Leica for a first time.

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