Walker Evans Subway Project in the New York subway
MoMA (no date) Walker Evans. Subway portrait. From the series subway portraits. 1938–41. Available at: http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/walker-evans-subway-portraits-1938-41 (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
(MoMA, no date)
“Between 1938 and 1941, he took his camera underground, where he photographed subway riders in New York City. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he wrote, “even more than when in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors). People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” (MoMA, no date)
“In order to discreetly capture these candid Subway Portraits, Evans came up with an undercover method of taking photographs. He concealed his 35-millimeter Contax camera by painting its shiny chrome parts black and hiding it under his topcoat, with only its lens peeking out between two buttons. He rigged its shutter to a cable release, whose chord snaked down his sleeve and into the palm of his hand, which he kept buried in his pocket.” (MoMA, no date)
Philip-Lorca diCorcia.Heads Project in Time Square
MoMA (no date) Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Head #10. 2002. Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-10-2002 (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
(MoMA, no date)
“Philip-Lorca diCorcia took his camera to public places—in this case, New York City’s bustling Times Square—to capture candid photographs of strangers.” (MoMA, no date)
“He affixed a powerful strobe light to scaffolding and used a radio signal to activate the strobe, releasing the shutter of his camera in time with its flash.” (MoMA, no date)
“In doing so, he captured unwitting pedestrians in a burst of light from more than 20 feet away. Since diCorcia worked in broad daylight, his subjects did not notice the strobe’s flash. The person caught within its light is highlighted in great detail, while the surrounding crowd recedes into the background.” (MoMA, no date)
Examples of covert street photography can be seen here:
Wildlife photographers do similar things having to conceal themselves in order to capture portraits of animals and birds
Meyer, J. (2014) 77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything. Available at: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2014/02/07/77-photography-techniques-tips-and-tricks-for-taking-pictures-of-anything/4/ (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
“Wildlife photography technique 02: use your car as a hide Getting close to wild animals and birds is the most difficult part of wildlife photography, that’s why a hide or blind is an essential part in the professional wildlife photographer’s kit. However, we don’t all have a suitable location in which to set up and leave a hide, nor the time to sit in it for days. One solution is to turn your car into a mobile hide.” (Meyer, 2014)
Other Photographers have used their cars as a platform
Alinder, M.S. (2015) Ansel Adams: A biography. United States: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
(Alinder, 2015, p. 204)
“In the Spring of 1943, Ansel had his first camera platform constructed for his car” (Alinder, 2015, p. 204)
“From that time many of his best images would be made from this perch” (Alinder, 2015, p. 204)
Yoder says (you know there is a joke coming later)
Yoder, M. (2014) Behind the lens: When photos require a higher perspective. Available at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/feb/16/behind-lens-when-photos-require-higher-perspective/ (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
“This isn’t uncommon behavior for photographers. Post-war British photographer John Gay is shown in a 1950s photograph using this same ladder-on-car technique. Landscape photographer Ansel Adams and Depression-era photojournalist Dorothea Lange are both captured in images perched atop their respective vehicles sporting cameras. In Adams’ case, he’s shown in a photograph from the ’40s, standing with his large tripod atop a Ford Woodie station wagon with a permanent mounted platform.” (Yoder, 2014)
photographytips (2011) Clandestine photography. Available at: https://www.photographytips.com/page.cfm/51820 (Accessed: 11 April 2016).
“The subject of the surveillance (and any other persons) must be unaware that surveillance photography is occurring or has taken place. When secretly taking pictures, the photographer must either be hidden from view or working behind the veil of a pretext.” (photographytips, 2011)
“When using a pretext, people will see that photography is occurring but shouldn’t know that it is a clandestine operation. They should believe the pictures are being taken for an unrelated reason.” (photographytips, 2011)
“Clandestine photography, commonly referred to as surveillance photography, is the photographing in secrecy of a person, object, activity or location.” (photographytips, 2011)
“Since clandestine photography clearly does not involve the cooperation of the subject, the photographer must go to where the subject may be found engaged in the activity that is meant to be photographed, and at times when that activity is likely to be taking place.” (photographytips, 2011)
“Lens – Because surveillance photography involves long-distance work, often extremely long-distances, a powerful telephoto lens is essential, one that can capture an acceptable image of a subject a very long way off.” (photographytips, 2011)
“A skilled clandestine photographer is committed to recording usable images under diverse field conditions.” (photographytips, 2011)
In the research, Walker Evans appears to have been one of the first to tackle covert photography as evidenced by his Subway Project, most of the practitioners who have come since have mostly produced a “me too” body of work, the most notable being Parr, and Kuzma whose work seems to be very similar to Walker Evans.
The notable exception I found was Philip-Lorca diCorcia, who set up a hidden camera and used a trigger to set of the flash like a trap.
The Idea of a trap got me thinking about trapping animals and that led to the idea that wildlife photography is a form of covert photography as letting the animal know you are there often means they run or fly away and the shot is lost.
I started thinking about the concept of a hide as used in wildlife photography, the idea of getting somewhere concealed to make images seemed somehow different to the Walker Evans method which was all about hiding the camera.
I thought about finding a location where the images could be made without me being seen and I came across the idea of clandestine photography as used by surveillance operatives and private detectives,
The key there was to be inconspicuous and get some distance from your subject using a long lens, the wildlife website recommended using your car as a hide, as I looked into photographers using their cars as a platform for photography I was reminded of Ansel Adams and others who have done this, I also have done this in TAOP and DPP using the flat bed of my truck to get me in the right place and to get my line of sight above the parked cars.
From all of this I am going to create the exercise by taking a series of portraits with my camera set up on a tripod in the back of my truck using a long telephoto lens to capture subjects who do not even know I am there at the moment of the image because I will be so far away. The other tip from the clandestine photography world is to make the rest of the world think I am doing something else like taking architectural shots of the area. My experience from the last two times I used this method was the passers by completely ignore you and do not challenge you.
The key for this exercise will be choice of location.