I was lucky enough to have one of my street portraits hung in a gallery exhibition across the pond at The Glasgow Gallery of Photography. The portrait called "Talk is cheap" was of a young lad with a heavily tattooed face that I met outside the court buildings in Calgary, Alberta. To my knowledge he hadn't been appearing before the bench and was just passing by.
The exhibition ran from 21st November - 30th November 2019 and the portrait was one of eighty selected from around the world. To say I was pleased was an understatment and it's my first major gallery portrait.
You can find links to The Glasgow Gallery of Photography and a list of their most recent exhibitions here
Photographing a stranger is something that is intimidating to a lot of photographers, and that's completely understandable. After all we are injecting ourselves into another persons life, and they might or might not be willing to let us photograph them. We might get turned down or forced to be in an awkward situation. But, this struggle is something that is really fascinating because in a few short moments you can go from barely knowing someone, to creating an image with them that captures their true personality as well as being surprised at what a stranger will talk about.
So how do you start breaking down your barriers to the point that you feel comfortable approaching strangers and asking them for their portrait? A simple trick I used when I first started was to ignore my camera to start with and break down the first barrier which is the initial contact. What I would do was walk down the street and give people random compliments to gauge their reaction. For instance, if I saw someone with coloured hair or a fancy hat I would simple smile and say "I love the colour of your hair" or "that's a cool looking hat" and carry on walking. Almost every time the person would smile back and thank me. What this taught me was that a simple compliment even from a complete stranger would result in a positive response. Using this simple technique you can build up your confidence to the point that you're ready to take the next step which is to ask them if you can take their photo.
Using the compliment approach a lot of people will respond positively and if you also stop as well and follow it up with a second question such as "have you coloured your hair for a particular occasion" or "I've been looking for a hat like that for ages, where did you get it from" most people will also stop and answer. Once you start a conversation it's just a simple task to ask if you can take their photo. At this point one of two things will happen; they will either agree straight away which is great! Or, they will ask you why you want to take their photo. Just be honest, say that you love shooting portraits and that they are helping you gain experience. It's also worth mentioning that you may post the photo to your instagram (give them your instagram details) and offer to send them a copy by email. Most people will be fine and react accordingly. If they refuse at this point just smile, thank them for their time, wish them a good day and walk away. Never push the point or try and convince them to change their minds, there's alway someone else around the next corner.
So next time you're out walking around your city or at an event try giving people compliments and start breaking down the barriers. It's amazing how quickly your confidence grows and before long you'll be shooting stranger portraits on your local streets.
The following gallery contains some of the recent people I've photographed on the streets of Calgary. Slideshow will auto play.
All photographs were taken by Chris Toombes (City Street Photos) and are copyrighted.
I first met Haithem Elkaadiki outside the Telus Convention Centre on Calgary's Stephen Ave, back in April 2019. As a street photographer, especially one who loves to approach total strangers and ask for their portraits, it was a no brainer when I first saw him. Walking towards me in his bright fluorescent Orange coat, it was a breathe of fresh air from the normal bland winter attire more commonly seen around town.
What immediately struck me about Haithem when I first spoke to him, was his huge smile and friendly nature. I shot his portrait, and quickly learned that he was an international fashion designer who ran his own label called KaaDiki.
Since that first meeting, I've seen him around Calgary several times and now have the privilege of calling him a friend. It was this friendship that lead to my invite to his atelier to capture him at work and to learn more about the man behind the fashion icon.
Images in the slideshows below will auto play.
Sadly these days, traditional craftsman are a rarity. In this day and age we demand faster delivery, cheaper prices and seem to gloss over the fact that most things we buy on the high street are poor quality and churned out by the millions every day. So it's refreshing to spend time with a master of his craft.
Libyan born, Haitham Elkadiki made Calgary his home in 1998 following a number of years as a resident of Toronto. He took his career more seriously, starting his fashion business in 2001. As a child, Haithem always had an interest in the arts, drawing and sketching and when he first saw fashion drawings in magazines, knew this was a career path he wanted to follow.
Before creating and starting his own fashion label, KaaDiki, he worked and gained experience apprenticing at a number of Toronto fashion houses and went on to create a number of collections that established him as one of Canada's leading designers. His icons and style influences include "Gianni Versace, Christian Lacroix for his use of strong colours as well as Karl Lagerfeld for his personality". Other influences come from his love of music, (the Pet Shop Boys was blaring from the music system when I visited and is a particular favourite) travel, films and even the food he enjoys. All these influences are clear to see in the unique, colourful pieces he creates by hand.
During my visit, every part of the dress shirt he was creating for a client was meticulously measured, precisely cut and ironed to ensure the the final product would be the best he could produce. As I watched Haithem working, it was very evident that quality is key to his success.
Having now spent more time with Haithem and seen him at work, it comes as no surprise that after showing his Fall 2004 collection, “The boys of Café Odeon,” celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch hailed Elkadiki as the Canadian menswear designer to watch! Haithems' continuous ingenuity has earned him the prestigious nomination for the Fashion Expert Awards/Prix Mode X 2005 in men’s wear and Haithem went on to say that being recognized as one of Canada’s top three men’s wear designers in Canada was a great honour, “this recognition inspired me to work harder and create stronger collections each season since.”
As my visit drew to a close, I asked Haithem how people could find out more about his collections and designs. "You can follow me on twitter or instagram" he said, "or you can contact the KaaDiki studio by email or phone to make a an appointment to view the latest collections, samples or to choose a style".
Finally, to sum up my visit and getting to know Haithem Elkadiki a bit more, words I'd use to describe this fashion designer extraordinaire are, modest, fun, kind-hearted but above all extremely talented. The Calgary fashion and creative art scene would be a poorer place without people like him.
KaaDiki, 1701 - 11th Street SE, Calgary, Canada Tel: 403 615 9999 - Website: www.kaadiki.com
Street photography can mean different things to different people. Some photographers are looking to capture the scene, others, the individual and some looking to create something that makes no sense out of the context of the image. That's the beauty of street photography. There aren't really any rules meaning each individual has the ability to show the streets from their own perspective. In fact street photography isn’t just another genre of photography, it’s something of its own entity. It was something that happened totally by accident for me, and has had captivated me ever since. It’s like an addiction, where I want to shoot all the time and never stray too far away from a camera.
My approach to shooting street, is going on my walk as if it's a new adventure every time. I may walk past the same place a thousand times, but the scene can always be different. I'm always scanning with my eyes and listening with my ears, hunting out the different and unlikely. I like to take my time and just wander around, I never have an exact area I stay in. I want to be the fly on the wall. I’d rather people not know I’m there. In my mind it preserves the scene as it actually happened. Of course it doesn’t always work out that way which is fine by me. If the situation calls for it, I will shoot from the hip or through the viewfinder depending on the situation or how I want the image to look. Street photography can be a great place for you to deliver a message or share your opinion on life. There is no judgment on it, no good or bad, you just shoot what your eyes see. It’s simply about taking a photo and capturing the moment, documenting life and all that’s around you. Every time I go out with my camera its always different and I learn something new. It’s an excuse to go anywhere, it makes you think more and see more. As famous photographer Diane Arbus once said “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photography them”
I take a lot of images and always connect back to the moment that I took it, I remember the thought process of seeing and capturing. It instantly takes me back and I get to take others with me and relive it. I try to make my images as interesting as possible. What I like to capture is people or situations that stand out, or better still the weird and wonderful. I'm always intrigued by strong characters in a combination of intense light and deep shadows, trying to isolate my subject in its environment. Also, mirrors and other reflections attract my attention. Finally, juxtaposition, or where two or more objects or situations contrast to make an interesting photo also gains my interest.
To combine all these elements into one single frame, this is my everyday pleasure. The future is what also makes street photography important because it makes these average everyday moments become a part of history. I never stop seeing, and don't ever want to stop shooting. It doesn't matter if you have a smartphone camera, a super expensive DSLR or a 50-year-old rangefinder, as long as the composition works and the image tells some sort of story, then you've managed to capture that moment.
One of the reasons why I love street photography so much is the fact that you will not be able to make the same creation twice. No one will ever capture that moment again. When you see something unique or a special moment, you have to be ready to push the shutter button immediately. One second too late and the moment has gone. There is no second chance…….
All photos by Chris Toombes (City Street Photos) copyrighted 2019
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