Urban pictures are becoming increasingly popular, and with more and more people living in cities, this genre offers great opportunities for the rising numbers of modern urban photographers.
In urban photography we find a spontaneity of imagery which does not rely on the random presence of human subjects as it does in street photography.
The life of a city can be found inscribed in its buildings, both the monumental and the decrepit.
Think of urban pictures as representing an archaeology of people who project onto the buildings their aspirations, expectations, and cultural values. These edifices and urban landscapes become art when the photographer frames them within the limits of the viewfinder.
The picture below, which I made during a visit to Lourdes in the south of France, features no pedestrians. Yet we can learn much and enjoy the cultural references and ironies. Travelling often offers great opportunities to practise urban photography.
Above: Blessings (Lourdes, France)
I was happy to have chosen full colour for this photograph, as the red sign which says "Tabac" (French for 'tobacco shop') comes forward in the picture frame and apparently enjoys the blessing of the Pope. This is not a religious statement or condemnation but a cultural observation. The shrine at Lourdes attracts Roman Catholics from around the world, and few will leave without some of the shrine's precious healing water.
The busy, jam-packed souvenir vendor stocks plastic jugs and bottles to accommodate the water, as well as miniature replicas of statues, holy cards, and every other saleable representation of the religious experience. This urban picture may seem cynical but undercuts the message found here in the urban landscape are believers who leave the shrine with first-hand accounts of healing.
What attracted me to make the next image (shown below) was the way the light transfigured the underbelly of a modern, concrete bridge into a watery, Romantic wonderland. The natural light and shadow in Under the Bridge render colour where one would not ordinarily expect it.
"Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it." Confucius
The utilitarian landscape suffices as the basic structure and contrasts with sparse, weedy vegetation and some weathered brick in the background. I was pleased, also, with the decision to use square format as it helps to flatten the picture plane and create the illusion of even greater otherworldliness.
Above: Under the Bridge (Jonzac, France)
Under the Bridge also alludes to the flux of time. The composition imposes upon the structure what is, to my eye, a static and timeless nature.
Strolling through a small town in France, I noticed an abandoned stove and I immediately liked the incongruence (not uncommon in urban landscape photography) of the elements surrounding it. The composition suggested itself upon first sight as it seemed to beckon me to approach the scrap stove down the visually deep path.
In the background, too, there appears just enough flaking concrete as to suggest something old, while the metal garage door suggests some of the cheapest architecture the verdant suburbs have to offer.
Above: Outdoor Cooking
The black-and-white composition naturally leads the eye far into this urban shrine. The dirt path appears as if it had been landscaped with the objective of leading the eye on a pilgrimage to its natural conclusion, with weedy vegetation arcing around the path and honouring the junk with cultivated white blossoms.
The composition of Outdoor Cooking has a pleasing abstract quality, and the stove is strangely steeped in a quiet dignity through the eye of the camera lens. The photograph itself raises this all-too-common object to almost religious significance. This is the way one would photograph a shrine. The urban commonplace has been rendered singularly uncommon and endowed with qualities that would escape the naked eye. The chance to view urban pictures offers the city-dweller many opportunities such as this.
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