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When I was a sophomore in high school, I tried out for the baseball team. I loved baseball and just like I always carry a camera with me, now, my baseball glove was always with me. I became a very proficient fielder. My hitting ability was mediocre. The coach watched me hit and the assistant coach pitched balls to me. Almost every swing resulted in a long line drive, the likes of which I had never done before. Each hit would probably have been a home run or at least an extra base hit. After a few minutes, I was assured a spot on the team.

In my three years playing varsity baseball after that, I never came close to hitting one pitch with the velocity, distance, and power as I did on that day. It didn’t matter if it was in practice or during a game. It seemed like the tryout batting prowess belonged to someone else.

Moving forward many decades to the present, I became a proficient street photographer. I made some decent pictures and a few good projects over the years. Then in 2019, almost 70 years since the baseball tryout, I achieved a photograph comparable to those baseball hits. My photo “Q Train” has won prestigious awards beyond my wildest dreams and has been written about many times. Comparison has been made to renaissance paintings. The photograph has been exhibited in many countries.

What accounts for isolated incidents like the two mentioned above? I am not referring to merely a rise in the level of proficiency or achievement. I mean a vast qualitative gain that is experienced as “not me”. Granted, hitting a baseball and making a photo are vastly different endeavors. Moreover, the outcome of one is free of the subjective judgement involved in the other. The baseball incident is more mysterious. The photography one can be accounted for almost entirely by luck. However, it clearly is not an instance of press the shutter often enough and anyone can get a good picture on occasion. I have enough good pictures before and after “Q Train” to rule out luck as the only important variable. Moreover, not one but many knowledgeable photographers have judged the photograph in similar ways. Most basically, it is a matter of luck combined with being prepared to utilize it. Twyla Tharp, the dancer, and choreographer writes about luck in her book, “The Creative Habit”. It is a long and brilliant discussion that has definite relevance for photography and particularly street photography where luck plays such a vital role. Recently, Matt Stuart wrote about the role of luck in his book, “Think Like a Street Photographer.”

Below are a few examples of photographs that highlight the role of luck.

In the photo of the girl in front of a store window, I never consciously saw the figurine in the background.

The second photo of the woman talking would be meaningless without the man with an infant walking by at just the right time and in the right spot. I never saw him. The picture became one about gender role change.

The third photo is highlighted by a beautiful parallel between the woman’s hands and the picture of hands on the side of the bus behind the woman and man. The bus appeared at just the right time.

Above is “Q Train”. I looked up and there they were. I had been looking at the back of my camera and didn’t see them enter the train and sit across from me. However, I was prepared to make the necessary settings on the camera to get the candid picture.

As for the “not me” baseball hitting performance, I will never understand how that happened.

It is the time of the Corona Virus. Food delivery arrived and I sterilize the containers in the hallway outside of my apartment before putting the food away. After wiping items with disinfectant, I toss them into the apartment onto a rug about six feet away. The rug is nine feet long. When I come to four avocados, I throw each one inside. I notice that three of them end up at the very edge of the far end of the rug. That surprised me. I retrieved the avocados and tossed them in again with the intent to have them stop at the extreme edge of the rug. All four fall short or too far.

If you are still reading this and wondering what this has to do with street photography, or anything for that matter, please be patient. After the avocado event (I refer to it as an “event”), a long-lost memory comes to mind. I was at Disney World with my daughter and my father. I think my daughter was about eight years old, so this was about thirty years ago. We were at Blizzard Beach Water Park where there is an attraction called Cross Country Creek. On this ride, one sits in a rubber raft which moves around Blizzard Beach for perhaps a mile. The raft passes under a series of bridges where ice cold waterfalls pour down and depending on the raft’s location under each bridge, one gets soaked or not. It is possible to navigate in an attempt to avoid getting wet. To get to the point; the first two rides around, I tried as hard as I could to navigate the raft to miss getting wet. It was a failure under almost every bridge. On the third trip, I let the raft go where it may with no effort to avoid the downpour. We didn’t get wet at all.

If you are staying with me and still reading, perhaps you see what I am getting at. It is as follows:

For me (and maybe some of you), I rarely get a good picture if I am trying to make a good picture. If I forget about outcome and just go for the ride and enjoy the experience or seemingly mindlessly toss an avocado, good pictures may emerge.

Addendum: “Mindlessly” does not mean without mental activity or intent. In this instance it means being immersed in the process with minimum conscious effort. It has been referred to as “Flow” (A book by Csikszentmihalyi). Try to pronounce that name!

The end of the day is the best time to photograph on the street.  No, it has nothing to do with the quality of light. I find that frequently my best pictures are my last pictures. This happens too often to be a random occurrence.  I get my best pictures after I have given up for the day and I am on the way home. I am quite sure that the reason for this is that when I am finished, the quest for good pictures has ended.  Instead of trying hard to come up with something worthwhile, I stop trying and “trying” is the enemy of finding and seeing. This problem with trying cuts across all sorts of endeavors from sports to sex and everything in between. As soon as one “tries”, he or she is in the head and not fully attending to what is out there to be photographed. This phenomenon is nothing original. It has been discussed by social scientists for a long time. However, it is easily forgotten, and most people are geared to “work” at things rather than play. I use the word “play” because for me, street photography is a sport to be played and not so much a job to pressure oneself to succeed, which often involves constant “trying.”

If you take what I am saying seriously, you may try not to try. That won’t cut it. It is merely another form of trying. To stop trying involves letting go. In my opinion, it happens, or it doesn’t. I am aware that there are techniques to maximize the chances of more enhanced vision. For many people, applying approaches to mindfulness, becomes one more job to “try”. My opinion is that it may be best to simply wait for the opportunities and make the most of it. Even world class athletes rarely get “in the zone.”

Recently, I went out without a camera. I rarely do that. I saw all kinds of good “frames” (pictures), that I usually don’t see. This seems to be a bit of evidence to confirm that the quest for good photographs blocks observation and flow.

So, quit and go home. But keep your camera out.

Here are some of the photographs made after I was “finished’" for the day, and on the way to the subway or home.

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