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Meet Christian Clowes, Australian Street Photographer

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

- By Anshul Raj Khurana

I have seen Christian’s work on Instagram and loved it. His pictures are extremely descriptive with strong human element and context to the situation. He has beautifully amalgamated the concept of street and travel photography in his style. He has traveled quite a few countries and was in India last year for Maciej Dakowicz’s workshop.

Anshul-  There is a beautiful fusion of travel and street photography in your work. How have you developed your style? Talk to us about it.

Christian- Thank you for the kind words - there was a time (and even spontaneous thoughts now and then) that I kept thinking there was something wrong with my 'style.' It was never quite literal enough to be considered travel photography, yet never ambiguous or intelligent enough to be purely street. After pursuing some more travel abroad, and carrying my camera with me to more local events, I've become comfortable with the way that I see the world. We shouldn't be pushed and pulled towards one specific genre, but instead, allow ourselves to be influenced by what inspires us along the journey towards finding our vision. Travelling has long been a passion of mine, and it has been just as much about the escape from my regular daily life, as it has been the exploration of somewhere new and intoxicating. The clinically clean and postcard-perfect travel shots have always had my admiration, but ever since I discovered the world of street photography, there's been hunger to pursue it's wonderfully rich world of mystery and cleverness. It's been a to-and-fro challenge to mix the two genre's ever since, but I think that is part of what keeps me continually interested in photography. 

Anshul- You have traveled quite a few interesting countries for photo stories. How do you start to plan your trip and make it a reality?

Christian- I'll be upfront and say that three of my recent trips have involved photography workshops with the amazingly talented Maciej Dakowicz. The workshops themselves have been a starting (or ending) points of sorts since each of them has held in countries I have wanted to explore for quite some time (Turkey, Myanmar, India). Though the workshops are a significant part of those recent trips, there has been much planning to explore by myself before, after the workshops. Traveling in groups has always been a fun experience for me (I look back and think how on earth I survived over 100 days on an overland tour of South America back in 2012) but being an only child, I *need* that time by myself to decompress and be left alone with my thoughts. I don't mean it to come across as selfish at all, but my mind becomes cluttered and anxious when around people regularly for so long. Everyone travels their way, but I pick a country that I desire to go, do some light research (I stress this highly), and create a loose itinerary which is flexible and achievable with the time you have available. Never stress yourself about FOMO (fear or missing out) - just leave yourself enough time in each place to immerse yourself and become comfortable. You'll come back home afterward feeling so much better for it. 

Anshul- Do you use any software for post-production and if yes, which one would that be?

Christian- Lightroom, Photoshop and the Nik suite of plug-ins are my go to. Recently I've come back to the VSCO film presets. They aren't perfect out of the box, but with some small tweaks, they can become big time savers.

Anshul- Most of your pictures are in color, is it a conscious choice or have you tried b/w as well?

Christian- Black and white photos are gorgeous; I absolutely adore the rich tonality and gradation when it works well. A lot of my favorite photographs are also black and white. Why is my portfolio predominately color then? I do in fact process some of my photo's in black and white, but they don't get published. I try to keep consistency with what I publish, and this extends to the choice of my photo's being all color or monotone. It's a personal choice, but I find it aesthetically pleasing to look through my portfolio, or anyone else, and there is a tangible consistency to what they publish. This means not only the choice of color but also their aspect ratio, framing, processing and a host of other factors. All of my favorite photographers have consistency in what they publish, and this is what I personally think is one of the key factors in what makes their photo's recognizable. 

Anshul- What kind of gear do you use while traveling and otherwise?

Christian- Through all of the experimentation with mirrorless, I've always had my Nikon gear by my side, and it's barely (if ever) let me down. Sure, they aren't as nimble, light or inconspicuous as the latest batch of compact system camera's, but they're workhorses that I've grown to love. I use both a D750 and a D500. The D750 usually has a Sigma 35 1.4 art attached, and for the crop frame D500, I use a Nikkor 24mm 1.8G - retaining the 35mm field of view. The Tamron 24-70, Nikkor 20mm 1.8G also get used now and then for certain situations. 

Anshul- Have you ever landed in trouble while shooting in out-country locations? Share some experience.

Christian- India was full of awkward moments, mainly due to language barriers and perhaps getting a *touch* too close with the 35mm lens, but a positive and outgoing demeanor goes a long way to diffusing situations. One situation that will always be with me was in Istanbul. I was in my first workshop with Maciej, and the five of us split up and explored one of the poorer areas of the city - it was populated heavily with Syrian migrants in fact. Crumbling facades adorned almost every building, dozens of children ran and played in every street, and there was this distinctly different feel to the rest of my time in Istanbul. It was an amazing experience for the most part. We eventually wandered through some streets where the younger children were nowhere to seen, and it was just teenagers and young adults. The change in atmosphere felt immediately, and we knew something was up when the long stares happened. There wasn't a feeling of "let's get out here NOW!" but it was apparent we weren't welcome at thinking we had left them - only to turn around and see a moderate group of young men had followed us the whole way. al. It was confirmed about 10 minutes later when a young man came to us and suggested we leave the area as soon as possible since a lot in the area were suspicious of anyone with a camera. It might be due to unwanted media coverage, or possible investigation into the migrants; I'll never know. What I won't forget though, was walking hastily through some streets and thinking we had left them - only to turn around and see a moderate group of young men had followed us the whole way. 

Anshul- Which is your favorite photograph and why?​

Christian- Cruel choice, to choose just one - isn't it? I think it's incredibly hard to sort through the jumbled space that is your mind and decide on just one photo that has, and always will stay with you. For me, it is any of Sebastião Salgado's images from the Brazilian mine that will remain with me forever. They are incredibly dense and powerful photographs. To this day, I don't think there has ever been a motion picture by Hollywood that comes close to portraying the power of what Salgado achieved in those photos he captured in Brazil. 

Anshul- There is always a strong context in your pictures. How do you compose a picture? What goes in your mind when you are on the street?

Christian- I enjoy walking slowly and scanning my eyes over everything that unfolds in front of me. Memory cards are cheap, so if there's a decent static scene I usually shoot it to death just to exhaust myself of any possible angles that might work. If it's a busy scene with dynamic characters, then I usually try to move around the subjects as much as I can, removing overlaps, distracting elements and other things that might distract from what I want to capture.

Anshul- You have taken quite a few street/ travel portraits, and they are lovely. How do you approach strangers? How have you managed this fear?

Christian- Not exactly the most orthodox way of breaking down fears of talking to strangers - but I used to be a topless waiter (forever and a half ago now). It was only for a few years, but it was a hell of an adventure with my friends, and it helped immensely with talking to strangers. The workshops helped a great deal as well, but there's nothing like walking up to someone you have never met, with nothing but a bow-tie and underwear to break the ice. These days I've found that a big smile, positive demeanor/body language and honest openness about your intentions will help you 99% of the time. The other 1% is to be expected since there will ultimately be some individuals who prefer not to be photographed - and I wholeheartedly respect that choice. 

Anshul- What has been your inspiration in photography? Do you follow any photographers or school of thoughts?

Christian- Simply too many to name, but Alex Webb, Maciej Dakowicz, Koudelka, Matt Stuart, Tavepong Pratoomwong, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, the list goes on. 

Anshul- What has been the most challenging part of street photography and why?

Christian- Going back to your first question in a way - finding your vision. Street photography is a dense community with a plethora of amazingly talented individuals. You can easily get overwhelmed with saturation if you're not careful and the personal pressure you can put yourself under to capture the decisive moment can weigh heavily on you at times. There are elements of a raft of street photographers, that can be completely different, yet you will battle with yourself to aspire towards emulating those elements and trying to mash it into one photograph. It only won't work, so after a while, I learned to calm down (have more beer) and simply find your style that you can steadily evolve through continual shooting in different environments.

Anshul- What advice do you want to give to the new street photographers?

Christian- I feel so guilty about this at times, but if I could go back in time and tell myself something when I first started photography, it would be to buy books, not gear. Books are an investment you will cherish for much longer than any camera gear will. They are an inspiration on hand at any time, and they'll educate and inspire you for as long as you have them. Never fall prey into copying someone else style, be inspired by them, but find your own voice that will stand out and recognized. Finally, don't be afraid to break the rules - they're only guidelines, be brave and shoot the shit out something that makes excited when you see it. Working the scene is the greatest thing that has drilled into my head since starting street photography. 

You can see more of Christian’s work here.

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