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Lessons From a Leica Master, Street Photographer Eolo Perfido

By Hanssie on May 21st 2015

He scared the you-know-what out of us with his recent Clownville series and has assisted some of the greats in the field –  Steve McCurryElliott Erwitt, Eugene Richards and James Nachtwey to name a few. But commercial and portrait photographer Eolo Perfido‘s real passion is street photography.

As one of the resident photographers at the Leica Akademie in Italy, Eolo also teaches workshops around the world and is a Leica Master. In the following interview given in Italian for a feature for the Leica Akademie, but shared and adapted for SLR Lounge, Eolo gives some thoughts and advice on street photography and how to best approach this genre.

Tell Us About How You Got Started With Street Photography

My passion for street photography actually began quite slowly.

I still remember the first street photo I shot; I went out to take photos in some locations to show them to a client for an advertising campaign. I saw from the back an old lady walking in a street in Rome where time seemed to be stopped in the 50s. I instantly took a photo. She saw me and I felt almost a sense of guilt. I went to ask her permission to keep the image for me and she kindly said “ok.” I still remember the excitement and the sense of gratification that I had from a personal point of view. Since then, I started to take photos of people in the streets and never stopped.

The first years I shot very rarely, unfortunately. I was very busy working on different jobs around the world. I would do one session every two or three weeks. But the more I practiced, the more it became important. Now, I go out with the camera around my neck almost every day and, in addition, I take longer sessions two or three times a week.

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Give Us a Snapshot of What a Day as a Street Photographer Looks Like

If it’s possible, I go out very early in the morning. The light at sunrise is beautiful, and there is such a few number of people on the street. That atmosphere of the city slowly waking up and taking the rhythm of the day is unique and charming.

This allows me to produce more minimal images without having to worry about too many people in it. While the hours go by, I focus on more complex images. Obviously, it is not a rule. One of the first things you learn when doing street photography is that you can’t control the environment around you, and often you can’t do anything else than go with the flow of events.

I usually walk for several hours taking small breaks in cafes along the way in which I allow myself a bit of rest and a quick review of what has been done until that moment. Then when I get back home, I spend time backing up images and doing a quick pre-selection of the best. After a session of street photography, I usually always feel very well and satisfied.

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What Is Your Approach With People?

My approach with people changes a lot depending on my mood and my emotional state.

There are times where I keep a distance from my subjects, and I will only capture what happens around me without interfering and times when I decide to get in touch with the world and the people I meet. Both approaches come naturally to me although the habit of interacting with others, even in a very direct way, improves by a continuous practice.

This “emphatic attitude with the others” is a kind of training that is powered by the continuous practice, just like a muscle that you have to keep moving to avoid losing its strength.

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Can Street Photography Be Considered Documentary Photography, In The Strictest Sense, Of a Reportage Documenting Our Times?

Sometimes the street photographer draws from reality to create something new that is abstracted from the original context. I think if the reportage uses pictures to tell stories and points of view about what we call reality, street photography is very close to some narrative forms like poetry, especially haiku. Just like these Japanese poems are composed by very few words. Also, the street is often most effective when it builds on a few graphic elements or contexts.

There Are Privacy Laws That, At Least, In Theory, You Could Not Use (But You Can Take) Photos Made Of Strangers. What Do You Think About This?

I think it’s right for anyone to protect their privacy and their image. I do not limit myself until someone does not ask me specifically not to photograph or requests to remove a picture from my site or an exhibition. I can not and I do not want to be the censor of myself. If the best photographers of all time had not taken risks today we would not have the pictures of the great authors of Street Photography.

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Which Advice Would You Give To Those Who Approach This Kind Of Photography For The First Time?

I teach to young photographers street photography, but also to professionals who are specialized in other genres of photography. Street Photography is, of all photographic disciplines, one of the most complete and useful to develop the ability to take pictures in any situation.

Regardless of the photographic genre that is practiced, whether it is for passion or profession, I always recommend to my students and colleagues who come to my classes to practice, and often, if not everyday, a lot of street photography.

It is a tool for personal growth, because it forces you to interact with people, places and cultures, and also is a tool of professional growth, because it allows you to have greater confidence and to master the techniques about the study of the light in  situations where you have no control of it.


Tell Us A Little About The Leica Akademie and the Workshops

I have been collaborating in the training programs of Leica Akademie Italia for two years now and things could not have gone better. We have some wonderful feedback from the participants and that is what really matters to us. In our Street Photography workshops,  we like to take care of all the most important topics of Street Photography before we go on and spend two days shooting and analyzing the work done.

The most covered topic is the approach with people. Many participants are interested in street portraits, photographing people, but they are not able to do it. We try to explain to them how to work on this fear that they have and how to proceed in the most simple and effective way possible. It is amazing how after two days, you can already see very big improvements.


Tell Us About Your Future Projects

I am organizing a series of trips to the big cities of the world on all continents. I have a great desire to confront cultures and places. I traveled a lot but almost always for commercial photography and the time for street photography was always very limited. The purpose of these trips is rather to devote myself entirely to the discovery of these places with the camera around my neck. I would also like to take this opportunity and arrange meetings with the local street photographers whose work I admire, in order to know them better and share experiences.

You can see more of Eolo Perfido’s street photography on his website, The Walking Photographer, here and the Leica Academie here.

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great article and advice .

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  2. Tosh Cuellar

    cool story and fantastic images, thanks for sharing

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  3. Brian McCue

    Great insight and advice

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  4. J. Dennis Thomas

    This is a great interview. It’s always nice to see really good street images. I find that street photography is so pervasive today and so much of it out there is really bad. I wish that people would red interviews like this and take the advice to heart.

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    • Thomas Horton

      I think there are some who think that just taking random street shots is street photography.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      @ Thomas Horton:

      I’m admin on one of the largest Street Photo groups on flickr. About 98% of the submissions are random street snaps or a poorly done spin on a cliché theme. Random people in front of billboards and girls on cellphones are especially popular.

      You also have the telephoto guys who take spy photos of women’s breasts and buttocks. They are by far the most adamant about their photos being true “street” photography.

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    • Joe Miller

      I’d like to add to your list of random snaps:

      1. Homeless. This one *really* irks me. So many take an image of a homeless person and think it makes them a good street photographer with a “powerful” image. Pure exploitation I say, and it infuriates me to see it happen with such prevalence. Personally I don’t think anyone should make an image of the homeless unless the intent is to use the image in a project which is meant to bring awareness to their plight. But don’t go out and take a snapshots of the homeless person people so you can call yourself a street photographer.

      2. Smokers. So overdone…

      3. “Sniping” with a super-telephoto. Look, if that’s your only option than fine. But to “snipe” with your super-telephoto from a quarter mile away from behind a telephone pole because you’re too scared to let anyone catch you taking their photo, well that fits more the definition of a “perve” than a “street photographer” to me. Slap a normal or wide on your camera and get right in there and rub elbows with the slice of life you are making an image of, your pictures will show it…I say anyway.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      @Joe Miller

      I have rules in my group that forbid homeless people photos. I do have photos of homeless people on my flickr, but only because I spend a lot of time downtown and they know me. I don’t take photos of them surreptitiously, sleeping, or whatever. I only take their photos because they usually ask me to. And it’s not a “poor homeless guy” photo. Usually it’s a portrait where we’ve been talking and sometimes drinking beers together. It’s more like a snap of a friend than a “homeless guy photo”. I hang out with these guys. Not because I feel bad, but I like to listen to their stories. Lots of these folks, at least here in Austin TX are homeless by choice. They live in tent communities, have a code they live by. I listened to one guy chastise another for stealing once. Yes there are the crazy ones and the dangerous ones, but I steer clear of them.

      As far as the super-tele shots, I don’t allow those kinds of shots in my group either. I call the surveillance shots. I actually mention this technique in an article I wrote for Digital Photo Mag if you want to check it out.

      I find smoking isn’t as prevalent as it once was. At least here in the States. There are less smokers these days.

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    • Joe Miller

      Oh I like your rules! :) I’ll have to check out your work and group…

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