Background

BACKGROUND

Photograph of Paul Haist

IN 1967, I began making photos as a way of expressing how I see the world. That is when I bought my first fine camera, a second-hand Leica IIIF with a 50 mm F3.5 collapsible Elmar lens—still my favorite camera, although today I use digital equipment almost all the time. 

I had occasion to travel quite a bit as a very young man in the mid- and late 1960s. I criss-crossed the United States and spent almost three years in Europe, mostly in Spain. It was in Spain that I began concentrating on street photography and all that it encompasses from Atget to Winnogrand and more. Street work is not all I do with the camera. Landscape and maritime photography interest me too, but the street work is my most enduring interest and continuing fascination and frustration. There is only street work on this website.

Photograph of Leica IIIF

Leica IIIF with 50mm, f3.5 collapsible Elmar lens, my first and favorite fine camera.

I found and continue to find street photography a somewhat daunting activity. Back in the 1960s, I was looking closely at the work of several masters of the genre and developed a considerable affinity for that form of expression, unaware yet of how difficult it would be.

I have struggled to produce images that I think measure up to some fundamental standard of excellence in composition, sensitivity and vision, all of which are often impinged upon by having to act quickly and with the risk of an unpleasant confrontation. I cannot define the limits of those standards or say what those standards are, but I know just from looking at an image whether it measures up. For this reason, I have countless negatives I will never print.

I experience a great deal of apprehension about photographing strangers without their permission. I often got around it in Spain by asking permission, por favor. I think of those photographs as informal "street portraits;" there are several of those on this website. They still constitute street photography, in my view, because the subjects decide how to present themselves, not the photographer, and they are trapped in the context of their surroundings, the setting, which is usually an important part of the image.

Out of many thousands of exposures, I have just a handful of images that I think are good enough to share. Still, I keep going out with my camera.​

I never stop working on photos I have made. I am still working on those photos from 1967-69 in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Now, I would like to create final versions of them, but I suspect that I will never finish even one of them.