Music, Hipstamatic, and the Streets
Andre Clemente: Music, Hipstamatic and the Streets by David Norbut
I think Andre and I are kindred spirits. When I connected with him for this interview I felt we were already good buds, just catching up. His work is a great inspiration for me. He is patient persistent and as far as I am concerned, Andre has a clear vision on how he chooses to portray the world in his photographs. A master of Hipstamatic, a unique street photographer and a Bruce Springsteen fan to boot. What else could I ask for in an interviewee?
D: David A: Andre
A: I downloaded Hipstamatic and Instagram on the same day (laughs)… I even remember it was November 11th. I remember the first shot I took with Hipstamatic, it was of a chair and the framing was all messed up, and I was like “what the fuck is this man?!” (laughs)… It was cool but it wasn’t what I wanted, turns out it wasn’t on precision shooting mode. I downloaded Hipstamatic first, then I was looking for other apps with filters, and I came across Instagram. I thought, what the hell is this? Why do I have to sign up? I just want fucking filters man! (laughs)… I signed up anyway and I used it once, I posted one photo and I didn’t go back to it. I just continued to shoot with my Hipstamatic.
Fast forward 6 months later, I’m going back on Instagram here and there and I discover the folks at @Hipstaroll. That’s when I realized it is more than just these filters, that there is this community going on and there are cool, like-minded people to meet.
D: Give us, the readers, a run down of a day-in-the-life for Andre Clemente out street shooting.
A: Back when I lived in the Bay Area and I knew I was going to the city, I would always go as early as possible to try and get some of that “golden light.” Before leaving I make sure I have Mophie power stations, two of them. I usually bring an iPod as well because half the time I like to listen to music while I’m shooting. Sometimes it gets me into a mood but sometimes I want to listen to the ambient sounds of the city. It just depends on how I’m feeling. When I go out I usually have a place in mind but once I’m there I just walk aimlessly. As far as what I look for… I look for characters, cool backgrounds and light. Those are the main things I look for. I don’t really have a specific routine, I just walk and shoot what I see. When I see a character walking down the street, sometimes I ask for a portrait, sometimes I don’t. I am pretty shy. I don’t feel super comfortable asking permission. It usually depends on small talk, if they are very receptive and friendly I will ask for a portrait. I wish I was at that stage where I just didn’t give a shit and I would ask anyone, but I’m just not there.
D: Talk to me about Hipstamatic. Any combos you prefer?
A: JohnS and any black and white film is good for me. The one I have been using a lot nowadays is Lucifer VI and AO DLX. I like to decide before I go out shooting for the day. Once I decide I like to stick with it, I don’t want to be messing with Hipstamatic once I’ve decided. I don’t want to second guess myself, so I make a decision and I stick with it.
D: What do you hate about Hipstamatic?
A: The battery drain issue, the speed of the camera, the shutter. The lack of speed has improved my timing though.. instead of shoot shoot shoot, I now try not to waste shots. I tend to shoot more sniper style than machine gun style due to using Hipstamatic and its limitations.
D: Any advice for budding Hipstamatic street shooters?
A: Yes- Don’t get frustrated with it. Perservere. There is a combination out there for you, the hard part is figuring it out but once you’re past that stage it becomes a really fun experience. Once you’ve got it, it’s going to be so worth it. It makes you think about what you want, and in a way makes you a better photographer. You are stuck with this border, so you want to mind your composition and you want to keep the image straight, you want to make sure everything is alright before you take the shot, because thats what you get. You can crop it if you want, you can try to fix it, but that’s not what it is supposed to be, if you ask me.
D: Do you ever shoot with any other apps or cameras?
A: (laughs) I keep telling myself to try something else, but every time I go out there I just end up using Hipsta. I have used Procamera on a rare occasion when I wanted a faster camera, but that’s about it. I think I have one Instagram post that’s not Hipsta. I also bought a Holga, which can have excellent results, but it’s way too expensive. I think for 12 shots it cost me $23 to buy the film, get it developed, and put it on a CD. I got an SLR and I tried C-41 B&W film just to offset the crazy cost. I used it at a wedding with some Ilford and Kodak film and I was pretty happy with the results. But the one time I tried to take a street shot with a big lens, the person got pissed! (laughs) The first shot!!! Maybe 1 in 500 shots with my iPhone does someone get pissed, but I take the first shot with my SLR and thats it!! I guess it’s the big lens; it’s too intimidating.
D: Lets talk about music… I know we have talked in the past about our mutual love for Bruce Springsteen. What else are you listening to?
A: Well, I had a phase where I listened to a lot of Jazz while out shooting, it just took me to another time ya know? Some of the less popular Coltrane albums, Coltrane, Coltrane from 1962, Ole’ Coltrane also from 1962… I guess it also depends what is out. I don’t think I have a certain genre for shooting… a lot of Modest Mouse, Bruce Springsteen… workingman’s music, talking about the everyday man, which is what I may be subconsciously looking for while I’m shooting. Modest Mouse has an album called Building Nothing Out of Something, it’s a collection of B sides, and if thats their B side stuff… Shit man! There is another group from Brooklyn called Woods… I have been listening to that a lot lately. WIlco is one of my all-time favorites, the album Summer Teeth in particular… I’ve been listening to that a lot lately.
This one was taken in the heart of the tenderloin where I do a lot of my street shooting. Homelessness, crime, drugs, prostitution and just overall filth make this one of SF’s roughest neighborhoods. I noticed this junkie sitting on this chair just being extremely expressive, and I couldn’t really tell if he was feeling good or miserable… just really vocal but incoherent, twitching, bobbing his head. Whichever way, it was a pretty sad sight. He had a companion whom I think was also high on something but definitely more lucid than he was. She was overseeing used / stolen merchandise laid out on the street for sale. I pretended to be interested in book, I wish I could remember what it was, picked it up, flipped through the pages and asked how much. All this time, I had my phone by my hip snapping with the John S and AOBW combination. Shooting from the hip obviously has its disadvantages – if you think shooting streets yields alot of duds because of uncontrollable variables, then you can imagine how much more blurred, crooked or chopped body parts you get from this technique. After enough practice though, you can kind of approximate the frame of your shot from where you stand and also how much you need to tilt the phone up (especially if the subject is standing). While I started using the hipshot in seedy areas like this out of necessity (regular shooting has gotten be in some nasty situations), it has become part of my shooting style because of the rawness, the irregular framing and natural expression that are harder to achieve otherwise.
This is a portrait of a well-known San Franciscan Gabriel Angelo, a 13 year old trumpeter who performs in the street to help finance his education at the SF Conservatory. Strangely, I never encountered Gabriel prior to this day. I was walking on Grant heading into Chinatown with my earphones on, not too loud in case someone yells at me, and I could hear the trumpet from a distance. I followed the sound and could see him performing up ahead. He’s such a showman, struts around the block, so much enthusiasm, energy and movement. I got excited and was ready for some action shots. As I finally reached, he ended his performance. Not wanting to come up empty handed, I asked for a portrait. I’m usually hesitant to ask for portraits but with street performers, it’s easy. They know it’s part of the game, some will demand a buck for a photo. Gabriel didn’t really talk much, he just started to pose. He was in front of a busy street, cars passing by. I didn’t like the scene. Behind us was a Starbucks (of course) and that wouldn’t do either. So I asked if he could walk around the corner and pose in front of a white wall. This was one of his first poses, radiating old soul, and I knew I had the shot.
I took this shot on while on the up escalator on the 16th and Mission Bar station. On my way up I saw an interesting frame of someone’s head / upper body walking downstairs, the diagonal lines and the textures of the wall.I didn’t have my phone ready so I went back downstairs and took the escalator back up to try and capture what I saw in my head. It’s a busy station so on the second go, I thought I had an ok shot already but not satisfied I went back down for a third time. Then, as the street gods would have it, a marching mime drum band were walking down the stairs as I was going up. I could hear them coming down but from my angle I couldn’t tell they were dressed in mime. Then there it was, as I hit my spot on the escalator, she was in my frame. As they say in baseball, you make your own luck or you make your own breaks. I was lucky, for sure, but if I didn’t persevere and kept going at it, that wouldn’t have happened. Funnily enough, they were on their way to an Occupy May Day rally and I happened to make my way there later that day and have a few more shots of her playing the drum.
This one was taken at the end of the Stockton tunnel, which I frequently pass when I’m going to and from Chinatown. This lady was just standing there bathing in this gorgeous light. I guess on one end, you had a beam of direct sunlight and on the other reflective light from one of the buildings. I asked her if I could take her portrait and at the same time I was already taking her portrait. This way, in case she says no, I’d at least get one shot. She just nodded but I don’t think she understood me and after a couple of shots in she must have realized what was going on and waved her hand around and had an embarrassed look on her face. Thankfully, it was enough to capture the deep expression on her face in the beautiful light.
I took this one somewhere in the Tenderloin at the offices of the San Francisco Drug Users Union. They’re a pretty radical group whose goals are to decriminalize drugs and drug use; to create a safe environment where people can use & enjoy drugs as well as receive services. I guess that’s not that radical for San Francisco. Anyway, I don’t remember too much of the moment when I took this shot but looking at my drive, everything is still in numerical order so I didn’t delete anything. All I took was two shots – one of the sign and gate just to get my frame right, and then one of the Rasta dude. That means I didn’t have to wait long for the street gods to strike again. I mean, dreads, a rasta hat, the face, and him clutching his hands like that by his stomach. I guess it’s safe to say that he’s on something?
Again, on this one, it was a matter of me finding an interesting background and waiting for the scene to develop. This one particularly caught my eye because of the bridge and how representative that is for San Francisco. On this instance, I actually took several takes and again like the mime shot, patience paid off. I had two solid ones already but the positioning on the characters were just a tad off. On tight shots like this and with Hipstas slow speed, you only get one chance so timing is really important.