“I tend to have a strong leaning towards improvisation, which I think is why I like street photography so much. When I am in the city I rarely have a blueprint of what I will shoot. I rather let the street life play out in front of me and react to that.”
Jimmy Dovholt (born in 1969) is a street photographer from Sweden currently based in Stockholm (Sweden). When it comes to photography he’s basically self-taught, but besides that Jimmy Dovholt has learned a lot from other photographers. For him, the web is a great source for the technical aspects, but he says:
“If you want to learn how to act in the streets nothing beats tagging along with a senior photographer. I did that a lot when I was a newbie, but later on I started to appreciate lurking around all by myself.”
“As a street photographer, I try to go out with an open mind and react to what plays out in front of me. Intuition and quick response is key and something I need to have to get the kind of results that I like. And what do I like? Well, I want to capture the many aspects of urban life, the people, the urban environment and hopefully some time markers that will make my images interesting many years from now.
Depending on what story I want to tell, I use different techniques that I feel enhance that message. I also have a deep interest in architecture and graphical design, so I try to incorporate pieces of that as well.”
Interview with Jimmy Dovholt
Jimmy Dovholt, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures out on the streets?
Street photography has given me a lot of great memories, but if I have to pick one moment it would be my first photo trip to Paris. I had only been doing street for about one year, and only in Stockholm. In Paris for the first time I experienced what it is like to shoot in a really big city. The endless stream of people, the many fantastic scenes and back drops, the architecture. I think I got hooked in that moment.
Why did you become a photographer? And why street photography?
“Long walks seemed to help take my mind off things, and bringing a camera with me turned out to be the perfect way to heighten my awareness for details.”
It was a matter of life or death. Ok, maybe not, but I was in a rough spot in life with a very high level of stress and other crap. I knew I had to find a way to handle it to prevent me from hitting the wall. Long walks seemed to help take my mind off things, and bringing a camera with me turned out to be the perfect way to heighten my awareness for details.
Since I never been particularly fond of going out into the woods I did my walks in urban areas. I think photography helped me coping with that period. Later when I started to focus on street photography it pretty much changed my life.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to transmit with your pictures?
It means everything to me on a personal level. I am an artistic kind of guy and have always had some kind of creative outlet. I primarily shoot to satisfy my own needs, but I do hope that others see some value in them as well. After all. I wouldn’t exhibit my work or post my pictures on the web if I didn’t care.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Daido Moriyama for his raw and gritty snaps. Henri Cartier-Bresson for his composition skills. Anders Petersen for his ability to get really close to his subjects. Pretty much everyone at “in-PUBLIC” for updating the genre. I think contemporary street photography have to keep evolving and look different from the classical stuff.
Other than that, I look elsewhere for inspiration: Stanley Kubrick, Caro & Junet, Steely Dan, Tribal Tech, Alvar Aalto, Michaux…
Short documentary about Swedish photographer Anders Petersen
“You have to focus on what you are doing, not just as a photographer, but as a human being.”
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“To photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude.”
I think this quote is very true when it comes to street photography. No matter how much context you try to embed in your image, you always leaves information outside of the frame. And by the frame, I also count the framing of the story an image tells. I really like photos that manage to frame the clues, but exclude the answers.
Another favourite quote of mine is:
“Luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet.”
Not said specifically with street photography in mind, but nevertheless a good advice.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
As I sad before, I try to go out with an empty head and just shoot the scenes as they plays out in front of me. I know that my personal mood of the day influence what scenes I shoot and how I shoot them, so I would say that many of my images picks up on that as well.
“I rather let the street life play out in front of me and react to that. It’s no different from improvising with a band.”
Before I discovered photography I was writing and playing music. As then, I tend to have a strong leaning towards improvisation, which I think is why I like street photography so much. When I am in the city I rarely have a blueprint of what I will shoot. I rather let the street life play out in front of me and react to that. It’s no different from improvising with a band.
The post process part is usually predestined by how I saw the images when I shot it. Sometimes that means no post processing at all, other times a bit more. I have done a lot of black and white in the past, but right now I am trying to be a better colour photographer.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Shoot a lot, evaluate your images and try to understand why some shots works better than others. Develop that knowledge, rinse and repeat. I like to do retrospectives at least once a year to get a sense of where I’m heading.
And if you really want a unique voice, I recommend having other influences than street photography or specific street photographers. I look for inspiration in totally different directions and try to bring that into my work.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Oh, I don’t know if I can answer that. I try to move forward in my image making and have no problem trying out new techniques or editing processes. Maybe the core is that I always shoot with moderate primes and usually works pretty close to my subjects. I would say maybe 80 percent of my images from 2007 and forward are shot with a 21mm lens (on aps-c).
Right now, I am working on getting used to the 35mm which I know force me into a slower kind of photography. That means fewer snaps from the hip and more tightly composed images.
What qualities and characteristics does a good street photographer need?
There are of course a lot of factors that sums up a good street shooter, but to name a few:
- Endurance – Street photography is very much about being in the right place at the right moment. That’s not easy, and at least in my experience good images doesn’t fall in your lap very often. To add to that – the more you shoot the harder it becomes to get pictures that meets your own standards. The trick is to keep shooting.
- Social skills – If you have no problem talking to anyone on the street you can shoot just about anything and feel confident about it. It’s not about “having balls”. It’s about being able to look someone straight in their eyes and explain what you are and why you do it without coming out as a douche bag. Most people understand the concept of street photography and accept it if you give them the time.
- Empathy – Just because you want to take a picture doesn’t mean you always should. Personally, I’m not very fond of photographers who make people look like idiots just because of some intrusive behaviour from a jerk with a camera. As far as I’m concerned, that has very little to do with the documentary aspect of street photography.
What does a photo need to be a great street shot?
I think the great shots lends itself to the viewer in one way or another. And different viewers carry different experiences, which will make a picture readable from different perspectives.
What’s the biggest challenge shooting on the streets?
For me personally, it has to be the fact that it is quite time-consuming. I have a twelve-year-old son and a full-time job as a Web analyst consultant, both demanding a lot of my attention. In between that, I try to work the streets whenever I can.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I started out with Pentax stuff since I really like their limited series of tiny pancake lenses. Six months ago I switched to Fujifilms X-Pro1 and the 18mm & 35mm lenses to get an even lighter package. For street, those two angles are all I need. I also shoot a lot of my night life stuff with a Ricoh GRD 3 digital camera. For post processing I use “Aperture”, combined with Topaz BW Magic and Adobe Photoshop when needed.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
“The Online Photographer” and Boston Globe’s “The Big Picture” are two of my favourites. Other than that, I keep an eye on a lot of great photographers on Flickr and other sites.
What photography book would you recommend?
I’m not really into photography books, so I can’t help you out on that one. Ask Brian Sparks – I think he has all of them!
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) street photographer?
I’m not a professional myself, but the very few I know that actually make money on street photography seem to do earn more on workshops than on selling images. If you want to be able to sell your street photographs and aim for them to be used in any kind of commercial context, I think you will have to systematically secure model releases to every image you shoot on the street.
Me? Well, I’m working on a book right now. I’ll let you know if that will generate me enough money to quit my day time job and go all in on the streets.
Thank you very much for having me featured, Kai. You have covered a lot of interesting photographers and I’m very pleased to be in such fine company.
Wow, great article that gets me really inspired. I met up with Jimmy a few week ago in Stockholm, and although we only met for a few hours I learned a lot.
Thanks for your kind words, Erik. It was great meeting you!