Barry Christianson is a street photographer from Cape Town who is interested in sharing the stories of the city’s residents from his own compelling view behind a lens. From bus and train stations to the city centre, its alley-ways and Robben Island, Barry shows a side of the city that most residents just walk past without giving a second glance. Having started photography by shooting with a 35mm film camera while visiting his father on a holiday in Turkey, Barry has not looked back and he has continued, through his DSLR, to explore his passion and also explore Cape Town as he sees it.
How and when did you get into photography?
When I was a shy 16 year old, in 1998, and my dad was working in Turkey. My sister and I went over there for a month to visit. He was always working and I didn’t have much money, so I spent most of my time just exploring. My dad had a compact, point and shoot Canon and I took it everywhere with me. I had no idea of what to expect. So far it was just something to do.. but I did really like the way the world looked through a 35mm lens. After the first film got developed and I saw the results, I think that’s when I got really interested. But my interest was short lived. Film and developing was too expensive and I pretty much stopped after my initial introduction in Turkey, barring a few rolls of film in high school. I then studied computer science, and after a few years I started to get interested in photography again. I bought a few rolls of film for my old manual Minolta and again… when I had the prints developed I think I fell in love. I then started contemplating getting a better 35mm camera but a few conversations with a friend who is a professional photographer and cinematographer convinced me that digital was the way to go. That’s when I got my Canon 550D.
What inspires your photography?
I love the massive amount of depth of feeling that can be captured in a single photograph. I guess the cliche is that a picture tells a thousand words is true. But not all pictures… And I think that is probably what most photographers are trying to do. It’s what I try to do.
Looking at really good photographs, some by the greats, some by unknowns is a huge inspiration. Especially when I see one and just can’t help but think “I wish I shot that!”.
How long have you been photographing the Cape Town streets?
Since about the last part of 2011 when I got my first DSLR.
Could you describe your shooting style and how it has evolved from when you first picked up a camera?
My main type of photography would be street photography but I also like documentary photography. I think at the start I might have been a little all over the place but I also took way more photos. These days I take less photos but I think they are more true to what feels right for me. These days it’s not enough for a scene to just look appealing, I look for interesting light as well… but don’t always find it.
Your photographs of Cape Town are quite varied, how do you avoid shooting the same kind of scene?
I don’t avoid shooting the same scene. But I guess there is just so much happening that even if I wanted to only shoot a certain type of scene it would be really difficult. Also perhaps laziness comes into play. Sometimes I think I should really return and improve on a previous photograph, perhaps get it in better light or something… but in the end I just don’t get around to it.
Since you started shooting Cape Town street scenes, has your view of the city changed in any way?
I guess first of all once anyone starts to really get into photography, visually the world changes dramatically. I started always looking out for things to photograph, always wondering what a certain scene would look like through my camera’s lens if I had it with me. And so places that I usually would not look at twice or even once started to become things of real interest. And then once you start looking for light… everything changes again!
Recently I’ve become more aware of the stories that pictures can tell, and have started to become more critical of why I am drawn to certain scenes. Is it because I saw something similar before and felt inspired by it? If so what was the photographer trying to say? In the context of South Africa lots of the typical images that we have in our collective consciousness reflect colonial prejudices for instance. But they are still in our consciousness and can inform what we think are good photographs. Think township scenes etc.
So my view of the city has changed in many ways. The way I photograph has forced me to be more critical about what I see around me, especially in Cape Town where it’s really easy to just go by with blinkers on.
Is there one photo that you’ve taken which stands out from the others?
I think this was a Chinese ship, but can’t be sure. I saw the sailor sitting on the ledge of the boat and motioned to him with my camera. He nodded and smiled… I took a few shots, and then when he continued with his business I took this one.
And then this one, taken at Bulungula, of a woman cleaning a baking tray close to sunset:
Can we expect any new work from you in the near future?
I’ll be working on a photo essay as part of a broader creative project with a friend. But more on that when it’s done. Then obviously… just taking more photos in and around Cape Town!
To see more of Barry’s work you can check out his website/blog, thesestreets.co.za and also his page on 75 where he goes by the pseudonym “novocaine”. You can also find him on Instagram – @thesestreetsct.