Feature Story

Urban bench-space in street photography

Istanbul 4

Benches present great creative opportunities for the street photographer.

Disparate individuals occupy benches. Visual juxtapositions occur through random social and demographic mixes.

Benches are natural meeting places but more often show isolation, with individuals at odds with themselves and others in the bench-space. There is visual irony when the lens captures this isolation on street furniture designed to encourage community mingling and group contemplation.

Benches are not always used for sitting. Characters are often seen prone and sleeping. The bench becomes a space intimate only for the sleeper, the thinker, the watcher or the reader, privately absorbed in their bench-space while the lens looks on.

Benches are a measured space so isolation from strangers can only be achieved by moving physically to the edges of the bench, or by closing in on your companion. Both present ideal scenarios for an intriguing compositional narrative.

When the lens observes from behind the bench appears personified. It can appear to be turning its back, party to the individual's private isolation, facing away and complicit somehow with its occupant in rejecting the lens's gaze.

When dogs appear alongside the bench, a sense of contrast and composition is achieved. The eye is led downwards, giving the image a pleasing depth and perspective. Compositional interest and framing is provided by other street furniture, such as litter bins and architectural features.

Where the occupiers of the benches engage with the lens, it is a surprise – a smile, a wave, or acknowledgment, seemingly breaking the rules of street photography. These subjects engage in the communal and optimistic purpose the bench was designed for.

Bench-space offers the street photographer a myriad of creative opportunities. The individuals are usually still, fitting into the natural landscaped framing of the bench. There is usually a dynamic occurring, which is easily captured and the stories these spaces tell are of urban life in miniature. The stories and relationships we are presented with are often evident, always beguiling, and never dull.

Images by Pete Corbett © Words by Vilja Wheatcroft©

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