When Fujifilm Canada asked if I'd be interested in shooting images for a book project (an internal publication I believe), I said sure. When they requested street photography? Awesome. With the XF 14mm lens?
The XF 14mm f/2.8 R is fantastic—a lot of photographers have shot the hell out of this lens and wouldn't be caught dead without it in their bag (my friends Bert and Flemming have both done some seriously amazing work with it). But I tend to use it very sparingly, only in very specific situations: when I need a larger field of view (obviously); when I want to accentuate lines and play with geometry; close-up, using distortion as a visual statement of some kind. When it comes to street however...It's never been in my toolbox.
This has to do in part with habit—shoot long enough with any one focal length and you begin to see the world through that field of view—but mostly, it's about subtext. Focal lengths have distinct voices in my mind: at the wider end they clamour, like town criers, making bold announcements for all to hear. At the longer range they whisper in our ear or scream us out of the room, either intimate or invasive. I tend to lean towards the conversational tone of an extended normal range—35-50mm equivalents (23-35 APS-C). In trying to understand why that is, I've come to the conclusion that it has to do with anonymity: these are fields of view that go unnoticed, that don't call attention to themselves. Raise a wide angle or telephoto lens to your eye and you suddenly have superpowers—the world is an entirely different place. That angle of view, because it's so foreign, becomes part of the subject, for ourselves AND for the viewer. Less so with a telephoto because compression can be harder to notice, butthe impact is certainly present for the shooter. With the normal range there isn't as much of a disconnect—which means the capture isn't "tainted" by effect. I mean this as a purely optical fact, and not at all as a negative. In many ways it's a deeply philosophical difference between reality and augmented reality, something I believe can be felt to a certain extent.
All that being said, I'd been planning on forcing myself to shoot street with the 14mm for a very long time, if only to shake things up a bit. This assignment gave me a reason to finally go out and do it.
On a shoot for Lexus: the 14mm gave those images the right feel by accentuating the converging lines.
EMBRACING THE SUPERPOWER
I've always maintained that the X100 series cameras were my natural, go to bodies for street and travel photography. I still believe that. But my almost constant use of the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 over the past months has slowly shifted my eye towards a tighter field of view, making even the 23mm feel almost too airy lately. So you can imagine the shock of the 14mm: it took me a good half-hour to get acclimated and settle in.
This has to do with pre-visualizing: when I'm shooting—in any circumstances—I often frame in my mind first. This is a reflex really. Even when I don't have accessto a camera, I'll be taking mental pictures pretty much constantly. But for this to work, what you see in your mind needs to conform to what the camera sees...otherwise you start over each and every time and lose that advantage. It's why I prefer prime lenses over zooms: I know what to expect and I can rely on it. In this case, I basically needed to let go and accept the big, shiny new playground.
Shot with the X-T1 and XF 14mm f/2.8 R
I had fun with this assignment and I'm happy with the results. If I'm perfectly honest however, it does feel like a different conversation in a way—one that isn't on the same level of...intimacy, for lack of a better term. I shot some of these from the hip, using zone focussing (which I rarely do) and there's a randomness to this that I very much enjoyed. But—and this may sound very strange—it feels like I was wearing a disguise for a few hours.
I think there's a reason why so many of the masters mostly kept to a single focal length during their career: it's part of the foundation of our visual voice. This doesn't mean we should limit ourselves, but I think at some point there's an optical aspect to how we interpret the world, a natural point of view that develops over time and allows us to bridge everything together.
Still...it's nice to try on new shoes once in awhile, right?
Now back to those good 'ol boots.