The corner of Hope and Kenilworth Avenues is a tough area in the middle of a gritty part of the city of Hamilton, Ont., and it was this corner that became ground zero for a series of portraits I did of people who live, work and play in the area. I set up my camera, then stood there and waited. Sometimes I made a photo; sometimes I got bored and went home. And sometimes I just stood there until it was too dark, and I packed up without shooting a frame. Then I returned another day, repeating as needed. It takes a long time to shoot a long-term project.
I consider my work to be in the fashion of Bruce Davidson’s book East 100th Street, where he spent two years making photographs along a tough area of East Harlem in the late 1960s. My own project in Hamilton took over a year to complete as it morphed into a series of 4 x 10 panorama portraits of people working and living near Kenilworth Avenue and the city’s east end. It started as part of a course I took with Peter Turnley while I worked on my Master of Fine Arts degree.
Longer projects move at a different speed than regular assignment work. You can spend all day behind a camera and not take a photo but still consider it a successful day if you just eliminated a few ideas you were working on.
The great thing about a longer street project is that you can go back to the same area and try again. With the many variables constantly changing, the light might be better, the subject more engaged or the mood more interesting.
While working on Kenilworth, I sometimes shot for an hour or two before heading to work. Other days were after work, weekdays and weekends. Each segment of time had a unique characteristic and flowed into the theme, creating a mix just from the time of day and the day of the week.
Long-term street projects can go on for years, the work fading in and out through that time period. But when I felt I was done with the Kenilworth project, I wanted a clean cut from it. I was shooting on a 4 x 10 panorama camera for the entire thing and found the best way to bring it to conclusion was to sell the camera. I had bought the camera for a specific project, but it didn’t really fit so I had waited until a perfect fit arrived with the Kenilworth work. When I was done with the project, I also felt I was done with the panorama format and sold the camera and 8 x 10 enlarger to a friend.
Rob Skeoch is a street photographer from Burlington, Ontario. To see more of his work, please visit robskeoch.com.