Louis Foubare, born in Tennessee during World War II, worked in international finance for over 35 years all over the globe. He initially discovered photography through his grandmother’s old Kodak rangefinder camera. In college, he turned back to photography after he broke his leg while training for the national skiing team. After his eye sight began to fail, he re-discovered his passion for photography. Previously, Louis shared with us his landscape photography. Here, he takes us through his street photography.
Q: What have you been up to photographically since we last interviewed you in September 2014?
A: I have continued not to let grass grow under my feet since we last spoke. In late September 2014, I headed once more out to the American Southwest and the Navajo Nation in order to capture more vivid landscapes and this time it was during the monsoon season in hopes of catching some dramatic weather systems. I must say the M-P stood right in there with me even during some pretty solid rainfall. I used my Monochrom more than I had envisioned on this trip, even though sparingly.
In November I spent an entire week at Daytona International Raceway for a pretty special event where hundreds of old race cars came over from Europe in addition to the hundreds of old race cars already here in the US, where each race car raced with the best cars of its era somewhere during its storied history. Then to add to the drama surrounding the historic event, the race car owners sought out as many race drivers who actually drove these race cars when they made history to again drive them during this inaugural 24 hour event.
In early February I spent two weeks in the Sonoran Desert shooting landscape with the saguaros and a bit of street shooting in Tucson’s Barrio Historico. These were some memorable shots, but not the subject of this interview. Later in February I spent a few days in the Everglades National Park endeavoring to capture nice sunrises and perhaps dramatic sunsets too, not to mention alligator portraits.
Q: How would you characterize the images in this portfolio?
A: Most street images that look good to me from others seem to be lucky shots at first and carefully planned second. But I think back in the film days, scenes were more carefully planned where luck played a lesser role than today. Sometimes I can visualize a scene with the actors in it, but most often my best photographs are spontaneous and not planned. You have to shoot a lot of images and keep working at it and walking every day until your legs drop off. My wife goes off and shops ‘til she drops and I go off and shoot until I drop from walking. It is not unusual for me to walk 25 kilometers and often more a day in search of that special shot.
Q: In your last blog post, we featured your landscape photography. This work falls more in line with street photography. Does your photographic approach differ when shooting street vs. landscape?
A: My approach to street photography is almost 180 degrees from landscape, and as such both give me immense pleasure depending on the trip and my mood. In landscape one picks the scene and then composes a still life so to speak. You have much time to get it right as long as the two-three minutes of a sunrise or sunset work for you. Then there is always the chance for dawn pre-light shots and the after sunset glow.
In street photography, the best opportunities have to come to you unless you pose your subjects which I tend to do only in indoor portraiture sessions. Sometimes I will wait at a location that I imagine could make for a good image. Then when I see the right subject to come into the scene, I capture the moment. The difficulty is getting the right subject for the right scene. Other times I might ask someone if I can take their image and if they agree, I then ask them to close their lips if a female. For males, I usually ask them to look into the distance and at an angle to the lens, or look elsewhere where I feel it might work to my advantage. One must be pleasant, but talk softly and surely look like you know what you are doing and what you want from them. One must know how to capture what is happening right in front of you. It is often not easy in the least since most stranger’s patience levels are low so you must work fast all while discussing your goal with them and also while trying to connect with them in some small way. It is often nice to ask them if they would like an email sent with their photograph. It is during this answer that often I have been able to capture a special liveliness in a subject’s eyes. That is the real person.
A street shooter has to be fluid just like the environment that he or she is within and one must always keep looking for something better than the last capture. That’s what keeps me in the zone when working street scenes. Sometimes the way people look at me on the street, they must think I am on drugs or something since I am often in a concentrating daze. I just keep going non-stop almost oblivious to those around me unless I have my eye on them or the surrounding scene as a subject. Fluidity is the one word that makes me love street, for when I see a moment’s potential or a developing situation, I often pre-focus on a spot just hoping I can position myself at the correct spot to make the capture come together for me. This is easier said than done.
Then there are those situations that happen in front of you where afterwords you say to yourself, “How lucky was I to be in that spot at that moment.” Street is unpredictable whereas landscape is often quite predictable if you know ahead of time where the sun’s rays will first appear and/or disappear and where the moon will rise or fall and its intensity or fullness.
Q: What goals do you have when shooting street photography or portraiture?
A: Either shoot interesting people doing normal things or shoot normal people doing interesting things or anywhere in between. Sometimes when shooting portraiture, I prefer to give no instruction at all until I see how my model is reacting to the situation. Then I will start a constant dialog with them either to put them more at ease in front of the camera or to fine tune what they already are showing me. For very young models such as children, the best images are often the very first ones where they seem themselves prior to any posing, or on the contrary, the last images where the model has finally stripped away any facade where I can sense the real person coming out all of a sudden. This is where rapport between the photographer and model can be the key to a good portrait. Frankly, I often find men are more difficult than women; however, outgoing men are about the easiest to shoot since they project a good vibe and often have no trouble looking into the lens when asked or take instruction extremely well. I like slowing down a portrait shoot when I get a few images so that I can show them what seems to be working and why and also what is not working and perhaps why so that we can both try to improve on the moment and make for a better final result.
Q: What camera and equipment did you primarily use for this portfolio?
A: I prefer the M camera system with one lens on the Monochrom and another lens on an M240. Although, I have been known to take three digital M’s with me on occasion – one with the APO 50 mm, another with the 35 mm f/1.4 and a third with the 90 mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M with slide out hood. Sometimes I will put a 28 on the third camera instead of the 90. It comes down to what I think I will need that day and where am I going. Of course, the wider the lens the easier the zone focusing.
Q: What can you tell us about this portrait of a young woman sitting on a bench? Her eyes and facial expression reveal a certain depth.
A: This was taken during a two hour Leica competition for a free Leica C camera in January 2014 during FOTOfusion in West Palm Beach, Florida. One image and one image only was to be submitted by each competitor and it must be an image taken with a Leica camera. Yes, they wanted to see the file number. They even loaned out Leica cameras for this shoot if you had no Leica of your own, but again the Monochrom came to the rescue with the 35mm f/1.4 FLE mounted. As I searched for a scene or subject I could also see the other competitors all over the place. I decided to get away from them. Just after I turned around and started to walk away, I noticed this serene looking woman just relaxing while listening to her favorite music for a few minutes before heading off for the rest of her evening. She was seated with a nice neutral background of bushes behind her and was also hidden from view of the other competitors. As I walked up to her, I said that I was involved in a photographic competition and I was not allowed to come back without an image I was proud of capturing. I then complimented her on her Napa leather jacket and pretty scarf, not to mention her natural beauty. She smiled at me and immediately agreed. After a couple of “let’s get relaxed with each other shots” I asked her to wet her lips and not smile, but look directly into the lens. It was getting somewhat late in the afternoon and the bright sky behind me was reflecting in her eyes like catchlights would do in a studio lighting situation. I took maybe six to eight shots in rapid succession and I thanked her and walked off. I ended up winning the competition. When the camera arrived in the mail, my wife immediately claimed it as her first Leica. Her images are memorable since she is a painter, so composition is more natural to her than myself.
Q: The man in this image almost seems to be looking off far in space with an intense facial expression. Describe the back-story of this shot.
A: I often walk the streets of Montmartre for hour after hour while in Paris. The combination of artists and little out of the way bistros and pubs abound. One day in May 2013, I walked around a corner and here is this guy having a Pastis all by himself framed by an open window. He was half looking out and half hidden from view. I was about 15 meters from this window and said to myself, “shoot now or forever regret missing this shot.” The man was almost day dreaming and I wanted to catch his distant stare. I stopped, focused very carefully on him, and took three or four shots. I nodded to him as a thank you and kept right on walking. He barely acknowledged my presence. I love Paris for letting me capture such personal moments. It doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, it really works in the photographer’s favor. Stay fluid and keep vigilant.
Q: This couple is clearly infatuated with each other and oblivious to the outside world. Where was this taken and what made you shoot it?
A: Paris is always a great city for couples in love. I am a romanticist at heart so I guess that’s the artist in me coming out. I was in the Jardin des Tuileries one afternoon in May 2013 and liked what the various hedge rows provided – privacy for the lovers and a place for me to catch my subjects unaware. There are little cutouts in these hedge rows and I would just walk through them day after day, back and forth in hopes something interesting might develop. All of a sudden, I see this couple oblivious to the world around them including the kids playing within a few feet of them. I turned around and while hiding between the hedges, estimated my distance to them with my APO 50 mm. It was a bright day so I had plenty of depth of field to play with. I walked back to shoot them, stopping for about three brief seconds and then continued to walk out of their line of sight. As soon as I was out of sight, I checked my shot and histogram to see how I had done. I was about two meters short in my estimate. I adjusted the focus wanting to get that one plane of focus spot on if at all possible. I hoped I had the time for another capture while they were still infatuated with each other. This time not only was my focus better, but she had now perched her knee up in the air and had her arms around him in a solid embrace. Again, in just three quick seconds I stopped, took the shot, and moved on. Always hoping for something better I went back for a third try. Where were they? Had I lost track of their location? Finally, I found the same statue that was behind them earlier, but they had departed. Oh well, I at least got one good shot. I should be happy and I was. How lucky.
Q: What appeals to you about shooting in black-and-white?
A: B&W shooting for me eliminates the need for balance in an image where color can often make or break the image, especially in environments where many colors abound. Red can often be the most difficult street color for me to work out since ones eyes often go to red first. So if red is eliminated from the equation, then I get a better feel for the contrast and balance of an image.
Constantly shooting in B&W helps me focus on the luminance of my images, often making for more consistent results over a longer period of time. Some say they see in B&W and I can partially understand this statement, but I cannot say I see in B&W. But I do often get into a zone where B&W scenes are all I might see for an entire day or more. I started with B&W way back in college over 50 years ago so when the Leica Monochrom came out I didn’t hesitate a minute to order one. I have never regretted getting the Monochrom. As a matter of fact, now I am looking forward to seeing how the next generation Leica Monochrom performs compared to the current model. Due to continuing eye sight problems a new Monochrom, which hopefully will use the EVF like the M240 does, will help me monumentally with wide, as well as long and medium focal length lens use.
Thank you for your time, Louis!
– Leica Internet Team