Alan Schaller is a London-based photojournalist and street photographer specializing in black and white photography. His work draws on geometric composition, light and shadow to convey both the beauty and diversity of human life. In addition to being internationally published online and in print, Alan is also co-founder of the Street Photography International (SPi) collective, dedicated to promoting the best work in the genre. We caught up with Alan and learnt more about his working relationship with the Leica M Monochrom.
Why did you gravitate towards the genre of street photography? What about the genre interests you the most?
I have always been a ‘people person’ ever since I was very young. I find people fascinating. Soon after picking up the camera I came across a street photography exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, and was blown away by how clever it all was. This photography was not planned or taken on a set. That was when it dawned on me that extraordinary moments happen around us all the time. I wanted to see if I could spot these myself and I left determined to give it a go. The act of creating something using nothing but your surroundings, natural light and your eye is what interests me the most still.
Street photography has become increasingly popular over the years. Why do you think this is?
This is true, but I think all genres of photography are becoming more popular. The fact is that more and more people are taking photographs, predominately driven by phones, and they can now take, edit and publish photos wherever they are without carrying an extra device. I still think there are many benefits to using a purpose-built camera, but am glad that photography in general is on the rise. I find it very interesting how the latest phones are now largely marketed by their camera features. The fact that street photography doesn’t require models or studios to take part in makes it accessible. I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question, but I am glad that it is the case.
Your work draws heavily on light, shadow and abstraction. Can you tell us about your thoughts on this style?
I have never tried to force a style upon myself, and have developed this one by following what interests me and building upon that. I found the more experienced I became as a photographer, the wider I could compose scenes, as I wanted. As this happened I started attempting to incorporate geometry into my work. Good portraits of people evoke relatable emotions. I have been working on achieving the same result of getting my audience to feel something, but out of a scene where the human element isn’t the sole focus, but rather complementary to the shape, light and environment, in which they are to be found.
How long have you been using Leica cameras?
For almost as long as I have been taking photographs. I came across Leica soon after looking into street photography and after trying a Leica M for the first time I knew it was for me. I worked with a single body and 50mm lens for quite a while before adding others to the mix.
This series was taken using the Leica M Monochrom. What features of this camera allow you to achieve your creative vision?
I love black and white photography. I do work in color for commissions of course, but black and white is simply the medium I enjoy the most. The Monochrom Typ 246 was an obvious choice for me. There is something to be said for knowing you cannot shoot in color with a camera. Over time using it helped my eye focus on the things that affect my photographs the most, these being tonality, texture, shape and facial expression. The available range of tones and dynamic range in the files is unparalleled and you can get very usable files even at ISO 6400, a feature that I rely on as I don’t like using flash. It is discreet, quiet and robust. I have worked with it in a host of conditions from places like India, the Sahara Desert, the jungle in Indonesia, to the Arctic Circle and it hasn’t faltered once.
Like all Leica M cameras it is so simple in design and operation that it gets out of my way and lets me focus on my subject. I forget entirely about the camera and just work, which is the best compliment I can pay it. The noticeable bump in resolution from removing the color filter array gets the best out of my M-System lenses. It gives you more detailed files than its 24 megapixels suggests without upping the megapixel count, which keeps the RAW files a manageable size and saves hard drive space. I have produced prints at A1 size with stunning depth and clarity, and couldn’t really ask for more from the Monochrom for my purposes.
Which lenses are you using?
My go to lenses are the 24mm Summilux and the 50mm Summilux Asph. A lot of work has been done with these lenses. I also use the 35 Summilux Asph FLE, 60mm R Macro lens and the 90mm APO Summicron.
This particular series focuses on people in urban and rural environments. What is it about the human condition you are trying to encapsulate in your photos?
I do not see it as my job to suggest to people how the world is through my work. I capture what I find interesting about the human condition and leave it to the individual to look into it in whatever way they wish, and to take from it something different.
You are the co-founder of the Street Photography International (SPi) collective. What are the collective’s aims?
Our original and current aim was to create a platform for great street photography regardless of the status, age or experience level of the photographer. If a photograph is outstanding, we will feature it, simple as that. The vast majority of photographers we feature do not have large followings or illustrious careers, but we are delighted that within 18 months of launching SPi, our Instagram now attracts 8 million views and over 50,000 submissions each month. We want to inspire and encourage photographers all over the world to enjoy the genre, produce high quality work and be recognized by the street photography community.