Street photography has more to offer than captured coincidences. By looking at its roots, we see its true value.

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© Neal Gruer

As we all become more aware of the surreality of daily life, isolated images taken out of that context lose their impact.

— A.D. Coleman, New York Times, 22 November 1970

In many respects, spontaneously photographing strangers on the street is the simplest and most accessible way of putting a camera to use. There is no need to wrangle and cajole a subject, no need to learn about artificial lighting; no need to travel much further than a few metres from your front door. It can be done anywhere, day or night, with any equipment. Conversely, mastery of the approach is extremely difficult, given how little control the photographer has over the environment. Easy to pick up, difficult to master — street photography is an activity one can remain indefinitely interested in. …


The cumbersome truth behind shedding unwanted kilos.

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© Neal Gruer

In early August, slumped on the sofa like a sonsie haggis stuffed into a sports sock, I finally accepted it. My trousers were too tight. During spring lockdown, while Covid case numbers were happily decreasing, the numbers on my bathroom scale had been surging in the opposite direction.

Like many others, in pre-lockdown anticipation of being stuck at home, I swiftly purchased a sizable quantity of flour. I rarely buy flour, but it felt like a safety net — if supermarkets ran out of food, with just a little water and a sprinkle of salt, I could still concoct some basic sustenance. Of course, aside from toilet paper, pasta, hand sanitiser and (ironically) flour, the supermarket industrial complex persevered, and the shelves remained healthily stocked. With that, I could have left my flour in peace to become a contentedly superfluous powder; patiently waiting at the back of the cupboard for some kind of cake emergency. …


Bucharest’s Memorial of Rebirth and the enduring tension between vandalism and art.

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Memorialul Renaşterii, March 2017 © Neal Gruer

Vandalistic behaviour is a feature of malfunctioning, inegalitarian communication channels. It constitutes the speech of the dumb, the powerless and of minorities. There can be no doubt that it is a striking form of interrogation — and that it calls for an appropriate response.

- J. Sélosse, Vandalism: Speech Acts

An egregious act of vandalism was recently committed against one of Bucharest’s most recognisable monuments. Not by a disgruntled teenager, a political protestor, or a subversive artist; but by the State. Locals now pass through Piața Revoluției aghast, disbelieving their eyes as they come across a scene forever changed. …


In every photograph taken, there exists profound potential.

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Istanbul © Neal Gruer

We will all end in failure, but that’s not the most important thing. What really matters is how we fail and what we gain in the process.

- Costica Bradatan, In Praise of Failure

An artist’s life is a never-ending, unresolvable, inconclusive search for the perfect expression of an internal sensation as it relates to the wider world. In this endeavour, most are lucky if, a handful of times in their entire lives, they stumble upon something merely approaching “decent”. Consequently, rather than being preoccupied with creating, the artist spends vast resources interrogating themselves from within, and observing the world at large, carrying the faint but persistent hope of working out who they are, what they think, and what is worth expressing. The goal is to produce an artwork that contains at least a slither of that intended expression, and to hope beyond hope for a slither of that slither to contain some understandable meaning. …


During lockdown, our individual perspectives of time were shaken. If time is subjective, what do we do with it?

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© Neal Gruer

Time and space are modes by which we think not conditions in which we live.

— Albert Einstein.

The defining feature of work as a commercial lawyer is not the suit, the intellectual discussion, the clients, the office politics, or the sloshing around of money. It’s something they never show in Suits or The Good Fight: the stopwatch. On every lawyer’s computer, a piece of software (unironically named Carpe Diem) provides rolling timers to be clicked on and off when moving from one task to another. Every moment is accounted for.

At the end of each day, the minutes and hours are shovelled into a database, where the lawyer writes a detailed narrative for every block of time. The information is then used to build an accurate bill for the clients and to assess how hard each lawyer is working. In an industry where work is charged for by the hour, every minute has an exact, predetermined value; both financially, and how each lawyer is viewed as an employee. …


Nina Simone’s Pastel Blues is a true embodiment of duende — the rare depth and darkness that impels her work.

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1969 © Jack Robinson / Hulton Archive

Her distinctive warble permeates thousands of movie soundtracks, hip hop samples and advertisements, let alone the countless personal moments by which people demarcate their lives. This omnipresence allows us to forget who Nina Simone was, and the outright value of her music. For the streaming generation, knowledge of such an artist is limited to “top hits”; on some Spotify, Sunday Mood playlist. …


Why film is the solution to diminishing human involvement in the photographic process.

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Berlin © Neal Gruer

All forms of digitisation have the effect, and typically the intention, of reducing “imperfection”. Audible highs and lows are shaved off music by MP3s; ultra-HD televisions output more detail than is perceptible by the human eye; Google Maps eradicates the risk of getting lost; AI assistants inform us of what we “need” before we even know we “need” it. In a world of commercial, capitalist pressure, people pay grand sums for exactitude, or at least its illusion. Money chooses precise outcomes over uncertain processes.

Fundamentally, human beings are analogue creatures. We don’t click; we flow. We are imbued with imperfection. No body or mind is born without idiosyncratic “flaws”, big and small. Given this fact, our insistence on increasingly digitising our lives is simultaneously understandable and ironic. It’s understandable, because perfection is seen as the ultimate accomplishment — unattainable, but worth pursuing. It’s ironic for the same reason — perfection’s unattainability makes it a falsehood; a non-existent, abstract concept so often based on fear — of inadequacy, pain, solitude or mortality. …


As anchor episodes go, what makes Watchmen episode six so… Extraordinary? Beside the rest, it’s a masterclass of meta.

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© HBO

In its entirety, HBO’s Watchmen is deserving of tremendous praise: “woke” without patronising, intellectual without pomposity, indulgent without narcissism, complex without confusing. Its best trick is to make the fanciful believable, laying on just enough familiarity and pseudo-science to imagine we really could be watching a parallel version of our own reality. Many of the ideas originated from its source material — Alan Moore’s seminal 1980s graphic novel of the same name. …


Beyoncé’s new movie is big, bold and bodacious, but what does it express about the Africa she portrays? Innumerable questions arise, thudding inside my skull to the rhythm of jovial afrobeats…

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© Kate Bush/Parlophone UK

I really enjoy watching old music videos on YouTube. It reminds me of simpler times: before CGI, insanely big budgets and, well, YouTube.

​Lately, I’ve been tripping on Kate Bush. Wuthering Heights sees her as a cosmic, cherubic teenager wafting alone in a field. In Army Dreamers she’s running through a forest with a blonde kid, stopping only to mesmerise with her phantasmal, milky eyes. …


Is white guilt the solution to the failings of American public schools, or does Nice White Parents simply miss the point on race?

Nice White Parents written on a pale pink background over half a red apple with a strong green leaf.
Nice White Parents written on a pale pink background over half a red apple with a strong green leaf.
© The New York Times

I recently began listening to Nice White Parents, a new podcast hosted by self-confessed nice white parent, Channa Joffe-Walt. It’s produced by the people in and around Serial, This American Life, S-Town and The New York Times. If you are familiar with those titles, you’ll know what to expect — in-depth, considered analysis of a heretofore, under-exposed social issue, executed with an East Coast progressive liberal stride; a pleasingly audible, irreverent gait and the swagger of emotional intelligence and self-aware humility. …

About

Neal Gruer

Scottish-Ghanaian writer, photographer and former lawyer; currently based in Bucharest, Romania.

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