Bob Patterson And Photographing The Streets Of Cleveland

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Street photography can be traced back to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“Life is very fluid," said Cartier-Bresson during a 1979 interview with NPR. "Well, sometimes pictures disappear. And there’s nothing you can do – you can’t tell the person, ‘oh please smile again, do that gesture again.’ Life is once, forever.” 

Another early pioneer was Robert Frank. He traveled around the country in the 50s, taking photos of everyday Americans doing everyday American things. The book he produced is called The Americans.

A few years ago, the Guardian newspaper called it ‘perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.’

Bob Patterson is one of Frank’s acolytes. On a recent cold January day, he was out taking photos at the Westside Market.

photo by Bob Patterson
photo by Bob Patterson

“I like that pose, do that again…” said Patterson after approaching a few men standing in an alley by the market.

Patterson took a couple photos, had a short conversation and continued on his way.

“When you engage people and get them interested in talking to you, they let their guard down and then you say, ‘gee can I take a photograph of you?’" said Patterson. "You take a couple of shots and move on.”


[Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

In his hand is a small gray camera, what Patterson calls the 'poor man's version' of the one Cartier-Bresson made famous 80 years ago.

“I look for people with interesting faces," said Patterson. "Older people are, I find, very interesting. Their faces are wrinkled and weathered and they tend not to be very pretentious about how they look.” 

Patterson is a web developer. He started Street Photography Magazine five years ago to learn how to create online magazines.

But taking pictures has been a hobby of his for a long time.

Patterson says the photos in Life and in Look magazine have stayed with him since he was a child. But he says those were a sanitized version of American culture.

He was drawn to Robert Frank’s work in The Americans.

“I think because it shows real life, unpretentious, not posed. I mean sometimes it's posed," said Frank. "I mean, his style is very gritty, very down to earth, and somehow that just resonates with me.” 

Street Photography Magazine is dedicated to showing candid or posed photos, taken by professionals or amateurs, in public places around the world.

Patterson said this sort of photography has grown so popular that he has a hard time choosing among the submissions.

“In New York City, you can't walk down the street without tripping over another street photographer now," said Patterson.

In 2014, a documentary about a nanny named Vivian Maier popularized street photography.

Maier was an extremely private woman whose collection of about 100,000 photos were found at an auction after her death. They became a sensation.

“I can’t tell you how many people started saying, ‘oh I love street photography’ or ‘you know I got into it after seeing this documentary,’” said James Maher, a New York-based photographer who wrote a book called Essentials of Street Photography.

He says New York is a unique setting for street photos. There’s always someone interesting on the sidewalk. There’s always something to fill the frame with.


photo by Bob Patterson

For those capturing scenes outside New York City, he offers the advice given to a great photographer named William Eggleston.

“The friend said to him, why don’t you photograph what you find so boring and quiet?” said Maher.

Maher said the approach is the same, whether the photo’s taken in New York or Cleveland or wherever.

"The photographers are trying to portray some kind of idea through their photographs," said Maher. "They're trying to portray some idea of culture or what's going on around them.” 


photo by Bob Patterson

Back in Cleveland, Bob Patterson says he’s reached a point where he watches for a picture wherever he goes, notices the light, wishes he had his camera with him whenever he’s out on the street.

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