Bronx-based photographer Michael Young was the grand prize winner of the Street Scene 2020 photo contest. He’s been a serious shooter for the last 10 years. We caught up with him to learn more about his work and what he’s been up to over the past year.
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1. How did you get started with photography?
When a friend of mine passed away, his wife wanted to sell his photography equipment on eBay. I had always had an interest in photography, so instead of her selling the equipment on eBay I bought it, and I haven’t stopped shooting since that day back in 2009. Like a lot of photographers nowadays, I’m more or less self-taught. I took a one-day course in manual exposure and I’ve attended the school of the internet via Flickr and YouTube.
2. Do you consider yourself a professional photographer or a hobbyist?
Professional, I guess, when I can get work at it, but I still maintain a non-photographic full-time job.
3. How would you describe your photographic style?
I guess a street photographer with a fine art flair. I love light and shadow in black and white.
4. Which photographic subjects do you focus on?
I photograph my wife a lot. I also do self-portraits. I sometimes dabble in street fashion, but I love street photography mainly because it’s the most accessible. It challenges me to think about the images I’m trying to make.
5. Where is one of your favorite locations to shoot?
Midtown Manhattan, The Bronx and Harlem, New York.
6. Which photographers do you most admire?
I’m inspired by so many photographers such as Roy DeCarava, Jamel Shabazz, Gordon Parks, Fan Ho, Saul Leiter and Robert Frank.
7. What inspires you creatively?
Light and shadow mostly. Saul Leiter once said, “Photography allows you to learn to look and see. You begin to see things you had never paid any attention to.” Over the last five years, I’ve been able to do what Saul describes, and I’m always inspired to compose, whether I have a camera with me or not.
8. What are you working on at the moment? What’s next?
Currently, I’m part of a group virtual exhibition on the Social Documentary Network called From Tulsa to Minneapolis: Photographing the Long Road to Justice and finishing a book project with the Bronx Documentary Center . I hope to publish a book in the not too distant future.
9. What is one of your favorite photographs you’ve made, and why?
One of my personal favorites (which is not in this group) is a portrait I took while I was working on a project with the Bronx Documentary Center. While shooting at a senior center in the Bronx, I photographed this wonderful woman who was very active at the center. I printed the image and brought it back to her. When she saw it she began to cry. She told me she had never seen such a beautiful image of herself before. Right then, I knew I was fulfilling the purpose God created me for.
10. What’s in your camera bag?
Currently, I keep four cameras in my bag (I know, it sounds like a lot LOL!). I use two Fujifilm camera bodies, the XT4 with 16mm f1.4 Lens (my primary camera and Lens ), but I switch it out often with the 56mm f1.2 lens. Thanks to you guys at Digital Photo, I won a Fujifilm X100V, which also lives in my bag. I also keep a Ricoh GRII and my iPhone 11 Pro Max with two Moments lenses.
11. What software do you use for processing and managing your images?
Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro for my black-and-white images and I also like using VSCO and Snapseed on my Phone.
12. For you, what makes a compelling photograph?
It could be anything really. I feel that beauty can be summoned from the plainest elements and be transformed into an image that creates an experience or an emotional connection that compels you to look at it. You have accomplished that mission.
13. What’s a tip or bit of photography advice you wish you had when starting out?
Don’t get hung up on gear! All you really need is a good camera body and a decent lens. Know your gear/equipment and master your weapon of choice. It really goes a long way in making great images when you’re technically proficient. Also, pay attention to light.
14. What motivates you or gets you out of a creative rut?
Just picking up a camera anytime I see some interesting light.