Blue Hernandez is a purist who makes the ordinary extraordinary. He is a street photographer.
Hernandez is one of many young bloods taking to the streets with digital cameras, capturing constantly changing cityscapes. It’s a trend in all of the major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago. And now it is crossing the country into San Antonio.
Every month, Hernandez sets out with a few other photographers to capture images of the urban core. The dates and times of the street-meet, now dubbed StreetKeepers, vary because the group wants everyone to be able to participate.
“Your own personal skill level as a photographer doesn’t matter to us,” Hernandez said. “For us, it is just about coming out and having fun.”
On one particular afternoon in November, when the cold drizzle scared away most pedestrians and tourists from the urban core, I met with Hernandez and his band of photographers. I half expected the session to be canceled because of the temperature and the tiny droplets of water beating down on the photographers and their lenses, but it rains in the street, and gritty realism demands that it be photographed.
With each new step comes attention to new detail. We peep in alley ways and in churches, and a few of the bold team members step out into the empty streets to capture a few cars in the distance.
The photographers joining the meet that day were of all different skill levels. Some, like Carlos Panama, are commercial photographers that get sent out to capture high society functions. Then there was Aphro One, whose blend reflects the rawness of the street and its teeming sexuality. Hernandez creates that unique perspective reflecting our city in a glowing light.
He makes the ordinary extraordinary. All the best ones do.
To begin an exploration of San Antonian street photography, follow Blue Hernandez, Aphro One, Carlos Panama, Adolph Lopez, Cory Rodriguez, and Rene Amado, who post regularly with the hashtag #StreetKeepers.
Street photography isn’t new, of course. It goes back to the origins of photography, when 19th century urban life delivered subtly compelling subject matter – the everyday scenes of life in the street, where people mix together.
People left the comfort of home and engaged with one another more often. Their homes weren’t that comfortable, anyway. It was hot outside. There was no air conditioning, so it was hotter inside. More life happened in the street, and photographers caught some of it – one picturing two lovers embracing, another focused on a mother embracing her child, and both showing what’s alike and different about each scene.
Street life isn’t all embraces, of course. Street photographers certainly show that.
A recent Mother Jones story discussed the discovery of Vivian Maier, a nanny to privileged Chicago children by day. Occasionally, she walked the streets with her charges, capturing street scenes as she passed. What started as a hobby grew into an obsession with countless negatives and photos providing glimpses in today’s world.
“She just connected in the one way she knew how, looking downward through the viewfinder of her Rolleiflex – and the results are piercingly honest, even revelatory. In the lives and experiences of everyday people, Maier saw a certain beauty and dignity – and through her photos, she gets us to see it, as well,” wrote Alex Kotlowitz.
Maier and Hernandez are alike in their poignant rendering of the street, but Maier was unknown in her lifetime. Hernandez actively engaged and showcased his work – a sign of the times. Through the rise of the internet and social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, street photography is expanding its audience while encouraging new talents.
The almost instantaneous nature of digital photography and advanced editing software means photos can be shared in near real time to an unlimited audience on the web.
So the new culture of street photography was born. Millennials and Baby Boomers alike rushed to the streets with iPhones and new DLSR cameras. One or two might become the next Dave Krugman or Van Styles.
That’s not really the point, though. Krugman and Styles have worked their brands for years, and they are unique. But dozens of street photographers are recreating the rules and redefining the parameters of the art form. Maybe someone will be the first somebody else.
Perhaps some of the best examples of emerging street photographers are Jaime Sanchez, Seph Lawless, and 13th Witness. Humans of New York also popularized street portraits, with local iterations including Humans of San Antonio (HOSA). With the recent creation of Streetdreams Magazine, a quarterly publication that is the brainchild of several big personalities in the industry, novices can submit their work for an opportunity to present their photos on a global scale.
Wikipedia gives a good description: “Street photography is disinterested in its nature, allowing it to deliver a true depiction of the world. Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying ‘un-manipulated’ scenes, with usually unaware subjects.”