I have talked before about how difficult it is to shoot street photography in Fargo, North Dakota. What I think is a better thing to talk about is not how difficult it is, but how it changes the way I shoot the streets. It’s simply not possible to shoot in the same way I shoot London every year, or the way I shot Lisbon, or Manchester, or any other big city. My year in Fargo, North Dakota, has really made me realize to a greater degree what I already knew: space in the United States is different from anywhere else in the world.
We Americans have a funny relationship with space. We need more of it than anyone else in the world that I have met. Maybe the Canadians are the same way. I spent much of my childhood growing up in Europe, and have traveled from Tokyo to Porto; nowhere else have I encountered a culture so obsessed with size, and with space. Maybe that’s not quite right. The Japanese are also obsessed with it, but on the other end of the spectrum: space is a precious commodity, and they managed to use it as efficiently as possible. In the States, we treat space like every other commodity, which is to say we think of it as never-ending and disposable. Culturally, we have adapted to having space all around us–big cars, big houses, big yards, and big roads. It’s all about space.
Fargo is the extreme example in my experience. Everything is more spread out than most other places, and everyone who is from there has a “personal bubble” around them–the concept of the “personal bubble” is a very American thing in and of itself–but it is extreme in Fargo. Coming closer than a few feet from people elicits stares and nervous glances, making it very difficult to get close to people to shoot the streets. As such, I am forced to change my approach when shooting there. The streets are also generally devoid of people; things are so far apart that driving is necessary for any trip anywhere.
So shooting street photography in Fargo is different. Subject matter is different, and I pay more attention to background, surroundings, and composition that I do when shooting the frenetic, tight streets of London. This set today is from a roll of film I shot in my $20 Olympus XA2 point-and-shoot camera–another argument that the camera doesn’t really matter. It’s what you do with it.