In COnversation with:
[Lisa bennett | All Streets]
This week, The  Design Collective was in conversation with Lisa Bennett who is currently living and working in Toronto, Ontario. Bennett is a photographer who started a project in 2013 called All Streets which, since its launch, has turned into a labor of love. The All Streets project consists of “...ten photos to represent a single street. These photos are labeled with the name of the street which contains a link to its very location on Google Maps, placing the street in the bigger picture.” She updates these images on her website as well as on various social media forums, to allow for the slow and mindful consumption of her photography by thousands of online followers. Her intention is to reveal the character of the streets and to represent different cities as she experiences them through her lens. Bennett hopes to continue to travel and profile as many streets as she can, both nationally and globally. She describes her project as a “systematic exploration of the urban world”, where she curates a collection of urban streets in order to reveal beauty in the everyday, gritty, urban condition.
Lisa caught our eye here at The Collective, with her project that visually reads as a love letter to cities around the world. Her carefully articulated aestheticization of urban streets comes across in the intention of her shots, where she frames architecture and infrastructure as though they are faces posing for portraits. On November 12th, a few members of The Collective sat down with Lisa over Skype for an informal chat to learn more about her All Streets project and the woman behind the lens.
The images below are samples from Lisa’s project, All Streets. In following her theme, 10 photographs were selected from her website. We have chosen to use these images to represent the diversity of her work and the places she chooses to photograph.
: Walk us through how you got to this point in your life and your career? Your educational background, work or courses that you have taken that helped shape your current photography work?
[LB]: Photography is a difficult field to get into in terms of formal studying. I finished high school and went to university to study poli-sci and history, which is obviously completely different. I have always been interested in art and photography. I took analog classes in high school as many people did. After university, I spent a year travelling - I spent some time in Istanbul and Barcelona. The idea for the All Streets project started before I took a year off to travel. I worked and still work as a wedding photographer as well as a portrait photographer - so my partner, Fulya, and I go out and take pictures with our Iphones all the time, like a bunch of nerds. We had been out in Ottawa taking pictures on this one street and she had said, “Hey, it would be kind of cool to start collecting photos of just streets, like of details on streets.” The idea sat at the back of my head until I finished school. I moved to Istanbul and thought I should start doing this. Most of my friends back home had never been to Istanbul, so I thought it would be really cool to start exploring these cities through their streets. Things are very different there, and I noticed with my Turkish friends, I’d say things like “Oh this is so beautiful, this is so cool”, to which they’d be like, “Really? This place? It’s so weird here, it’s not that great.” I started photographing in the neighbourhood I was living in, gave it a name and just started posting things, and it turned into something that I kept up with and continued. This project started as something for just me, a fun thing to do, and people have responded really well to it. It’s been really interesting to read reactions from people and see how they all love different cities or how everyone seems to want to be in different places. It’s been good for me too though, because after coming back to Canada it made me realize that there are things here that are super unique and interesting to look at too.
: What kind of equipment do you use? Do you have any particular influence(s)?
[LB]: I use a 5d Mark II by Canon with a 35mm lens – this is completely Lewis Baltz inspired.
Often with architectural photography you would use a wider lens, but I think with this particular set up emulates what you actually see when you are looking at something, so I like that. My style is based on personal preferences - I do minimal digital editing to each series.
: It’s interesting that you note, architecturally speaking, that a wider lens would typically be preferred when trying to encompass the context of the street in the photograph. Just looking through your website, it seems that you really focus in on a certain building or distinct feature that really draws your eye. How do you think that this almost portrait-like approach becomes reflective of a street or of a city/neighbourhood?
[LB]: It is a little bit of trying to see the city through someone’s eyes who hasn’t been there before. It also has to do with what I studied in university - that really influences what I am looking for. As someone who is also a history/poli sci nerd, I like looking at why this building was put here and what has happened to this building. When I walk down a street I’m looking at, “Okay that’s an interesting building, why did that happen? What does that say about this neighbourhood? What does that say about this street?” I’ll notice a particular style of housing and identify if this is a common style in the area, and if so, I want to show that in my work. So it’s a little bit of trying to find the cool details, but it is also a little bit of trying to understand what happened on that particular street to make it an interesting part of that neighbourhood.
: What do you look for when photographing streets? Is it about a visitor looking at a new city, or are you looking for something specific that you are trying to draw out?
[LB]: A lot of it is simply a reaction to colours/lines or whatever is happening that day. It’s hard to say what specifically draws my attention. I think I have the process down to a science where I just walk down a street and snap what’s good and interesting as opposed to what’s boring and common. Whatever catches my eye - seeing differences as I walk around.
: Your focus is on urban settings in your photography. How do you adjust to photographing different spaces in these urban settings [domestic/commercial/public squares]?
[LB]: When photographing domestic spaces, you obviously have to be a little bit more sensitive to the people as you don’t want to invade [their] privacy. This in itself lends to the whole project of understanding the vibe of each place. The attitude of the people, in a sense, dictates the composition in terms of whether people are included or not. In public spaces you can be much more aggressive, in that it is public, and you typically aren’t the only one taking photos. You have to adapt and just always be paying attention to the people around you.
: That’s really interesting, as we had noticed an absence of people in a lot of your photographs and wanted to ask why you chose to depict streets without people?
[LB]: A lot of it has to do with circumstance but also the vibe. Friendly cities or friendly streets have more people, and people who weren’t affronted by a stranger with a camera. It is also a personal safety choice sometimes.
: Do you consider, while photographing, whether a street is a ‘good’ street or a ‘bad’ street to photograph? Or are you photographing any street, maybe looking to emphasize a certain detail or quality?
[LB]: Prior to photographing a street, I will take a quick walk around a neighbourhood to get an idea of the area, because things can quickly become redundant. There are better streets than others, but I look at things like if there is construction - if there is, there is no point in me photographing it because it’s not an accurate depiction of the ‘everyday’ of that street. I try and select things that are more representative of the city/neighbourhood/area.
: So you are considering a unique street rather than ‘good’ vs ‘bad’?
[LB]: Yes, it’s not necessarily good or bad. Of course some are not as aesthetically pleasing to me - but then sometimes the ones I did not like as much, other people really love and respond to. You never know what people are going to like. No good and no bad - they are just all different.
: Do you think your project shapes the experiences that you have in a new city? Do you think if you weren’t doing this you would see as much or explore as much? Is this the tool that you explore travel with?
[LB]: For sure. I have been able to see so much more of these cities then I otherwise would have been able to. It gives me a focus when I am traveling and has enriched my experiences, changing the way I see cities. I am not so interested in the touristy stuff.
: Your aesthetic from city to city remains pretty consistent. Is this something that you established early on, or is it something you developed?
[LB]: I really like to use a more vibrant style, I think there is a big trend for faded photos right now. These cities are beautiful - why not give them the colours that are actually there? I like to photograph whatever is right in front of me. As far as framing goes, I like nice straight lines in my photos. Lewis Baltz - I love how he frames things. He photographs average things but his lines, the shadows, and textures are all so good. That’s kind of what I am looking for in the back of my mind when I’m shooting.
: Do you have a favourite city that you have photographed?
[LB]: No favourite. I enjoy [them] all. Each city is beautiful and unique with friendly people. I haven’t been yelled at too much. I typically don’t photograph touristy things, so I think for this reason locals seem to show a lot more interest.
: What are your future goals for ‘All Streets’?
[LB]: I think eventually I will be looking for sponsors to continue travelling and documenting different streets - even perhaps to be sponsored by travel boards. This started as, and in some ways is still, a very personal project - but I would still like to have help to travel to these different places. I will continue with the project regardless of funding though. I do have a new list of places I would like to visit, so I plan to just continue with the photography.
: Did you ever imagine that your project would receive this much attention?
[LB]: I never would have guessed this many people would find this interesting. Of course I am not the only one photographing cities and streets. I think the thing that people are drawn to is the consistency. It’s always ten photographs, framed similarly and edited in the same way. It is really like you are getting to go on a fancy Google Maps. In retrospect, I guess people who like to travel or are interested in traveling enjoy this project - it’s an interesting way for them to look at these cities and see what is a cool area. But no, I did not imagine this many people would care about it - [it’s] just a happy surprise.
In a sea of social-media-based Iphone photography, Lisa and her project stand out as distinctively genuine in method and artistry. Even with her success and obvious talent, she manages to maintain an objective lens when it comes to her craft: “I never wanted this to be about me necessarily or about what I have to say. I just wanted it to be photographs and to maintain anonymity. It’s funny to me that people just assume I am some dude with a camera.”
Check out Lisa and Fulya’s website www.isosphotography.com
Find the All Streets project here http://allstreets.tumblr.com
If you are interested in purchasing any of her work, visit http://society6.com/allstreets
Follow her on Instagram @lizabethbennett