Interview with Ken Walton on the 3rd Annual Streetfoto San Francisco Street Photography Festival

Streetfoto San Francisco is onto it’s third year! I’ve attended the festival for each of the first two years and really enjoy everything Ken Walton and his team put together. Last year Ken definitely amplified the festival compared to the first year by bringing in some high profiled groups and individuals such as members of Inpublic and Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden. Having the cage match was a lot of fun as well. I am curious as well as excited to see what Ken has in store for this year’s Streetfoto! Mark your calendars! Save the date! The festival is happening on June 4-10, call for entries are soon!!! Read below as Ken gives us a little sneak peek.

Ken thank you for your time! You set the bar pretty high last year so tell us what’s going to be different at Streetfoto from the previous years? Who’s coming into town?

We’re going to be doing a bunch of new stuff this year. While we’re still lining up guests, you can expect:
1. More visitors from abroad. We’ve heard from quite a few people who are coming in from around the world, not to speak or teach, but just to participate in the festival.
2. A flash workshop by members of Full Frontal Flash. It will probably be Johan Jelbo and Michelle Groskopf, but we my include another teacher as well.
3. A photo series editing workshop by three members of Burn My Eye: Andy Kochinowski, Joe Aguirre, and special guest Don Hudson.
4. Two other workshops that are TBD and in discussion.
5. WAY more exhibitions. Like, seriously, we will have full-fledged exhibitions by different groups and individuals in no fewer than five different galleries around town. This means more photos and more parties.
6. More photo walks in more places.

Any changes to the contest categories or it’s pretty similar from years prior?

They will be the same.

Now for those out there with an opinion that photo festivals or photo competitions are just a waste of money. Tell those folks how their money for the contest entries are used?

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Photo by Paul Kessel

All the events at StreetFoto are free to the public. We have lectures, slideshows, exhibitions in galleries around town, photo walks, and all sorts of events that allow street photographers from around the world to meet, mingle, and learn.

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Paul Kessel accepting his Streetfoto Cage Match award from Bruce Gilden.

We give away prizes, alcohol, and swag throughout the week. We fly in speakers from around the globe and put them up in average-to-nice hotels in one of the most expensive cities in the world. All of this helps raise the profile of street photography as an art form and contributes to building bonds within the global street photography community, and it costs money. Most of that money comes from contest entry fees, and we’re very thankful to all of the participants who make it possible.

You’ve been a finalist for numerous competitions and photo festivals….To all the street photographers out there that want to submit to Streetfoto or any competition for that matter…what advice do you have for them in deciding which photos to submit and which photos to omit.

To anyone entering a contest, I would suggest getting honest feedback about your entries from photographers you respect – preferably photographers you think are better than you. If you’re shy about showing your work to others, just remember that most street photographers are really nice people and are happy to help others. Don’t automatically assume that a photo that got the most likes on social media is your best, because the crowd is not always right.

I saw you and your team running around…under pressure, as you got a schedule to follow… What do you need help with most this year?

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Photo by Paul Kessel

This year we’re hoping to have more feet on the ground at each event. By that I mean people who can help with anything – moving chairs, setting up slide shows, selling t-shirts. We were all stretched too thin last year. We also want to have dedicated photographers and videographers volunteering all week long, rather than taking an ad-hoc approach.

Switching gears here, tell us about your creative process in photographing the back of people’s heads. How do you go about that….where does that come from?

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Do I do that?

=]

Going about it is easy – you just walk up behind someone and take the picture. Get as close as you want.
As for where it comes from, I’m not sure. I know it’s a frowned-upon approach within street photography and considered cowardly by many, but I am not a fearful photographer. I shoot people from all angles, and I often shoot up close. When I photograph people from behind, it’s for a reason. Perhaps a person has ferocious hair on his back, or silver locks shimmering in a sliver of light against a deeply shadowed background. Perhaps a subject’s dreadlocks juxtapose nicely with the jungle exhibit he’s viewing.

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Sometimes, not being able to see a person’s face lends mystery and ambiguity to a scene. Really, I doubt if I photograph people’s backs more often than anyone else, but I do seem to share these photos more than a lot of people, and that’s because I like the way they’ve turned out. That may have something to do with my own emotional aloofness and difficulty connecting with or appreciating human emotion, but you’d have to ask my therapist about that, and no, you can’t have her number.

You know Ken I’ve been there two straight years and I’ve never got a chance to really shoot with you…if I’m back at Streetfoto this year…we gonna go shoot or what?

photowalk

Probably not. I never have time to shoot during the festival. You’ll have better luck catching me for a drink at night.

Having said that, if you’re around on Sunday, I’ve done the Golden Gate Park – Haight/Ashbury photowalk both years. Join that one if you can.

Conclusion

There you have it folks. You heard it from the man himself, submit your best images, try to make it out to the festival in the great city of San Francisco. Let me reiterate, there’s no better energy than being around other street photographers who share the same passion as you do. Make new friends. Make new photos. And make more memories.

Follow Ken’s work below along with Streetfoto

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