Nonhumanist Street Photography

The streets of Vienna are boring, the city being the carcass of a dead empire’s capital. Not even the recent jolts of hi-powered capitalism can revive this undead body of stones and schnitzel flesh. Which is exactly why I love to work here, especially in the First District, the former city centre, nowadays a mere playground for post-sov oligarchs, demented property developers and tourists.

When I hear about data protection issues in context with street photography, I laugh. This is the NSA age, after all. One single tramway car has more automated cameras on board than a bus full of trigger-happy Chinese tourists. And when I go out with my non-equipment — I prefer to shoot with cheap small-sensor throwaway cams — I am not interested in people at all. They are props, forms and lines and colours, nothing more, nothing less. My challenge is to stay in the flow, keep the props and myself moving, seeking out this special constellation, astrophysics en miniature: launch this lander, place it on the surface of a racing comet.

When I take a picture of a crowded street in Vienna, there are no people on it, ever. What we call a picture is simply a re-interpretation of a/d-converted photonic impulses knocking electrons out of a tiny bit of silicon, data ready to be decoded again by picture manipulation software and the viewer. This is nonhumanist street photography. You go out into the cold and you stay there.

Good nonhumanist street photography should give you a mineral taste, let you feel the compression artifacts of the subpar JPEG engine of a five year old no-name ASIC. Modern cell phones are already too refined, contaminated by sophistication of networked applications. IPhone output is something you make a Steidl book with.

Automated CCTV cameras track me for a millisecond, then look the other way. There’s nothing to see here. I am just like them. And they know it. Winogrand was weak in the end, my ASICs stay strong. Hard disk bitrot awaits their output.

I go to a shady second hand electronics shop. The guy grins like a russian tank wreck as he takes my brand new fiver for another battered Ixus without charger. I smile back, because to him this obsolete camera is nothing, to me, it is the ultimate digital tool. All I need to do now is find a suitable battery and switch off noise reduction.