St. Petersburg, the city of the tsars, or, as some may call it, the Venice of the North. I always wanted to shoot the streets in this city. By fortunate coincidence, I had to go there for a business related trip in the end of June. Of course, I brought my camera (X100F) with me. From what I've heard, the best travel time might be summer. The “Summer White Nights” in SPB are legendary. Between May and June, the Northern sun never fully sets. During the White Nights, a sheer magical light covers the city in the evenings. For me, it felt as if the golden hour lasted three hours every day. So I’ve been in SPB just at the right time of the year.
My first impression from SPB was love at the first sight! When I hit the streets at around 6 pm, the city was always covered with that magical golden light. On the other hand, there was noise. Compared to any other city I know, the loudness was just overwhelming. Furthermore, the air seemed to be impregnated with exhaust fumes. Furthermore, there were steep urban canyons as the houses were so huge that their architecture made me feel insignificantly small.
In the midst of the trip, I met up with a local street photographer. After some initial chatter, we took off together and explored some side-streets of SPB. This took us to really amazing places and we got to see some non-touristic places. After a while, I noticed our quite different approaches towards street photography. I prefer to be rather unnoticed and blend into the crowd. If someone recognized me and requests me to delete a photo, I just do so and apologize. My local guide, however, proved to be really offensive on approaching people. In the few hours we spent together, at least 10 people noticed him and asked him not to take pictures of them. Nevertheless, he took their shots. Once, a guy even stopped him and requested to immediately delete the photo he had just taken. As our guide refused to do so, the guy wanted to call the police. Since being arrested in Russia for intruding someones privacy was the last thing I wanted, this was the sign for me to say good bye and do my own thing instead.
You can literally walk the city if you bring comfortable shoes and of course, plenty of time with you. The streets are sheer endless and bolt upright. The city centre seems like had been carefully designed on a drawing board. However, to save some time I often took the metro. The SPB’s metro system exhibits Soviet designs and also features exquisite decorations which makes it one of the most beautiful and most elegant metros in the world. In my opinion this is not exaggerated by any means.
Unlike people in my hometown or in any other German city I’ve shot before, the SPB citizens were really relaxed when they saw me bringing my camera up to my eye. Therefore, I started coming really closely and so produced intimate pictures without any hassle.
Looking back, the trip to SPB had a deep impact on my approach to street photography. Not only that my compositional approach changed, I also feel more confident in approaching people the way I do it. It’s a process of giving and taking. If I feel someone is not comfortable that his picture is taken, I respect that and move on. On the other hand, if people let me enter their private zone, it’s like they give me a present I should take care of and treat with respect. Experiencing this color rich city, I discovered that adding color to my photos gives me so much more opportunities to really sense a place and to push my seeing to a whole new level.
St. Petersburg is truly worth a visit. Its sheer grandeur and revolutionary spirit will never fail to amaze.