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Out on the backstreets

10 December 2021

Steve Scalone, one of Australia’s most accomplished photographers, has created a unique street photography initiative that unleashes 30 photographers upon a city’s streets for a day to help end homelessness — and this year he’s bringing Project Street to our capital

Words: Adrian Hatwell

Nikon D800, 80mm, 1/180s, f/4.5, ISO 4500

The city streets have long held a fascination for photographers, to the extent that documenting them has birthed its own genre. But as beguiling as the thronging thoroughfares of humanity are, they also raise a range of ethical dilemmas. What is and what is not OK to point your camera at? Where is the line between appreciation and exploitation of a subject? And how can you give back to these amorphous urban spaces that offer such inspiration?

There are no easy answers, but Australia’s Steve Scalone has developed his own unique photographic initiative to engage with the streets — and he’s taking as much of the photographic community along with him as possible. As co-founder of Project Street 7:30, along with fellow Melbourne-based photographer Craig Wetjen, Steve invites 30 photographers to descend upon a nominated city’s streets for seven hours. In that time, they must shoot, edit, print, and exhibit a single image to be auctioned off for charity at the end of the day.

The project was initially launched in June 2017, with Melbourne as the first staging ground, but the idea itself had been germinating in the minds of the two photographers for a few years before that.

Nikon D800, 55mm, 1/1000s, f/7.1, ISO 320

“At the time, I organized a small get together of fashion photographers where we photographed one model for twenty minutes, each with the same light, same location and same hair and makeup,” Steve explains. “Each subsequent result provided was vastly different, which excited us all.

“Tying this ethos into an urban landscape seemed like a natural progression, as urban street photography is a huge passion of mine.”

The Melbourne event saw the photographers meet up at 7.30am for a group photo, before bustling through the avenues and alleyways to find a winning shot. Come afternoon, they had all shot, edited, and presented a single image for printing, ready to be exhibited and auctioned at The Fox Darkroom and Gallery by 7.30pm. The format proved successful enough to be replicated in Adelaide and, most recently, in Perth this past January. Collectively, the events have raised over $20,000 for organizations working towards an end to homelessness in their respective cities.

Panasonic GX1, 14mm, 1/60s, f/8, ISO 320

“We have always been focused on finding a charity that lies true with youth homelessness or helping the community generally,” says Steve. “Craig and I felt it fits the ethos of Project Street nicely.

“The result of the images from each photographer that participates are the streets in each of the cities, the boundaries that it holds and the people that it supports.”

Initially, photographers who had already shown an interest in the project, or who the two founders thought would be a good fit, were invited to participate, but in recent events the doors have been opened to students and creative young people, too.

“I am seeing student work even better than what I can produce, and I love that,” Steve exclaims. “It fits even further into the community-based event that we have created.”

The 30-photographer limit was settled on as a way of keeping the events manageable, but even then, Steve expected it would take weeks to fill the roster for Melbourne. To his surprise, all slots were filled within five days of the invites going out, and interest has only become more frenetic with subsequent events.

Nikon D800, 80mm, 1/500s, f/13, ISO 280

“The best thing about all of this is that each event grows organically. The energy leading up to and on the day is amazing; everyone is nervous (even the seasoned professionals) and everyone has one common goal, to get together and create the best work they can for charity.”

Not just in charge of organization, Steve is also one of the most enthusiastic participants in each project. From setting up his own darkroom in his teens, to being one of the earliest adopters of digital editing as a photographic tool (he started on Photoshop 2.0 in the early ’90s), through to stints as a commercial printer, wedding and portrait photographer, and his current commercial practice focusing mostly on interior and architecture, Steve is exactly the kind of veteran one would want on such a project.

Local audiences will soon have a chance to benefit from the photographer’s decades’ worth of wisdom first-hand, when he visits the Photographic Society of New Zealand’s National Convention, Focus on Learning, in Lower Hutt, come April. Steve will be delivering a presentation teaching attendees a new way of seeing composition, and will lead a photo walk to help put the theory into practice the following day.

Panasonic GX8, 24mm, 1/400s, f/4.8, ISO 800

“I actually adore teaching and sharing my knowledge,” he says. “There is nothing quite like helping a fellow photographer or enthusiast to understand their own photography better. To watch them grow and develop on a personal level — that’s what I look forward to the most.” 

That isn’t the only visit Steve has in his calendar, either; he and Craig will be bringing Project Street 7:30 to Wellington in June, as part of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographer’s Ilford Exposure event. On Saturday, June 22, local photographers will have a chance to snag one of those 30 spots and experience the Project Street rush in Wellington’s CBD. For those looking to jump in, the photographer has a few pointers to make the most of the hectic day.

“I look for safe, simple images first that I know could work and then delve deeper into capturing images with more depth,” he says. “I have noticed that you get yourself into a ‘photographic rhythm’ and become far more focused by starting off simply.”

That said, the organizer has witnessed almost every photographer to take part in the initiative approach things in their own way, and always with great results.

“I love that most about the project; it enables so many photographers from so many disciplines to embrace the day (and pressure) of performing. Some will have a very clear path planned out and will follow that precisely. Others will take on the ‘explore as you go’ approach and see what presents itself.”

It is the culling of shots down to a single pick that represents the biggest challenge of the day for Steve. Keeping mental track of the shots that excite him while he’s shooting, the photographer employs his ‘process of elimination’ method of checking focus and composition to further whittle down his selects.

“Using Lightroom’s survey mode makes it simple to choose the best image and get the selection down to three to five. From there, I ask my fellow photographers that are working on their own images which they would choose, and the process continues on from there.”

Panasonic GX1, 7mm, 1/1600s, f/4.5, ISO 1600

Printing on the day is handled by commercial printers partnered with the project, so once a standout image is selected it’s just a matter of choosing appropriate paper and waiting for the print to go up on auction night.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that is extremely satisfying. The day is all about such a collective of creative talent that each photographer that participates feels they are a part of something much bigger.”

Local photographers are extremely fortunate to have not one but two opportunities to learn from and collaborate with Steve this year, and would be remiss not to make the most of at least one of those chances to expose themselves to such a vital creative force.