Shooting From the Hip showcases beautiful iPhone photos [Book review]

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iPhone photo book
Shooting From the Hip, the iPhone street photography of San Francisco's Scott Strazzante, is now for sale.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

You may be tempted to marvel at Scott Strazzante’s new book, Shooting From the Hip, simply because he made all those gritty street photographs with an iPhone.

We can’t seem to get over the fact that the little wonder device in our pockets can be used to create great work. Apple touts stunning photos on big billboards, luring us with the promise that good pictures will come pouring out if we upgrade to the latest iPhone.

But photography — good photography, anyway — isn’t that simple. And to fixate on the tool Strazzante uses would be a disservice to him, and to the collection of 150 pictures inside this hardcover coffee table book.

The images are arresting, quirky, beautiful and at times haunting. And they would be, no matter what camera he chose for his craft. The iPhone quietly works to serve Strazzante’s senses in the moment. But his gut and his eye make it possible for him to understand when he is about to see the photographic equivalent of planetary alignment.

iPhone photographs
From the pages of Shooting From the Hip.
Photo: Scott Strazzante

Constant refinement of craft

I should disclose that I’ve known Strazzante, now a photojournalist with the San Francisco Chronicle, for nearly a decade. We were briefly colleagues in the same photo department at a newspaper in Chicago. This review is not the fawning of a friend, however. Rather, it’s an attempt to shed some understanding on how hard this guy works to tell stories in pictures.

Strazzante already won nearly every important award for his photojournalism. His near-obsessive devotion to refining his craft is well-known throughout the photojournalism community. He gets anxious on the rare occasion he allows himself to separate from his camera.

Such jitters form the root of Shooting From the Hip, his second book published by Press Syndication Group. Five years ago, he left his cameras behind when he went on a vacation to Washington, D.C., with his daughter, Betsy. Tired of seeing him fidget, she handed off her iPhone to her dad so he could make pictures.

He loved the quiet, unassuming experience of shooting with the iPhone. And so began a practice of street photography, often done on walks during his lunch hour. The title of the book, in part, comes from the way he holds the iPhone camera — near waist level — to operate in stealth mode so as not to alert the people he is photographing.

Working without seeing the viewfinder forces him to engage his eyes directly with the people that interest him as he walks through streams of pedestrians.

A daily stroll yields hundreds of pictures

Strazzante takes at least one stroll a day and records 500 to 1,000 images each time. Multiply these numbers by each day of the week over a five-year period and you may get a conservative estimate of the number of images he shot.

The square-formatted, black-and-white photographs, styled with the app Hipstamatic, mostly come from his new home in San Francisco and surrounding areas. But a few flow from Chicago, which he knows well after growing up there.

While he finds raw material hitting the streets, Strazzante does wander into other settings like piers, ballparks, beaches and public squares.

What makes iPhone street photos special?

iPhone photo book
From the pages of Shooting from the Hip.
Photo: Scott Strazzante

He captures many pictures of people walking by and a number of these, if viewed casually, could feel tiresome. But pay close attention to understand the choice of a given photo. Spend a little time on any one image in this book, and you will notice little details that gleam like nuggets of gold.

Strazzante will find some contrast or odd juxtaposition in a composition, such as advertising in store windows, and wait for the right character that plays off or even opposes the face in the giant ad. Some of the pictures play with the repetitive pattern of architecture, while others capture some individual left on the fringes of the community.

The pictures in Shooting From the Hip can feel lonely, but they also serve to recognize individuality and reflect a tenderness on the part of the photographer.

Shooting from the Hip
Scott Strazzante’s dedication in the book offers thanks to all the people unaware he photographed them.
Photo: Scott Strazzante

Strazzante’s profession gave him both the nerve and the comfort to get close to people. Many of the photos in the book make you feel as if you’re within a step or two of bumping into his subjects. He dedicates the book to the people who don’t know they were photographed — plus a few who knew and “didn’t punch [him] in the face.”

If you’ve ever sat at a window in a cafe just so you could watch people walk by, a slow turn of the pages of Shooting From the Hip will bring that same satisfaction and fascination.

Buy from: Amazon — $42.99

Buy from: Press Syndication Group — $49.95