Candid Photography: Respect for the World

Published on August 4, 2016

By Len Bernstein

One of the reasons I love candid photography and think it is so popular is because it shows that any situation in life, no matter how spontaneous or unarranged, has a structure. And that structure, I learned from Aesthetic Realism, is the oneness of opposites that makes for beauty.

I took this photograph at the Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey.

I was glad to be in the midst of many people, watching as some read newspapers, rushed to catch a train, or spoke with each other. When I came upon this couple sitting on a bench I was moved and felt I had to photograph what I saw.

As I approached them, I instinctively got down on one knee to take the photograph. I think I wanted to be like them—looking up at something with wonder, showing reverence for it, and this feeling made for an important technical choice; by shooting from low to high, the upward angle of their gaze was accentuated. Another result of this, one that was more felt than planned, was that by choosing this point-of-view the man and woman, so close to each other, were now related to something beyond themselves: the luminous globes behind them echo the brightness of their expressions, and the curve of the arches on the back wall mirror the curve of their shoulders. And while I consciously chose not to include what they were looking up at—the lovely stained glass panels set into the ceiling—I didn’t realize until I looked at the print, how this made for a more satisfying sense of the unknown as friendly.

I’m very grateful to have learned from Aesthetic Realism that the candid photographer has the question every person has:  “As I look at people, is my hope to find flaws that make me feel superior to them, or to find meaning in them I can respect?” When Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism said, “The purpose of photography is to create an emotion about the world through what has been carefully seen and selected,” he was talking about emotion based on careful seeing, emotion based on respect for the world. As we all know, a photographer has to makes choices. But I learned that when we choose to have respect for the world and the people and things in it, we are much more likely to make the right choice—both in art and in life—when a split-second decision is required.

Notes: Leica M4-2, Tri-X, 50mm

Len Bernstein is a photographer and educator with images in private and public collections. His articles are informed by a careful study of the medium, and the philosophy Aesthetic Realism—in classes first with its founder, Eli Siegel, and now with Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss. His book, Photography, Life, and the Opposites, with a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Robert Coles, received a Star Review in Library Journal. To learn more about his work visit