A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Oct. 21, 2010 Volume 41 / Number 2


Focusing on the Unexpected: Streets of Chico

From left to right: Dustin Peterson, Ivan Rojas, Gus Luna, Eddie Wilson, Alex Johns, Catherine Bowen, Ashley Viegas, Courtney Lewis, Leslie Wilkinson, Cierra Howard, and Anne Marie Lukens
For a slideshow of the street photography,
Photo: From left, Matthew Bently and Dane Cameron

CSU, Chico photography professor Ron Dejesus challenged his advanced students to explore a form of photography that many had previously avoided—street photography. “The essence of this project was to get students to see past the excessive familiarity, stereotypes, and clichés of their local surroundings to observe and appreciate the unexpected nuances of everyday life,” Dejesus said. “For all of the 11 students in this class, this was the first serious attempt at candid pictures of everyday life on the street, which requires an entirely different modus operandi. There was no specific subject matter, no pre-visualization, and no agenda other than to investigate the seemingly mundane scenes and events of life in the streets of Chico, and capture the moment.”

What makes this class project unusual is that the final photograph selections were published in a book, Chico Street Photography: Spring 2010. During a 10-week period, more than 10,000 photographs were taken. During weekly group critiques, the students helped each other select the top photos, narrowing the collection to only 55.

Dejesus described the initial difficulty students had with the boldness required of street photographers: “First attempts were tentative; shots from too far away, or of people’s backs. But as the semester wore on, students gained confidence in their technique, in their rightful place on the street, and in their newfound ability to handle the unscripted nature of street photography.”

Student Ivan Rojas said the biggest challenge he faced was “overcoming my fear of what people thought.”

Generally, students tried to keep subjects unaware of their presence when taking photos; however, Dejesus believes there is a reciprocal relationship between photographer and subject. “Often the pictures are not only about the photographer seeing and reacting to the subjects, but about the subjects reacting to the photographer,” he said.

Rojas said he took “anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 pictures for this project,” shooting many of his photos at the downtown Thursday Night Market. One of his strategies was taking multiple “no-look” shots, hoping at least one would look good. His photo Sisters was taken while he was turned away from the subject, to avoid notice.

Now that the project is over, Rojas said that he will carry his camera around more because “great shots come out of nowhere. Next thing you know you missed a good shot and you’re thinking, “I wish I had my camera.”

Of the book, Dejesus stated, “The photographs are an eclectic mix of what anyone can see in the streets of Chico today. We suspect that, like a fine wine, they will become more significant with age. The value of these photographs is that they may cause us to stop for a brief moment in our increasingly hurried society, to see the aesthetic reality in our everyday lives, and perhaps to see the world anew.”End

Kellen Livingston, Intern, Public Affairs and Publications