Stephen Laszlo: Portfolio Contest Winner

Words: Dean Brierly

“When I’m out walking the streets, my emotions blend into the street environment.”

Photo: Stephen Laszlo: Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 1
Stephen Laszlo
There are certain cities throughout the world whose cultural identity is perhaps most vividly expressed through the medium of street photography. In the United States, New York City is arguably the foremost example. Close behind is the city that famously claimed Tony Bennett’s heart. From Max Yavno and Fred Lyon to Bob Eckert and Michael Jang, photographers have found endless inspiration in the vibrant, gritty, beautiful streets of San Francisco.

In recent years, Stephen Laszlo has been making his own ongoing photographic study that adds another perspective to the city’s visual legacy. Having grown up on the East Coast, studied film in NYC and worked in the film industry in LA, Laszlo is currently employed in the tech sector in San Francisco.
Photo: Stephen Laszlo: Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 2
Shopping, San Francisco, California, 2022
Originally a film photographer, he transitioned to digital around 2010 when the technology began to deliver the look and feel of 35mm film. While Laszlo responds to the visual stimuli in such cities as New York, Paris, and London, San Francisco offers him different visual and emotional perspectives, where he often emphasizes lone figures rather than multiple subjects grouped together.

“I do prefer to focus on separate individuals, as distinct from the typical street work you see,” he explains. “To me, it’s far more interesting. It’s that loneliness I love to capture. When I’m out walking the streets, my emotions blend into the street environment. That’s when I’m in my zone, alone with my thoughts, alone with the sounds. That’s what I love to capture in someone else, because most times they are in that exact same state.”
Photo: Stephen Laszlo: Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 3
The Cab, San Francisco, California, 2022
Emblematic of Laszlo’s approach is the photograph “Shopping,” in which a woman pushes a portable shopping cart down the sidewalk, at once part of and separate from the urban environment. Her aloneness is accentuated by her rigid posture and controlled pace; her focused, straight-ahead gaze; the communication-limiting mask she wears; and the manner in which she wields the cart like some kind of wheeled prow as if to repel contact with others. Further underlining this effect is Laszlo’s framing, centering her in the lower third of the vertical frame and creating a spotlight effect through extensive vignetting.

“Most of those isolation pieces were reflective of the pandemic and how it affected …the people forgotten and those who were left out in the streets to figure things out for themselves. I felt compelled to isolate them, in a way putting them on a stage and emulating stage lights casting down upon them,” he comments.
Photo: Stephen Laszlo: Portfolio Contest Winner photo no. 4
Waiting, San Francisco, California, 2020
The studied formality of this image and others is unusual in street photography. The genre is notable for its spontaneity, as photographers typically strive to catch evanescent moments on the fly.

“Some of my work is completely spontaneous, and some of my work is based on backdrop and mood,” Laszlo acknowledges. “There are times I know what I want to capture, and it’s no different than something like landscape photography—you must wait for that sunset or moment that captures the vision. I see much of this in the same way in street photography. Also, street photography hasn’t evolved much, and I like to call some of my street work fine art street photography. Because there is much beauty in it even when it tells the truth and impacts us in emotional ways.”
There’s a certain balance between spontaneity and calculation in all of the images presented here. It’s interesting to speculate on the degree to which Laszlo tacitly enlists his subjects’ participation.

“Some work I have done that is outside of trying to get a particular vision or emotion is [achieved] through a different mode. I’ll delve into more of a photojournalist approach, and sometimes I’ll ask the subject if I can capture them. I don’t do this often, but much like my color work, when I’m not feeling creative through my expression, I’ll involve myself in a particular event, like the Chinese New Year’s parade, in which all that type of work will be approached from a documentary or photojournalist approach, versus my more studied and artistic approach.”