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A conversation with Albert Song

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Albert Song, 25, is an amateur photographer who paid for his photoblog to appear as an ad on Google when "Pittsburgh" is the search item -- but he isn't selling anything. Song, a Carnegie Mellon grad who lives in Oakland and works as a software engineer for Medrad, just wants to show off his own angle on the city through fiatvera.com -- pidgin Latin for "let there be truth." He calls himself a street photographer, toting his camera around for candid shots using 1970s rangefinder cameras and, lately, a digital camera.

 

Is there a community of photobloggers, as there seems to be of bloggers in general?

I can't say in Pittsburgh, but it's pretty big internationally. I didn't see that many other photoblogs from Pittsburgh, and I thought, why isn't there? I guess I wanted to do it for Pittsburgh, in a sense. 

 

What's a street photographer?

Gary Winograd -- he's a master. I like the candidness of it, taking shots of people in ordinary situations that bring out something interesting in their ordinary life. That's why I like taking my friends a lot.

 

But you're not going to make a career of this.

I'm not really looking to make any money off of this. I'm just looking for people to get exposed to my photos, especially people in the Pittsburgh area.

 

What do you hope people see in your photos?

There's that sense of familiarity, of closeness, of connection with someone in the same city. A lot of my photos are everyday scenes: eating with friends, just going down to the city, objects. There's an intimacy in the normalcy of things. Just being surprised by everyday things.

 

So what distinguishes your photos from vacation snaps?

It's really easy to make a cliché shot. The shot with all the Polaroids -- it's probably [a display] hundreds of people have seen at Bruster's [in Greenfield], but they haven't seen it that way. It's like a still in time -- that's not how we perceive reality normally.

 

How did you start taking photos?

Probably since junior high, I was the guy carrying around the camera. I loved flipping through photo books when I was younger, organizing a photo album and showing it to friends. It wasn't until I got to college, when I joined the photography club and learned how to do darkroom -- I went crazy with it.

 

My favorite photo was taken looking down at the sidewalk, with the feet of those ahead of you and the shadows of people beside you. That middle shadow must be you, taking the photo.

I guess you would call it a self-portrait. We were walking to the grocery store. It was a really sunny day. While we were walking I was composing it, with the feet at the top and the people creating a V.

 

In many of your shots people's heads are down, or facing away from you. Is that on purpose?

I actually like capturing expressions. Sometimes you don't have the luxury. Some of it is getting over the fear -- you don't want to get so close, you're afraid to offend someone, get in their personal space.

 

Of course, here's one of a man who seems to be surprised, even annoyed, that you've taken his photo in Squirrel Hill. Did he yell at you?

No. I love the expression on his face. He probably only looked at me that way for a second, then went on walking with his dog. But there's a moment of making contact with the photographer. When you look at the photo, you're connecting directly with him through the photographer.

 

And empty-chair shots are usually solemn and evoke sadness, but this one is funny.

When do you see an empty lawn chair in the middle of the Clemente Bridge?

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