Street Life: A Word With Libby Holmsen

Cynthia Haynes

Thanks to encouragement from her parents, a young Libby Holmsen was a prolific writer and drawer. Her childhood was an exploration of creativity and imagination . . . and enterprise. At age 10, she sold her drawings at a small Melbourne gallery and made enough money to buy a pony with the proceeds. Inspired by film, architecture, travel, the beach, and street art, her creativity has moved from pen-and-paper only to the digital age, where her photographs now tell street stories in a single frame. See more from Libby this week as she takes over our Instagram feed.

To many of us, street photography seems like an easy mark: just take your camera and head down the avenue. But for any of us who have tried that routine with results that felt flat, it’s clear it takes a certain something to make compelling street photographs. The number one fear? Approaching strangers, followed closely by photographing those strangers. But for Libby Holmsen, the unpredictable nature of the street outweighs her fears.

Fueled the by the challenge of random scenes that can unfold at any given time, she admits that it can be a struggle to find new and inspiring locations, characters, and stories close to her Perth, Australia, home. Still, she’s become an ardent fan of anticipating moments and has found her true photographing calling by what she terms “being in the zone,” where her powers of observation are so focused that she feels invisible to others so she can use her camera with wild abandon.

"Street photography provides freedom from making 'technically perfect' images; there are no rules. The beauty of my genre is that the magic lies in capturing the moment and raw human emotion. I'll take hundreds of frames in pursuit of that one magic moment."

It’s interesting to note that a majority of her characters are cloaked in shadow or are otherwise anonymous—perhaps a reflection of her own feelings of being an invisible observer. This lends itself to a sense of solitary inclusion in her work; given the location, you know the subjects are surrounded by others but are either alone or in small groups in the frame. Multiple characters are either moving together or in different directions, but don’t visibly interact. Creating that solitude wasn’t what originally drew her to the genre, however. 

“When photographing street art on holiday in New York City, a woman in a red coat walked into the frame. Instead of waiting for her to pass by as I normally would, I took the shot. I loved the result and so began my journey into street photography.”

From there, she honed her vision and began keenly noticing quirky characters, authentic emotion, and everyday candid moments that either go unseen or are only given a passing glance. This also led to an awareness of interesting architecture, textures, shapes, lines, light, and shadows, elements that feature prominently in her photographs.

“I am someone who sees the world differently; I see it in pictures. I have a deep empathy with people and things. I can even see the colours in black and white images!”

And giving a nod to those black and white images, as much as her street photographs project solitude, her beach photographs have a whimsical, humorous bent somewhat reminiscent of Elliot Erwitt. 

When asked what she thought the photographic world needs more of right now, she said, “Fresh, enthusiastic, risk-taking, and curious amateur photographers.” We couldn’t agree more.

Libby Holmsen is inspired by travel, contrast, colour, and the beauty in everyday moments. Her photographs are regularly featured on online international street galleries, including @lensculture, @bnw_demand, @myspc, @bnw_legit, and @life_is_street, and her writing is featured in Australian Photography Magazine. Libby’s work has been widely recognized and, among other accolades, has won an award from the prestigious Street Photographers International (@SPicollective), a collective of street photographers promoting the best street photography from around the world. See more of Libby’s work on her website or Instagram feed. 

Interview Libby Holmsen Street Photography

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