Branden May's photography captures Atlanta's architecture and everyday life

Branden May

There are a lot of architecturally unique buildings here in Atlanta. You have the Westin Peachtree Plaza, the King and Queen buildings and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis to name a few. Atlanta street photographer Branden May captures these buildings and the people who walk alongside them in his works, and his photographs have been featured in exhibitions internationally. Branden joined “City Lights” producer Summer Evans to talk about his work and how he approaches the art of photography.

“I started photography around the age of twelve,” May said. “[My dad] had a camera that he really loved – I think, an Olympus camera, like a 35 millimeter. He let me use it a few times. I believe that I broke it.” Undeterred, May continues shooting to this day, inspired by his dad’s support.

Though May now shoots his photographs on a digital camera, they maintain film-like qualities, like a subtle graininess; they’re also mostly black and white. “Black and white is, in my opinion, a little bit more forgiving. You can miss your shutter speed, or your ISO could be off, but you can still get a great image out of it,” said May. “But mostly, I think I am drawn to black and white and the grain because of Gordon Parks and Berenice Abbott and photographers that I look up to, because they got started in 35-millimeter film.”

He particularly emphasized the influence of Gordon Parks, a photojournalist, writer and filmmaker prominent in the mid-20th century. “Gordon Parks… really does draw you in through his images. He tells a story from start to finish. If you look at the subjects that he takes pictures of, they’re usually Black people throughout the South,” said May. “You see everyday life, but you also see the pain of, just, the everyday life of being a Black person.”

To capture this sense of the authentic lives of people on the street, May often goes for candid, unposed, even unaware subjects. Luckily, his work speaks for itself and tends to be well-received by the people in it. “If a person stops me and says, ‘What are you doing?’ Or, ‘Why are you getting a picture of me?’ I usually tell them I’m a street photographer, what I do and I give them my card,” said May. “Every time that happens, they’re usually very receptive and very happy to see the final product, even buy more prints of mine, which is pretty exciting.”

When photographing Atlanta’s architecture, May’s work often emphasizes the futuristic, angular attitudes of local cityscapes. “I think I’ve seen these buildings in the skyline throughout my entire life, and I, maybe, have a connection to them personally,” May said. “How [are they] going to look in the sunlight, how are they gonna look at nighttime? How shadows will cast off of one building onto another; it’s just something that I’ve just noticed my entire life.”

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