Lens Flair: RI street photographers see the city through a different view

Local photographers are changing the ways we see Providence, making an old New England capital feel new again through the time-honored practice of street photography. Almost as long as there have been cameras, people have been pointing them at city streets, iconic architecture and pedestrians.

“What I love about street photography is you can do it almost anywhere,” said Jared Winslow, a Providence street photographer. “[It’s about] capturing everyday life in a public space.” Winslow has photographed Providence’s streets for a couple of years now. His day job is working full-time as a graphic designer, but he spends any free moments (and sometimes lunches) prowling the city’s storied neighborhoods waiting for the right moment. Winslow’s gear of choice is a DSLR, the Canon T7i coupled with his 15mm-75mm lens. He’s amassed more than 1,500 followers on Instagram (@winslow_j), and his work has been featured in local publications. 

Originally from Somerset, Winslow grew up mainly in Rhode Island. He credits his interest in photography to people-watching with his mom as a child. Sitting back in a public place, together they would make up backgrounds and stories and dreams for the people walking by. He picked up a camera in college for a class three years ago and searched Instagram for different photography accounts, finding a number devoted to street photography. That’s when it clicked for Winslow. Street photography was a way to combine the art and science of photography with his love of storytelling. Although Winslow will take a short trip to shoot, he has a special love for the city where he feels he found his independence. “I’ve always had an open mind and I’ve always liked to tell stories in some way,” Winslow said about his work.

“Providence was the place that I needed and the place that I love,” said Rafael Medina, another prominent local street photographer. Medina lives in the city’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, but he was born in Europe, moved to Providence as a child, and spent a lot of time in South Providence. HIs parents are Dominican; his mom works as a hairdresser and his dad owned and operated a car shop. Despite his confident and relaxed demeanor, Medina said he didn’t think he could do a lot of things before he got into photography. He had no formal art training, but he found his street photography spark four or five years ago when he saw on social media the things photographers in other cities were doing. 

“I didn’t think it was possible in Providence at the time,” said Medina, but it wasn’t long before he got over the thought and dove headfirst into capturing Providence’s streets. He goes out to shoot whenever he has time, at least once per week. His Instagram account (@rafeakspvd) has more than 1,800 followers. 

Medina uses the Fujifilm X100 series camera, a compact camera that makes it easy to stealthily snap candid photos around town. The lens is built into the body, so unlike most other digital cameras he can’t swap out the lens, but he prefers this to what he used to use: the Canon 80d, which a very big camera to deal with when shooting candid photos in public. In addition to street photography, Medina shoots portraits and concerts, enjoying the different photographic challenges that come with each one. He cites a Bad Rabbits show in Boston as the best concert photography he’s ever done.

“Instagram gave me a big push and that’s when I realized this genre was even a thing in the first place,” said Winslow. The platform is a vital tool to connect photographers working in the same genre. Winslow cites the work of Paola Franqui (@monaris_), based in New York City, whose photography captures strong and poignant emotions. Medina cites Ray Mercado (@raylivez) as a photographer he tried to imitate in his early days.

During the COVID lockdown, Medina began engaging with the late, great masters of street photography, among them Gordon Parks, Robert Frank, Vivan Maer, Fred Herzog’s kodachrome-saturated colors, and WIlliam Eggleston’s emptiness. Studying their works transformed his outlook, showing him the type or quality of the camera didn’t matter.

“It opened up my palate a lot to just see things a little differently,” said Medina. He’s started looking for smaller details, cropping more and working on his composition. His current pictorial obsession is harsh shadows with lots of contrast. Other sources of inspiration for Medina include old movies, and he cited some of the cinematography and shots from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull as a particular influence on his art. 

Both Medina and Winslow are planning more exhibitions of their work, including a joint exhibit in Cranston to be announced. Winslow is also the moderator of Providence’s first photo collective, @instameetpvd and is soon to launch a website for his work ( Medina’s website is Follow them @winslow_j and @rafaekspvd.