What is Street photography?
I started this year (2016) with this question very much at the front of my mind. This year I hope to answer this question with greater clarity to myself and in some ways distance myself from the negativity that surrounds this fantastic style of photography.
Like most people interested in this genre, I attempt to stick to some rules, imposed by myself and by other photographers I respect, and by various discussions on Facebook pages and forums etc. However there’s no doubt that it can be a confusing arena, full of argument and agreement alike.
I’ll start by mentioning some of my favourite ‘street photographers’. There are way too many to mention but it will serve purely as a base point for my own purposes as I write this and will exclude huge paragraphs of text on them. You can research yourself should you so choose. I will post one picture of each photographer for reference.
I’ve chosen this photograph by Gary Winogrand to illustrate a point which in no uncertain terms annoys me about some discussions I’ve seen on various websites and social media groups. The phrase goes something like this…
“Street photography is not just people walking down the street”! Now whilst I think I understand this point to mean, a pointless shot with no thought to meaning or emotion, or any consideration to light and so on, I’d like to say that street photography can be exactly “people walking down the street”!
Ok, so this picture does contain many points of interest, The man in the wheelchair, the fashionable ladies looking at him walking past, the convergence of the shadows, the little boy looking from the bench. All these elements stack up to make this a fine picture in my eyes and a great example of street photography.
So yes we need to consider what we mean when we say “Street photography is not just people walking down the street” alone without proper clarification, because actually street photography is just that!
A worthwhile note here… Gary Winograd considered himself a photographer, not a street photographer. We should probably all consider this!
Another fabulous photographer who for some falls into the street photography style, though not all his pictures are this. He is more than this title suggests.
The important point to take from Daido’s work for me is his freedom and expression. His work strikes me as being far from rules and constraints that any genre will place upon it.
The picture here of a dog provides a great insight into what street photography can be. It is not about location or juxtaposition, but for me more about emotion and the ordinary providing a genuine feeling of familiarity as well as inquisitiveness from photographer and subject.
We don’t always need to see a street sign that somehow plays with the meaning of the image. We don’t need to see a conversation between people in a coffee shop. Sometimes we just need to see what the photographer saw and try to understand the joy in what they have created.
I could’ve just spent hours talking about photographers from a different time in history, but I also wanted to include a photographer you may or may not have heard of. Will Steacy is a photographer I admire a lot.
He isn’t a photographer easily labelled so I won’t do it here. But I first got to know of his work through his book ‘Down These Mean Streets’ a collection of images of buildings, streets and objects that according to him “examine the fear and abandonment of America’s inner cities”.
Why does he appear in this discussion? Well, again it’s in response to those who try to argue that street photography must contain people. Now most of the time I hear the phrase “that’s not street photography, that’s architecture”!
Can’t it be both? I think a building or a sign on a building is as much street photography as anything else. It seems to me that the more we try to impose sanctions on styles of photography the more we miss the pure joy of a picture that can move us in some way.
I guess after all this I’d like to say enjoy what others provide for you. Enjoy what you do and don’t seek approval from others to much. Sure, a good discussion around this genre will focus your mind, and a harsh or encouraging word about your own pictures will undoubtedly help you to grow, but I want to see what you are trying to show me. I may or may not like it, but I applaud you for getting off your arse and trying, and who the hell am I anyway? I’m just a guy who takes pictures!
I’ll finish with a picture from me, street photography or not?