Are Your Photos “Street Photography”

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The following presentation is a rant on whether or not your photos are considered “street photography”.

What is street photography???

According to wikipedia…”Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents[1] within public places. Although there is a difference between street and candid photography, it is usually subtle with most street photography being candid in nature but not all candid photography being classifiable as street photography. Street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment. Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic”.

So why not call it candid photography since it’s photographed candidly….or public photography since it’s in public. Candid photography sounds more quote unquote…formal….street photography sounds much cooler and is what I would prefer it to be called. You can even call it un-posed photography as “street” doesn’t always happen on the street. It happens everywhere, in the living room, zoo, mall, theater, but the idea of it being candid and focusing on the decisive moment is still relevant. Anyone posing shots or asking for permission is attempting more documentary photography.

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However, in my bias opinion at the end of the day photography is photography. Categorizing themes or subjects is just another way of organizing a book shelve, where one shelve is all material on cooking and the bottom of the book shelve being children’s books…but at the end of the day they are all just BOOKS!!! Sometimes we label things just for conventional purposes…same with street photography.

Also to continue my rant…if you look at how the photos within the genre of street photography have evolved over the past three or four years..it comes off more as “Fine Art Photography” (yes I’m creating a new term)….there are so many “one and done”…”one liner”….”humor” photos that get recognized on social media and at photo festivals…it’s insane and nothing compared to more traditional photos let’s say Winogrand or Henri Cartier Bresson. Don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on humor photos or one and done type of photos…at the end of the day, to me a good photo is a good photo. The photo either works or simply doesn’t work. It’s a yes or no.

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Taking candid photos of random strangers on the sidewalk without any context or substance would be considered street photography…I assume so…does that mean the person is contributing to the abundance of crap floating on social media, myself included…that’s up to you as the viewer as you are the only one that can filter out good versus bad photos and have your own preconceived bias judgement on what is considered a good street photo and what’s not. If you showed a slideshow of various styles in street photography to 10 amateur and 10 prominent  street photographers I bet your ass each one will have a different opinion on the photos itself. Street photography is a very subjective, it is the hardest form of photography but yet the purest form of photography there is in my bias opinion.

I think it’s best to not use social media to obtain any influence on street photography…however if there is a particular photographer you come across on social media that you really like then by all means follow their work. I think it’s best to study the greats Alex Webb, HCB, Winogrand, Meyeworitz, Eggleston and me…Joke. Their photos have context and substance that go beyond the photo itself.

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What Street Photography Is Not…

Studio Photography

Studio photography…uhhh duuhhh…studio photography is too artificial and set up…there’s nothing spontaneous about it. It’s just too manipulative with the makeup artist, hair artist, wardrobe, studio lights, camera assistants….and ultimately it’s not candid…at all.

Wave Photography

Wave photography is photographed out in the open…it is candid…but the primary subject in street photography are people or the urban environment..so therefore wave photography is not street photography or a sub category of it. However, if you want to get philosophical and defend your argument that wave photography is very well street photography…perhaps you can by saying that you aren’t just focusing on the waves itself but the environment. The ocean. The beach. Where people come together and congregate. It is living proof of humanity and culture of how people enjoy their free time and get away from reality.

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Landscape Photography

Landscape falls into a similar realm like wave photography….there’s no urban element that coincides with street photography. But what if my landscape shot has a person in the frame…is that now street photography? Maybe. I’ll leave it up to you how you’d like to sub-categorize your photos but if you’re asking my opinion…No. Since the primary focus is on the landscape, sunset, sunrise, tree, water, mountain.

Conclusion

Maybe this is all a misconception. Definitions or terms are usually created by historians, academics, or critics that have never even picked up a camera and give an honest attempt to photographing the streets. Garry Winogrand, one of the most beloved contemporary street photographers, hated the term “street photography” and just considered himself a “photographer”. Bruce Davidson also did the majority of his work in the streets, on the subway, in the projects and is considered a “street photographer”. However, Davidson disliked the term “street photography” and refused to call himself one. Then there’s Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Godfather of “street photography”… never called himself a street photographer.

At the end of the day I can’t stress enough that a good photo is a good photo…regardless if it was a street photograph, landscape photography, wildlife or nature photograph, a studio portrait….Don’t worry about whether or not your photos are “street enough”…just focus and put your energy in capturing and making memorable photographs. Strong photographs are ones that stir us emotionally, that makes us cry, laugh, sad, allows us to create our own narrative, ask more questions than answers, have us take a deeper look at our communities and society.

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OK For Real This is The Conclusion…

One last note, don’t let social media dictate your style or what you’d like to photograph. Photographs on homeless people are frowned down upon in the street photography but if that’s what you’re interested in and can figure out a way to make it really intimate and engaging such as Suzanne Stein (check out the interview I did on her – Interview with Photographer Suzanne Stein) then by all means go for it. Research photographers like Suzanne Stein or others that do a good job in photographing these type of subjects and keep in mind just because your photographing homeless today doesn’t mean you’ll photograph them tomorrow…your style, approach, and interest in street photography will change…it’ll keep evolving as time goes on. My other advice is to incorporate your other interest or specialty into your street photography. I met a friend in a workshop with Jack Simon (you can read my review on his workshop – What I learned during Jack Simon’s workshop) and she wanted to learn how to take street photographs and have more confidence doing so. By trade she was an architecture and did event photography on the side. So she had very good understanding on geometry and leading lines and when we did our photo critique, we can all see she had an eye for just that. Now it was just a matter of incorporating people into her photographs. She later approach the streets as if it was an event, snaking through the crowd and just snapping away. Overtime she can be a really dynamic photographer by combining her variety of skill sets to street photography.

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For me I’m a independent filmmaker and commercial videographer by trade. I went to film school because I love the art of storytelling and a bit of a geek when it comes to camera gear. My approach in regards to photographing the streets was always the challenge of creating fiction out of reality. That’s why I’m still motivated to shoot the streets…it’s not because of social media or wanting the likes and comments…it’s not because I get paid to do so or I’m trying to be relevant on Google…or even sell prints for that matter. I enjoy storytelling…and in fact any form of storytelling, street photography just happens to be my way or creative outlet of sharing those stories to the world.

In a nutshell I feel that street photography is more theory and mystery, the photo gives more questions than answers and allows the viewer to create their own story. It also talks more about the actual photographer/artist than the photo itself….whereas documentary photography are about facts, there are more answers than questions presented and can be a conscious and continuous work in progress.

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If you are new to street photography below are some blogs to get your feet wet

Street Photography – More than just photographing people

Why Do My Photos Suck

How to Market Yourself as a Street Photographer

Mount Rushmore of Street Photography

Clicking vs Seeing in Street Photography

How to overcome fear in street photography

Click Less Yet Get More

Adding this donate button. Any donation will be greatly appreciated. Your monetary donation will be used for coffee and photobooks. Mahalo

2 Replies to “Are Your Photos “Street Photography””

  1. This article misses the most important point about street photography and that is that it is part of the documentary tradition in photography. There is a strong relationship between a street photograph and the real event or scene it portrays. That is why a definition matters because the way a photograph is made has a direct bearing on its meaning.

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    1. Hi Nick, great to have your input…in a nutshell I feel that street photography is more theory and mystery, the photo gives more questions than answers and allows the viewer to create their own story. It also talks more about the actual photographer/artist than the photo itself….whereas documentary are facts, there are more answers than questions presented and can be a conscious and continuous work in progress.

      Like

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