« No One Gets Out of Here Alive | Main | 'Street Photography'...At the Beach »

Friday, 15 June 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The trouble with tight self-editing: it's hard. I've been trying with my own selections, and trying to create a couple of "top ten" lists in line with your earlier suggestion. Tough work, regardless of genre.
And I get the same problem - one day I'll like one lot, the next another. So I end up posting all the good stuff to flickr.

And you wonder why Gary Winogrand died with 2,500 rolls of undeveloped film? Street photography is always hit-and-miss, even when all the images have been curated at least two or three times. So of course everybody like a different set of what was photographed. How many rolls of Vivian Maier's photographs have been recovered? 600 undeveloped, over 90,000 developed negatives, and who knows how much more. So of course everybody has a different view on what's good street photography. There's just a lot of street.

If Garry Winogrand had shot digitally would he have left behind 30 million images instead of 300,000? And would they have all just disappeared when his SmugMug account ran out posthumously?

Maybe he left them un-edited because he figured he didn't capture any that he wanted to present.

I took Alexander's comment to refer to a complete absence of editing. It's one thing for the photographer to present his/her vision via a selected set of images. Quite another thing for a camera/phone user to do a 100% data dump because they have no clue of what they're doing or why they're doing it. Regarding Winogrand, I think the real reward of street photography is doing it - showing it doesn't matter much to them.

I struggle with editing personally. It's a separate skill-set, and it's not one all photographers inherently have, either.

There's also the question of what the audience for a particular photoset is. I edit snapshots of a friend's birthday party rather differently from performance shots from a band gig. And the roller derby bouts I shoot still differently.

Only the band gig shots come anywhere close to trying to limit what's displayed to the "best" photos; the others are more directed at displaying the photos the people involved with the activity will want to see. I've encountered push-back from family and friends saying I'm editing sets down too tightly when I go to far that direction, and they're the audience for those photos.

If you do have 1400 roller derby photos to edit down to 200 for a slide show in less than an hour, I highly recommend Photo Mechanic, by the way :-).

I find that self-editing isn't just hard because of the ego thing. Sometimes, something else happens. I'll take a picture that I know isn't special or unique in any way, but I just happen to like it. An editor would have deleted it, but I keep it around because it amuses me. That could be for many different reasons, not necessarily aesthetic ones. A pic like that ends up on my online gallery because it's the easiest way to show it to others. Then because of inertia, it sits there a long time, when maybe it should be removed. During that time, other people see it and think, what a lousy picture, why didn't he delete it? Before the interweb, almost no one would have seen it.

I know you've posted a couple things on how to edit, but part of the problem is that there's very little literature on what editing is or how to do it. For example, when you read a review of a photo book, they barely talk about the editing, except for maybe a few brief, usually vague statements. So much is ignored or barely touched upon. What is the structure of the book, the exhibit, the photo essay, or possibly the photo stream? What sorts of things can be accomplished through editing? What kind of decisions and ideas are we talking about? What is its history? What are the styles and the various aspects to consider? Who are the exemplars?

I suppose everybody "figures it out for themselves," or is taught by a mentor or something. There's plenty of literature on film montage. Why not photography?

If art is an expression that evokes emotion or thought, how often an image is liked depends as much on the emotions and experience of the viewer as it does the image itself. Perhaps the more universal the emotions and thoughts the image evokes, the more popular the image. An image appealing to less common experience or emotion may be as strongly liked, but by fewer viewers.

When I try to assemble an image set for general viewing, I ask myself why I like an image and then try to rank the image by estimating how universal is the emotion or thought evoked. It means tossing idiosyncratic favorites.

For me, Vivian Maier, and to a lesser degree HCB and a much lesser degree Winogrand have very few published pictures that don't reach me. Maier is truly amazing to me. Having just a brief taste of her contact sheets, her hit rate is pretty astonishing.

The stat about Winogrand I think is misleading. As I understand it, at the end of his life he was dealing with mental illness, driving around in cars and just burning through film without really attempting to take good pictures. I believe that a lot of those 2500 or whatever rolls were exposed at this time, when he wasn't really in his prime.

Street photography is hard for two reasons. One, the juxtaposition of live and static elements means waiting and waiting and then exercising split second timing, and two, most people don't have the eye for that juxtaposition in the first place.

Of all the photo genres it is the one most subject to luck AND skill, which means that when I see something truly exceptional I am awed by it - not just because of what it is but because I really understand how rarely such opportunities come around and how well prepared you have to be to capture them.

Ironically, the camera is the least of it. For street photography you have to have already worked out the strategy, focus and exposure and then sat in wait like a patient fisherman for the moment when the scene materialises.

People obsess about autofocus speed and other nonsense, but the only true revolution in street photography was the portable camera (35mm). Nothing has really moved on much since. Of all photographic genres it is probably the least technology dependent.

"but these days most people just upload everything"

But, on Flickr, I don't follow "most people". I follow people who don't upload everything. I follow people who apologize for posting a photograph that's merely pretty good. I follow people who don't post for weeks, and then post a single spectacular image before vanishing again for weeks...

I consider myself pretty decent at quick editing, coming back with a couple hundred photos and easily zeroing in on the 5-20 it might be worth spending time on in Lightroom. Sometimes zero. Problem is, even with a decent "edit," you still end up with a huge number of b-level "keepers" over time, the fish you freeze and then forget about until you notice how full the freezer is and you can't find anything (sorry, live by the sea). I fall in love with bits and pieces of my photographs, even though others might not care for the whole. A bit of light here, some color there, the flow of line. So here's to the keepers.

I think Mr. Alexander's comment can be applied to Flickr in general, not just the street photography genre. I do love Flickr, but it is often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff--there's just so much chaff!

Although it may not appear as so, I try my best to only post the good photos on Flickr. I have not deleted my less skilled earlier efforts; hopefully there has been some improvement. As other posters have said: self editing is very difficult.

I can almost say that I never found a street photographer whose work I really liked, but Elliot Erwitt is the one exception. That is, assuming you classify him as a street photographer...

Too bad Street Photography is not called Road Photography. The bulk of it could be called Roadkill. Sorry, I tried to think of something using Street but failed.

With Vivian Maier, less than half her negs had been scanned, or the rolls developed. Yet the book was meant to be a "best of" collection. There was one image I really liked. The rest were interesting for the look of the time period they were taken.

Yes, I do a lot of street photography. And much of it happens when I don't have a camera on hand. (so it's not photography - you say - and I agree.
The only camera I have is a K20D and it's too heavy for every day use. Maybe I'll have the financial derring-do to pull a trigger on a GF2 next week.

I think another problem is using labels such as "street" and expecting everyone to understand it in the same way. Too easy for someone to say "That's not street, because it isn't gritty enough / not in B+W etc etc"

Photography is a huge genre that defies pigeon-holing. I often find it useful when trying to get to grips with a photographer's work, to think in literary terms - what literary genre would I pair it with? Poetry, essay, documentary, scientific journal, diary etc etc. And what style? Ot technique?

Additionaly, some photographer's work requires a volume of images before the style is discerned, but once it does emerge, it becomes a powerful if subtle ingredient. Editing is still crucial of course, but I don't think in all cases it need result in a small set of images

I'd like to go back to a loosely, paraphrased quote by Saint Ansel himself. Something to the effect that he would be happy with 12 1st class keepers a year.

Now my available shooting time is but a fraction of AA's so I should be happy with what 2-3 a year? Makes sense. Street photography is subject to the same rule. Walk for a year and you will(hopefully)land several gems but don't expect a lot more.

PS. Never show them anything but your best.

To me, the essential part of documentary photography (of which street photography is really a subcategory) is that it should be trying to say something that's bigger than any single picture. A selection that's based only on which ones are the best photographs will result in a nice set of photographs. A selection that adopts a point of view will wind up telling a story or making an editorial point, and can produce an impact that's far greater than the value of the individual photographs taken separately. That's the real power of the genre.

Speaking of Flickr, you should check out the Hardcore Street Photography group over there. It is highly curated and edited, and it has some great stuff.

Flickr well I uploads 9000 photographs,and what is the problem,Juan Buhler have thousands online and I have 466 streetphotographs, what´s the problem? If you don´t like to see too much,don´t see it.Have a book maybe now with internet is no sense flickr its the third way to keep safe our photography first dvd hdd and flickr etc etc

I learned a great deal about this with my book. It's 100 images from three days spent in Brooklyn, covering lots of different subjects, including many images taken of people on the street, in ~ 8x10 format. I've sat through over 30 people going through the book, mostly interactively, sometimes a silent witness.

So here's the thing - There may have been a handful of images that spoke to everyone, but only a very few. There were a few that I at first thought were failures, everyone just swept past them. As the number of people viewing them went up, the number of unloved images went down.

Then I thought I only had one. I showed the book to another friend, and she was so moved by that 'failure' that she almost cried.

Ctein was ever so right about no art pleasing everyone. The opposite may be true, that all art will please someone. Then there's the poster I loved in a restaurant, titled "Was Ist Das Kunst?"

I just don't think that "best of" works for photographs.


Don't completely misunderstand the function of Flickr and other photography platforms: They're used as pinboards. Should one ever want to edit and present a photographic portfolio it certainly wouldn't be on Flickr!

I do a lot of editing in my life - mostly writing - and as with Mike, it starts to infiltrate everything I read or see. And when it comes to my own work, I over-edit. Nothing makes the cut; no pic' is properly composed or exposed; no print is good enough to exhibit; etc. Sometimes, you just have to let perfect go and let your 'market' choose from your best bets- whether your market consists of paying clients, flikr, or some other online pin board, your family and friends, or just you.

I've been looking at this year's Bucks Open Studios directory, where it tells us that at the back we can "find artists by discipline" Quite so. (I have no connection with this event, but there is some photography and details are at: http://www.bucksopenstudios.org.uk/ )

I've been trying to gently educate my bike club's members about editing the photos that they put on the club website, rather than just getting them up there as quickly as possible. My heart sinks when I see on some bike club's website huge numbers of pictures of an event, and I just can't be bothered to look through them all to find the good ones.

The last event we had saw 47 shots put up about a day and a half later. Not bad shots at all, but they still needed editing. I refined my choice down to 11 and gave the pub landlord the shots for his site. There were more than enough on our site.

Personally, I'm not so fond of the kind of one-note, "punchline" street photography that some people here have mentioned; the kind of thing where you stake out a location and wait for the right circumstance to appear. A classic of this genre is the shot by Felix Lupa in the "Sitegeist" post from a few days ago. Stake out in front of a big poster or mannequin and wait until someone walks by in the opposite direction or otherwise mimics the thing in the background.

It's so over-done and I'm really tired of it. But that seems to be the direction of current street photography, probably because it's relatively easy. (That said, I actually like the Felix Lupa shot; simply having a child in the shot, between the two main elements, changes everything.)

I've always preferred the more inward-looking style of work that came to prominence in the 1950s. During the post-war era society in both Europe and the Americas was going through a lot of social change and recovering from a huge collective trauma. That caused a lot of artists to create "from within" as opposed to reflecting from without.

There was more of a sense of surrealism (in the classic sense; as in, the search for psychological meaning in banal, everyday events) and an emphasis on the photographer's subjectivity. For example, Ted Croner said of his work "They weren't pictures of people. The were pictures of the way I felt."

That was also when the second wave of existentialism was "the thing," so that helps explain why that kind of work was well received. We live in very different times now, so work like that is only well regarded in retrospect. Not a lot of new work like that gets much attention, possibly because the ubiquity of photography these days -- including surveillance photography -- has made the idea of subconscious photography seem sort of creepy, or at least without purpose.

BTW, I highly agree with the comments above from Richard Tugwell and Roger Moore. Good street photography (or any kind of documentary or expressive photography) is about more than individual images. It's about the point of view and the whole body of work.

A foundational problem is that a lot of people start the process off by shooting indiscriminately without putting much thought into each thought. Back in the day when I was a strarving artist I would go out into the streets of NYC and shoot a roll of Kodachrome (37 exposures, loaded right) over the course of 3 hours of shooting or so. That was the result of a lot of pre-editing and waiting for the moment, forced on me by financial necessity. My own philosophy on uploading is that I will only upload what I actually have printed.

Mike replies: "I think you could have said that with 20% fewer words. Just kidding."

Agreed! How's this: I think the world would be better off with more editing, not less. Editing can be learned.


I echo others' opinions regarding the need for aggressive editing. Museum curators, in particular, seem to universally bemoan crappy half-hearted editing when viewing bodies of work.

Flickr is not about photography. It's fundamentally a social and promotional venue. Yes, there's lots of photos up there but it's just not worth wading through the endless streams of memory card vomit to find it. And it's of zero critical value unless you consider "Aweseome!" an insightful observation.

The best guidance for sifting the wheat from the chaff is to have a theme or concept in mind. If you're just picking your own greatest hit you're doomed. I second Moose's suggestion that a book can be an excellent vehicle for enforcing edits. It forces hard choices, particularly if you begin with a conceptual concept. Even if you never actually get the book printed the editing precipitated by the project will be worth the trouble.

Lastly, get others involved in your editing process. Preferably people who have no emotional connection to you. Present them, for example, with 20 images and tell them to pick any 10. No two people will select the same 10 but they're likely to have at least 6 in common, leaving you with only 4 decisions.

People believe Slavery is not so bad, because they have no personal experience of it — it takes place in Africa and America, out of sight and out of mind to the English, who love sugar in their tea and care not how ’twas made.” “I notice you do not sweeten yours,” Dappa mentioned, raising his cup. “And from the fact that I still have teeth attached to my excellent bone structure, you may infer that I have never used sugar,” she returned. “Our only weapon against this willful ignorance is stories. The stories that you alone are writing down. I have in one of my boxes down stairs a little packet of letters from English men and women that all go something like this: ‘I have never had the least objection to Slavery, however your book recently fell under my eye, and, though most of the slave-narratives contained in it were mawkish and dull, one in particular struck a chord in my heart, and I have since read it over and over, and come to understand the despicable, nay execrable crime that Slavery is…’ ” “Which one? Which of the stories do these letters refer to?” Dappa asked, fascinated. “That is the problem, Dappa: each of them refers to a different one. It seems that if you put enough stories out before the public, many a reader will find one that speaks to him. But there is no telling which.”
Stephenson, Neal (2009-10-13). The System of the World (P.S.) (p. 157). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

"Agreed! How's this: I think the world would be better off with more editing, not less. Editing can be learned."

No, that's too much. Editing can be overdone, too. It's a Goldilocks craft.


"Stake out in front of a big poster or mannequin and wait until someone walks by in the opposite direction or otherwise mimics the thing in the background."

I am so tired of the "pedestrian interacting with a big photo-advertisement" genre.

So funny to see John Hutchins quoting Neal Stephenson in this thread. Of all the writers I admire, Stephenson is the one who would most benefit from more stringent editing of his work.

Editing is necessary of course if you are trying to produce a magazine article or exhibition of a person's work with limited space. But on the web, or in their own gallery, an artist should be able to put what they want out there. It doesn't matter if you like it. You don't have to view it. You didn't invest any time or money in finding it so why complain if you don't like it?

Moreover looking to Flickr for good photographs is like looking to Facebook for wit and wisdom. It's a giant fridge with lots of magnets. If you want to judge an artists work, look at their OWN website.

But at the end of the day the least important factor is what any of us don't like. I am far more interested in what people do like and why. I want an artist to know that he or she connected with me but if I don't like something I will just shut up and let them figure it out unless I am specifically asked for input.

I ask my friends to critique my work because I like to hear honest opinions from people I value, but I could care less what some stranger in the internet thinks. Even my friends pick totally different favourites, so I post what I like. But my publishing rate on my own website is about 1 in 500 or less.

Living as I do here in Tokyo, I'd like to mention Daido Moriyama in the sense that here is someone who benefits of a certain indulgence granted to revered "sensei" in this country. It is a kind of anti-editing where Daido literally prints everything that comes out of his little Ricoh camera after a walkabout - good, bad or indifferent (and a fair amount of it is mediocre), it all gets the dark, heavy contrast treatment and gets published. Very strange. Now I will admit that there are a few genuine gems among the pile, but not really that many...

@ Francis:
Daido Moriyama is perhaps my favorite Japanese photographer and one I follow most closely. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with him last fall in Tokyo.

It may not seem like Moriyama-san does much editing of his work ... but he most certainly does. His goal is not the search for prettiness or literalness -- as is the typical case with amateur photography -- but rather expression. It's actually most fascinating to see him devote such serious development and editing efforts on works that he so reflexively and instantaneously captured. Looking through his ongoing "Record" magazine series will, I think, give viewers a sense not only of the selective nature of Moriyama's editing process but also of the nature of his sequencing, an equally important characteristic of editing.

BTW, Moriyama-san no longer snaps with that Ricoh GR (or at least not usually). He's gone digital with the help of his nephew.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007