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Tuesday, 27 November 2012


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Street Photography is so subjective because we are also attached to the photos--we were there. But the images are of strangers, no viewer has that connection so it has to have a story or a "ah-ha" moment for the viewer.

Here's one I shot in Denver last week that I think has that extra something. Complete luck. Right place, right time.

http://kennethwajda.com/coloradofaces/gallery/content/L1071367-Edit_large.html From my Colorado Faces series.

Street is really probably better called "Life" photography, as that's what I'm shooting, the moments of life that pass in front of me. In 50 years, when most of these images have been lost, then these will mean more. That's one reason why Vivian's work is so captivating.

Having worked for 15 years as a photojournalist for a daily newspaper, we used to call these "roamers" because we'd roam around looking for them. And we'd use them to fill in space or give a quick weather report.

Burn My Eye has been on my links list for some time. The mix of photographers and content is more than interesting. The site does not change much so I check in every 2-3 weeks.

Street portraits have become part of my regular shooting. They are not quite the same as straight ahead street photography but something similar. Now if I could just do good street portraits...

I don't do much street photography myself (too shy to point at strangers) but when I lead my class of middle school photography students around town that's more or less what they are attempting. It's always interesting to see the results, and usually (not always) if a student comes back with a couple hundred shots they took in 40 minutes there are a few stand-out ones to talk about. Of course I've had students admit (and complain) that their best shots were taken by just pressing the shutter while blindly swinging the camera.

I'm willing to bet that if someone walks the streets with a digital camera on a high enough shutter speed and doesn't really pay much attention to the subjects, randomly pointing the camera around people, perhaps taking 800 photos, then returning home to edit with great care, you will have some quite good street photographs (and this is not an insult to street photographers--it still takes work to edit).

I thought it was the very proliferation of photography and the interweb that meant that 'street' photography had died...I thought we'd all agreed we were just doing it for fun...I too think it's difficult to find the good stuff but maybe 'good stuff' is just a load of conventions that one group of photographers adhere too...maybe the digital revolution means that like with music (I know, some people will consider this a sacrilegious statement) photographic 'Art' is dead...

The main problem with street photography as a genre is the name.

People outside the photo/art world think it has something to do with taking pictures of streets and people familiar with the term visibly cringe when they hear it.

Depending on whom I am talking to I say:
"Evanescent Photo Ethnography within the Built Environment"
"Pictures of the back of peoples heads"
"Pictures of people on cellphones"
"Pictures of people photographing each other"
"Pictures of people connected by diagonal lines in the background"
"Pictures of people waiting"

Anything but "street photography" , although I do do a lot of pictures of pavement...

As a lifelong street photographer myself, I appreciate Andrew taking the time and making the effort to provide links to "the good stuff." This, however, begs the question of what makes it "the good stuff." How does one differentiate great street photos from the rest? Andrew toys with the question and makes clear that most "street shooters" don't have the answer, but doesn't really answer the question himself. He may even be intentionally avoiding an answer, not that I'd blame him. Kenneth Wajda's description is a more forthcoming yet still not definitive. Anyone care to take a shot at it?

I go outside and take photos of things. Because, until recently, I lived in large cities, the outcome often fell into the category of 'street,' with or without human subjects. However, I like the broader interpretation, even as semantically ambiguous as street is, that Kenneth mentioned, that being "life."

Thank you for a good essay on the state of affairs for "street photography", Andrew. It's interesting to see such collectives forming, similar to other birds-of-a-feather photo groups (i.e. landscapers, birders, wildlife, concert...). Anything that encourages people to use their cameras, their eyes, and their creative juices is terrific in my book.

I'd also like to take this chance to remark that your "Burn My Eye" group features some terrific one-liners. I've visited it several times in recent months (something I cannot say for Flickr). It speaks well to the good sense to keep a tight group of similarly skilled, but geographically and conceptually disparate, photographers in common curation.

Editing and curating are always required. No reason to ever expect otherwise.

Web screening is in its infancy, hard to sift through all the noise. I guess screening used to be done by magazines, now it's done by sites like this one.

Unfortunately, it's nearly all crap!
The problem is probably not the photography, but the editing (actually, the lack thereof).

Gordon- Jonathan Auch provides several keen insights into street photography, along with some exemplary images, here:


I'm surprised that street photography as a genre is still going strong, despite the legal quagmire of model and property releases, and the boogeymen of terrorism and pedophilia which street photographers too often get undeservedly associated with.

I do very little street photography as it's too voyeuristic to my tastes; I wouldn't like my picture taken by a stranger. Asking prior permission destroys the whole idea of street photography, so I mostly stick to models with my people photography.

[While I take your points, the idea that you need "model and property releases" for non-commercial street photography is a myth. You don't. —Mike]

I found this interesting analysis of the compositional techniques of Henri Cartier Bresson here: http://www.adammarelliphoto.com/2011/09/henri-cartier-bresson/

My sense is that a lot of modern street photography lacks strong composition.

Further, my online readings lead me to believe that some street photographers have adopted an "intrusive" style of shooting, rather than trying to capture candid shots of people being themselves without being noticed as photographers.

Call me obsolete, but I cannot digest easily colour street photography, which disregards colour, it becomes utter banality.
This is why I refuse to post any of my street photos in the groups mentioned above.

I can stand Costa Manos, Jeff Melmerstein or even Joel Meyerowitz, but I cannot stand Average Joe in colour, it is simply revolting.

Mixing B&W and colour in one showcase just does not make sense to me.

I love Kenneth's "Life Photography" moniker. I use the term "Street Photography" to characterize my work when people ask, but I don't shoot much traditional Street. I go for little slices of life, or shots that help me tell a little story. I don't consider what I shoot profound or genre changing, but just tiny glimpses of the world held in time.

I like what I do, so I try not worry about the labels and just do it.

Rant warning.

There is street photography and there is street photography. When I see stuff on the websites identified above I have a similar feeling to when I see mediocre tribute bands. I'm honestly affronted by it (I can be and you can feel however you choose to feel but I'm familiar with the topic).

There has been a vernacular movement in photography for several generations. The photographers working in the 50s and 60s where breaking new ground much as the French painters in the 1800s who left the studio to paint in the wild.

There is a huge William Klein-Daido Moriyama exhibit at Tate Modern right now, an interesting HCB exhibit at Sommerset house featuring work by Leiter, Herzog and others from the 60s and a show at the Barbican featuring many big names from the 60s and 70s and I almost never see modern street which comes close to even the more mediocre work in any of these exhibits.

I had the fortune to run into Joel Meyerowitz in London several years ago and in a general sort of discussion this topic came up. Meyerowitz made a comment about street photography too often having the sophistication of one line jokes, the easy to get punchline. Then he talked about other more sophisticated types of literature.

The creative energy to explore elements of the urban landscape that spurred the early streetmasters has moved on. The immediacy between photographer and subject that characterised that earlier work lives on. As examples I'll cite just a few of my own faves; Klavdij Sluban, Jacob Aue Sobol, John Maclean, Ed Panar, Anders Petersen, Rinko Kawauchi, Rei Sato and JH Engstrom to name a few. The work from these artists strikes me as from the same tradition but so much deeper in the questions that are asked.

Compare and judge for yourself.

End rant. :)

"this photograph by Juan Buhler seems to be a "street photograph," somehow, even though it's a picture of the ocean"

...ahhh, but it's not a picture of the ocean. It's a picture of a woman in a fleeting, unexpected and possibly humorous position. THAT is why it is "street" photography.

Mike says " Another problem in my view with the term "street" is that an overly rigid interpretation of it might limit what people think of as its possibilities. For instance, Erwitt made what I think of as "street" photographs in museums."

Agree. (I'm a fan of Mr. Erwitt's work also)

Personally I classify all such work as candids. Setting could be a party, a street, a fair, etc. The location is less important than that special moment, expression or person that made the shot worthwhile.

Hmm. What defines "the good stuff?" Getting a group of like minded thinkers to form a clique, declaring your standard for good, better, and best, and then forcing that down everyone's throats, while dismissing those who "just don't get it?" Photographer as curator is always a slippery slope, because there are always the possibilities of jealousies, cliques, and sentimentalism when judging someone else's work vs. your own. I like a handful of Andrew's images, and some of the guys that are referenced here, such as DirtyHarry, Don Hudson, and Nick Turpin, are easy arguments as being a cut above. But overall, this "good stuff" argument is propaganda and veiled self-promotion. Pass.

I shoot this ... style ... of photography because it's the only one that feels ... real ... to me. I'm really not interested in taking a picture of a flower, or finding the exact shutter speed/fstop combination to perfectly capture the full range of the subtle tonal gradations of this afternoon sun splattered on a spackled wall. But I am interested in the man over there having a cigarette, staring at something in the distance.

My main complaint about so-called street photography is that most of it seems so incomplete. I see a lot of photos that show good-to-great technical skill but lack any element that provokes any emotional response or feeling. The photographers taking these photographs know the "words" but seem not to speak the language. If it doesn't make you feel something, then its just trophy hunting.

Street photography or delusions of Bresson as I tend to refer to it is something I do. Unlike many I don't find it a rich seam; if I make 12 to 20 good shots a year that has been a very good year. Very few people can edit ruthlessly enough and that accounts for all the floatsam and jetsam that photo hosting sites are full of.

I agree with Bill Mitchell.

Anyone care to take a shot at it?

@Gordon Lewis - How about:

Street photography is wedding photography without a bride, a groom, a client...
(not necessarily taken with "Canon's cannons")?

I believe the big problem of Street Photography, which the digital age has only exacerbated, is that there's little to no consensus as to what constitutes a "good" photograph.

Consider Ctein's Apollo-Soyuz in Floodlights from a couple Print Offers back, for instance. Do you think someone would've looked at it and said "man, if I had taken that photo I would've deleted it without thinking twice"? or for Charles Cramer's Aspens in Fog? doubtful, yet that's a comment I've heard from many in regards to some notable Street Photographers, and not only from DPR pundits as one would be led to believe.

Thus, how are we to edit our own work if our trash is another man's treasure and viceversa? we can rely on our own judgement and strive to be true to our artistic vision without regards to what others might say, of course, but since it's all so subjective we end up in the same problem of being surrounded by (what's to us) subpar work and, in fact, there's no way to say it's not the current situation.

The problem of defining what constitutes Street Photography is relatively trivial: it doesn't matter, if it works it works, and whether it fits some label or other will have little effect on the photograph itself. But I think the problem of defining what constitutes good Street Photography is an important one and one we should try to settle before we 'curate' too much.

I also have my own personal, unsubstantiated theory as to why 'street photography' is so popular presently. It seems that the most highly esteemed street photographer in the community is not HCB or Frank, as one might expect, but Winogrand.

There are several videos on Youtube of Winogrand in action, from various documentaries through the years. We don't have video of HCB or Frank shooting. I think it was 2point8 that pointed out that Winogrand was perhaps the world's first 'digital' photographer - that is, high-volume, shoot 'em all and let the editor sort 'em out later. In addition, Winogrand's eye for an 'interesting picture' only required that a picture be a 'problem' - that is, a good picture need only contain some kind of inscrutable or enigmatic element that resisted interpretation to be interesting. A jauntily skewed hat, or a limb laid out at an awkward angle, or, as Winogrand pointed out, a person holding a hat in midair above someone's head - is she taking the hat off or putting the hat on?

Of course, if you squint hard enough at the pictures you've taken, all pictures become an interesting 'problem' and therefore a 'good' 'street photography' picture worth posting online. Perhaps that explains the flood.

"Street" seems to be the descriptive part that people do not like. After all, it could be an avenue, a boulevard, a country road, a path, or even an aircraft runway. The odds are you are not running, jogging, excersizing, or dodging bullets (unless it is a train coming at you). The one thing that you are doing is walking and observing.
What about Walking Photography, or Observational Walking Photography. People could claim they suffer from OWP. And eye doctors and shoe manufacturers are unable to find a cure. Which is usually the case as there is no financial benefit to them if they find a cure, But they might have high-mileage shoe models with all-weather traction.

Personally, I like: Roadkill Photography, or Crapshoot Photography. They seem more accurate to the hazards and the end result.

I'll go along with Jake's comments earlier, and also maybe add that this could be extended to whoever it is that defines fine-art photography. Curators and gallery owners etc. As for current street photography such as we see referenced her, for my taste too much of it is focused on the single image - a string of mostly one-liners that might catch the eye, but which don't persist because they have little to say apart from their own little joke. Get's a bit tiresome. I like a photographer who has something to say, and I don't believe you can really say something (beyond the often ambiguous aforesaid one-liner) unless you present a coherent body of work. Look at Frank or Evans - I doubt any one image would make it past many of today's curators...

For me, street photography = candid portraits of strangers. Given that a good portrait of someone you know is hard enough (studio or candid), no wonder there are so many bad images out there.

We set up a website to discuss aspects of street photography in August this year because of lots of these comments that have been made in the comments to this post. Street photography is just a name that has become accepted for a genre of photography it could be urban photography it could be anything but once a name sticks to a genre changing that naming convention would need lots of people to collectively decide that a new name had more relevance or they invent a new genre that there images more closely fit within. This is why we are still using street photography as a genre name for a particular type of photography. It is a name that has had academic and museum endorsement yet that was a while ago (1960's and 1970's) and for some this means that it might be in need of a fresh approach. This is were the flickr groups come in because they are photographers just doing it and at some point the work will get seen. As it is important to document our society and how it looks, at every opportunity. Because, if we do not visually produce records/documents/images of what we are doing and looking like we lose this information and it will become easier for us to be manipulated by the elites of our societies.
This is the power of street photography yet it is rarely mentioned, that we can see the world though the vision of everyone that practices this art and that vision is accumulative as the more practitioners of the art of street photography the more we build a library of images that show how life is being lived at any one point in time.

I too have a problem with the term "street photography". But I use it simply because it happens to be a widely used term which seems to match some of my pictures.

But I never go out to do "street photography" as I might, say, go to do "landscape photography". For me (to paraphrase Lennon) street photography is what happens when you're making other plans. I think in my head street photography is "found photography" - stuff I see which I didn't expect but says something to me.

It's also very personal - I don't share that much of it. I rather like the term "life photography" though I think for me "my life photography" would be better.


The problem with the HCSP pool is that it is a self perpetuating aesthetic. Take a look at the pool right now. An abundance of perspective jokes, cut off limbs and soulless multi subject pictures. Those with aspirations to get into the pool will no doubt look at the pool and shoot this way. I find it a real shame. I'd like to see far fewer shots in the pool, but shots of real quality. Perhaps that way, the types of shots I have described above might finally be put to rest and people might concentrate on taking photos with a bit more meaning or longevity.


street photography and contemporary art

Why 'street' photography? Because it is the good environment for us to face with our personal issues, fears, exploration of communication language with ourselves and with others. It is about a set of existential questions about our conscious understanding of what it means to be one, and what it means to be many.

It is also about breaching that horrendous threshold of our limited conscious experience.

Our conscious experience reaches only up to 0.3 of the second approximately. Everything that happens entirely and it was faster than 0.3 seconds, our conscious mind won't properly register and store as the cause-action-effect event. Say if your finger gets pinched and 0.2 seconds later the nerve on the way to brain is been broken or the signal cancelled, our mind won't register the pain despite real damage.

When holding a camera and pressing a shutter release, the film or sensor captures the moment we, most of the time, cannot consciously experience or see. In truest sense, we never see what we photograph — we see that later. Long exposures are a different, but similar problem, in which we face other inadequacy of our conscious mind: lack of factual storage capacity and inevitable immediate data corruption.

How well data is preserved depends on our training of the conscious experience. Photography as a branch of visual arts is helping us explore microseconds, that do testify we have existed in that very brief period of time — albeit without direct memory of it. However, in form of photograph that memory is been given back to us as a visual narrative, which helps our conscious mind encompass and face itself: through the lens of the camera as a — finally! — conscious witness to a scene, and by the gazes of others, being witnessed by others and therefore existentially confirmed.

I do all right.


No, I have no idea who the woman is.

Let's not forget that some of the masters, like Daido Moriyama and Josef Koudelka, are still at work and arguably still setting the bar. And Gueorgui Pinkhassov is taking the Leiter/Metzger approach to a new level.

As far as terminology, at least part of the difficulty is that 'street photographers' are a diverse and a particularly--perhaps understandably--prickly bunch, as much, or more, resistant to a defining term as they are desirous for one.

As far as I'm concerned, HCB gave us the perfect term: "a la suivette". Why not adopt it as we have "a la prima" for painting, "croquis" for drawing, or "guerrilla" for warfare? Obviously, it never took, I would guess because prickly non-french-speaking street photographers and aficionados considered it too "foreign" and pretentious-sounding. But it works for me.

@Eric Perlberg:

An articulate and provocative rant. I don't agree with all of your list, but I think I see what you're getting at and I think Gueorgui Pinkhassov may deserve a place on it, if he isn't already there.

Eric Kim has a great street photography blog.


Oops! That should have been "a la sauvette", not "suivette". Apologies. (Good thing everyone's moved on.)

As I'm visiting the USA at the moment (from the UK) i will give my 2 cence worth instead of my 2 pennyths worth - Street photography is simply raw life captured on the streets in an urban environment. To my eye the best photographs of this genre tend to have a humorous or ironic element to them illustrating what a wonderful and weirded species we are.

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