29 September 2013

What is Street Photography?

“Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth” - Pablo Picasso



Photograph by Elliot Erwitt


The masters did not call themselves 'Street' Photographers. Many chose to infact avoid the use of any specific genre - and called themselves simply 'Photographers'

Every now and then, I see well established photographers posting snapshots from streets or people portraits and calling it street photography. So I thought I will try and put together a post with definitions and what I believe best defines street photography.

(Wikipedia) : Street photography is an art photography that features the human condition within public places and does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment.
Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment.
Framing and Timing are common threads across all genres but are fundamental to street genre.

There is a wonderful essay on Street photography written by Evangelo Costadimas. Some key sections that I feel strongly about are below

Street Photography is not portraiture, it is not still life and neither does it concern itself with urban landscape.  Street Photography is instinctual, un-premeditated,  reactive and spontaneous, it  is unposed and untagged and most importantly it is candid.
The bottom line is if the subject have posed or are aware of being photographed, it no longer remains candid in purist sense. But that is not what made me have the 'aha' moment.. Evaneglo nails the distinction but providing a very apt definition of surrealism. He says..
The un-escapable hallmarks of Street Photography are that it is enigmatic and quirky and more often than not surreal. That it creates relationships within the frame that may well not exist in reality.It achieves this through intentional juxtapositions, a combination of selective framing and exact timing.
and he goes on...
Street Photography does not concern itself with the Truth. Rather, if it is a good Street Photograph,  it is a lie that might make us realize something about life, or some truth.  
As per Picasso’s quote, Street Photography involves creating a fictional narrative that allows the photographer to express him or herself. Street Photography has therefore, more in common with Art than it does with journalism. It is not documentary or humanist photography, however, these are the two genres that many amateur photographers most often confuse Street Photography with.
 It is not difficult to understand why it is easy to get caught in the semantics, definitions and forget that making memorable photographs is what photographers love.. and Eric Kim has beautifully summarized this in his words here.
I think in street photography there are now lots of sub-gernres as well. I feel that we have candid street photography (what I might classify as “classic street photography”- think Henri Cartier-Bresson), street portraits (focused mostly on portraits of people on the street, instead of the environment– either with or without permission like Diane Arbus or Bruce Gilden), urban landscapes with or without people in them (think Stephen Shore, Lee Friedlander, Joel Sternfeld, etc), still life street photography (think Martin Parr or William Eggleston), or socio-documentary street photography (think Bruce Davidson).
You can read Eric's full post here on his website.

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