Week 1 of Eric Kim’s Introduction to Street Photography free online Workshop
Eric Kim’s discussion of what is or is not street photography is interesting in the abstract but I can’t help asking myself “so what?” Do we need a definition of street photography? Why? After all, he lists renown street photographers all of whom did not classify themselves as street photographers and some disliked / despised / hated the term: Garry Winogrand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Diane Arbus, William Klein, Bruce Davidson. Indeed Kim goes on to suggest that such categorisation is unimportant and urges us to “… focus on making memorable photographs.” Although he also posit a number of sub-genres describing different sorts of street photography drawing a simile with rock music and its many sub-genres. Kim suggests that the essence of the photography style variously described by the term “street photography” and its sub-genres is about photographing humanity and society. He concludes with “Let’s aim to make beautiful art and document the human condition together.” However, for me by far the most important take away from his article is a way to look at images.
Nick Turpin’s definition is interesting: “Street Photography – Preoccupation with the ‘moment’ and the ‘found’, generally collections of single unconnected images, largely small format for publication and web presentation, completely documentary tradition.” Which he distinguishes from Fine Art Photography and Photojournalism.
Nick Turpin reports that he is often asked to define street photography, maybe I am being obtuse but why is there a need for such a definition? He goes onto make the case that street photography is THE root of all photography, where all photography starts. Particularly striking is his “…while there is Photography there will be Street Photography because it is the Prime Mover, evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.” There are a number of comments which disagree with Turpin – the most interesting I found was by Ant — “Street photography is not photography in its simplest form but put simply it requires all the complexities of the world and of the photographer. In simplifying the world you reduce it to …nothing.” The discussion continues with Turpin’s post on thebostongirl’s blog is definitive: “It’s super simple, if it’s shot in a public place and the photographer had no interaction with the scene, it’s a street photograph. If he spoke to people, set it up, photoshopped it etc. it is no longer a candid document it’s something else, a street portrait, a piece of fine art, whatever. You can say definitions don’t matter but meaning matters and these different ways of working produce images with different meanings.”
I am still unsure if this extreme position serves and useful purpose. I can accept that “street photography” has a role in recording life as it happens, but why there is a need to insist that it is only “street” if it follows Turpin’s strict definition above escapes me. However, that is probably due to my ignorance. Also if Turpin’s definition is to be believed why then is so much of street photography in black and white — certainly that is not the way most of us see the world. Isn’t making an image black and which a result of some artificial processing? Does that mean that any monochrome image is not by his definition street photography?
As always when reading on any subject on the internet it soon mushrooms following many interesting links and before you know it you have been reading for hours!
“Visual provoker” Alex Coghe gives an exposition on street photography (“more a method than a genre “) which raises the endeavour to dizzying heights. He claims that his passion for street photography has made him a successful professional photographer — “From a technical point of view it is possible to apply the techniques of street photography to every other photographic genre.”
My conclusion is that we all see the world around us but some observe. Capturing those observations is street photography.