Is Street Photography trying too hard?

mickyates Documentary, Leica, Lightroom, London, Nikon, Photography, Street photography, United Kingdom 9 Comments

I attended the excellent ‘Street London Symposium‘ this past weekend, the second of its kind.

Most professionally run and a huge amount of fun. Best photo event I have attended for ages. (thank you Nick Turpin, Jason Reed and the team – and of course Martin Usborne’s overall Hoxton Mini Press sponsorship).

The weekend had a range of international speakers and panels, with fascinating debates (the role of women in street photography to name but one), and a showcase for new talent.

Please check out Adam Maizey, An original take on street.

Speakers included Melanie Einzig, Fadi BouKaram, Stephen McLaren, Graciela Magnoni, Andrew Kochanowski, Rammy Narula, Dimitris Makrygiannakis – and great panels with Dougie Wallace, Stephen Leslie, David Gibson, Kristin Van den Eede and more. All hugely inspirational, and entertaining. I learnt a great deal.

Totally absorbing and thought provoking. Whilst we all like to take pictures, having an intellectual framework for what you are doing (I believe) always helps. And having your ideas challenged is always needed 🙂

It was also good to meet many old friends, put physical faces to social media names, and to make so many new acquaintances.

We had time to shoot in London’s very vibrant Shoreditch area.

And some of us ventured to the Sunday-only Columbia Road Flower Market. Dougie, brilliant you somehow suggested that ladies might like that market! Need to think about the 21st century a bit more …

I have created a couple of galleries, one on Brick Lane, and another on the Columbia Road Flower Market.

There is also a small gallery on the event itself.

During the weekend, I also came to a bit of an ‘Ah Ha’ moment.

I shoot street, and have done now for over 40 years, before I even knew it was ‘street’. You can see some of that in my 1970’s work in China.

However, after this weekend I suspect that I am much more a ‘documentary’ photographer than a street guy. I want to capture what is there, as it is, to understand the story behind the scene if I can. Of course I like nice compositions, and, being a painter many moons ago, I like to think I have a sense of art.

I do shoot #canpubphoto (Nick’s ‘candid images shot in public spaces with no image construction’, which is a cool initiative).

However, when I look at what is today considered the most successful ‘street’, I see an artistic interpretation of events. I see more than a document, a fact. There is an artist’s take on the context, the light, the shadows, the story – often in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

And then there are fashions. For example, what’s with the Leica ‘grimy black and white alleyways’ genre?

I love the art that you can find on the street – and the stories. But somehow it seems more than just ‘candid’. The very best images seem created, just as a candid portrait is created.

Yet this candid image wouldn’t normally be considered ‘street’, even though it was shot on the street – and I only met Pavol by chance.

Of course, as soon as you raise the camera, every artist is making an interpretation.

So, is ‘street’ trying to distinguish itself via artistic interpretation, or is it ‘just’ recording? And if it is, doesn’t it need a definition which references the photographer and their artistic vision?

Here’s the current, crowd-sourced Wikipedia definition:

Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents 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.

The street photographer can be seen as an extension of the flâneur, an observer of the streets (who was often a writer or artist).

Comments welcome.