Street Smarts

For decades, Street Photography has undeniably been producing fine images of life captured in the moment—often urban, often off-the-cuff lens-pointing. Indeed there are masters of the art: Maier, Tomatsu, Koudelka, Friedlander and a multitude more whose shots captivate the viewer. But what defines Street Photography?

I throw this question out because recently I’ve been reading rather harsh criticism of what some folk deem to be Street Photography ‘frauds’ and, after following their online comments, I wondered who gets to be the judge on such things?

In an age when so many of us feel separation-anxiety when not armed with a smartphone, there seems no bounds as to where and when and who can serve as a subject of a shutter-click. I, myself, have noticed when strangers take my photo on the street. In one recent encounter, a number of tourists stopped and asked me to remain posed next to a statue so they could take my photo (I put that down to my impact-statement couture cape!). That moment left me wondering where those photos ended up—on someone’s Instagram or blog? Surely my face is out there in the ether.

The rules are that a person can photograph another person without permission as long as it is in a public place. I hold my hand up to doing this, and often am left feeling a tinge of weirdness when I do take that photo of a stranger, as if it is invading the privacy of another, that it is voyeuristic and really should a human not be able to exit their house without advanced notice they may be snapped for the world to see?

The merits of Street Photography could be debated at length. It’s a subject I would like to post about in future musings; for now, however, I return to the initial premise of this blurb: what exactly is Street Photography?

Search online and the definitions are varied. But the critical whip that I virtually observed being snapped at a targeted few this week prompted me to consider the negative comments, which were that (and the author of this criticism was unfaltering and unapologetic) Street Photography has to include a person in the photo and it has to include their face, shot from the front. The critical commenters were adamant that facial profiles are weak excuses for good photography and that the greatest violation was photographing the back of heads. It seem that even if the photographer aimed their camera at the posterior of Prince William’s distinctively balding cranium, gliding down the mall at Buckingham Palace, the entire shot would be pants because the resulting print did not show Will’s nose. Is this true? Is only a full-frontal acceptable in Street Photography?

I also wonder: does the photo have to include a person? If the photographer strolls a street and a building depicts an interesting story, the windows reflect neglect or the architecture fascinates. Is that Street Photography or simply Urban Landscapes?

Who knew Street Photography would sizzle the camera community. There surely is an abundance of Street out there—I wonder if now, with the infiltration of iPhones and their ilk, that the Street Photography definition should be definitively categorized but remain under this general heading. After all, Street Photography is mostly candid, not posed. So must these photos be labeled Candid? Should Street Photography be tagged as such on Instagram if the photographer is shooting randomly in a pub? Or on a bus? Buses and pubs are situated on streets but I note that there is much debate about these locations being deemed Street Photography so must we tag these photos as #buspics and #pubportraits to avoid backlash from photography trolls?

My purpose here is not to debate but to question and widen the discussion. I like to consider the photography community as a wide-open space where all are welcome—amateurs and professionals. I marvel at the creativity and ingenuity of photographers out there. The pure genius of those who edit masterfully in PhotoShop or Lightroom, neither of which applications I employ but that’s my preference at the moment. Instagram and Twitter are abundant with brilliant black and white photos, there are portraits that provoke debate and landscapes that take your breath away. We are multi-talented, multi-coloured, multi-cultural celluloid hub.

I do enjoy shooting on streets. It’s not my main artistic focus but there is a beauty in the everyday around us—the impactful black building, the back of the heads, the silhouette in motion and the full-frontal. I consider them all Street Photography, telling us a story via visuals. Within this post are a few recent pics of London I captured from all four of these angles. They speak ‘street’ to me.

Have you ventured this far? Thanks for reading. DBI

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