Street photography has never been so popular. Everyone has a camera with them these days, even if it is only a smart phone. Going to work or simply out for a stroll there are great photo’ opportunities of sights, especially in the major cities; fellow commuters going to work; a sunrise; a sunset; an incident, architecture or even yes a homeless person or a busker!
But recently on my show (and this one in particular Photography ‘Live and Uncut’ with Scott Kelby), I have discussed the art of street photography, and comments have been raised, such as… Is there a need? Will it survive? What’s it for? Does it tell a story(?) oh! and ‘God’ for bid… It’s a sneaky practice really – come on Paul! In addition, I have noticed on the many social sites, especially Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, the consistent posts of what can only be described as ‘boring’ street photos (of which I have to be honest, I’m guilty of posting as well) – You know the type? The passer by; The old lady with shopping bags; The pretty girl etc. etc. These photographs and discussions have made me think.
My argument against it being a sneaky practice and its necessity, is that ‘street’ or should we say ‘documentary/social’ photography is not only a worthwhile practice but an essential one, as it documents life as it is today. You’re seeing fashion, style and behaviour of today… Imagine in the future when people are looking back on our society say 30 -40 years from now and there are no photographs to be seen! There maybe the videos yes, but looking at a photograph to me is that little bit more special. (I can’t put it any other way). To think, from where we are now in 2017, not being able to see life in the early 1900’s through the war years or 1914-18 and 1939-45 not to mention later wars and atrocities as well as the study of social activities and fashion, would be a huge lost gap in our lives and history, if those photographs were not available. So to put it that way the street/documentary image making is an essential genre.
But, what is happening today in this digital and social networking age we live in, is the insatiable appetite to record(photographically) anything and everything we see and post it out there, simply to get a like or a plus of the foodie, the pet, or some behaviour photo, which to me has no meaning an no Art creativity. What is more, we are seeing images posted by ‘the’ street professional photographers of today, which many are not looking to expand and improve their own work but rather to throw out to the networks the same old style of image making; I suppose it could be said of their reasons not to change, is that these images have got them noticed in the first place and they use social media to demonstrate their ‘skill’ to enhance their career for presentations, workshops and/or tutorials!
So how can we go about making street photographs in a different and more meaningful way? How can we create Art? Firstly look for photographers that are consistently looking to improve their work each time they venture out! Then sit down and look at your images and consider long and hard about the images ‘you’ are producing! How many of you (photographers) actually take the time to look at your work critically? How many of you look to yourself to improve on your previous work? How many of you set an assignment or project? I bet nearly 99% of you reading this ‘blog’ probably don’t attempt any of the above! Photography is like riding a bike once you have done it, you know how to do it in the future. But you should be looking to compare the art of photography with say golf or playing a guitar; to get better you have to practice (nearly every day) and if you want to compete you have to be aware of your faults and look to correct them. Basically it means picking out the bad parts throwing them away and starting again! There are many sportsman that have done just that… Dedication got them to the top of their chosen profession. Why should it be any different for you and your photography. Because as photographers if we don’t look to improve on our previous work we will post the same old boring ‘stuff’ to the social sites. Which is why I think many onlookers of street photographs get bored with it and start to look on the negative side of our genre. Onlookers will start to say and ask those questions I mentioned earlier, its sneaky, and what’s the purpose of it, does it tell a “story”? By the way, I don’t think a photograph has to tell a story all the time, but at the least, be great and enjoyable to look at. There are many photographs of street scenes that I would love to hang on my walls at home, I might add more by others than by me!
Maybe we should start to look at taking photo’s in a different way. Should we look to be more open and not be timid or embarrassed about what we are photographing; show people what we have or are taking. Photographing by candid means of buildings and then appear to ‘chimp’ the image when actual fact taking the ‘real’ photograph of someone or something right in front of us or another way pretending to text on the mobile phone as we take images with a camera IS the ‘sneaky’ side of street photography, which I feel is letting the genre down.
How about checking first if its OK to take a shot rather than after. Make conversation, ask the person to carry on naturally, talk about what they are doing as well as what you are doing, tell them what assignment and project you are working on. All these things I’m sure would improve your photographs and make you feel a little more easier with your self making street photogarphs.
We can’t be a Bruce Gilden, a Saul Leiter, an Henri Cartier-Bresson or even a Martin Parr. Study their work of course and use it as a reference but, if you attempt to be like them and ‘copy’ their style, then believe me you will fail! Dramatically…
Only be satisfied with your work for that last given event or time. Never be satisfied with your work! Continue to strive to improve on your last shoot. Otherwise your images will be become stagnant, boring, and you will lose followers of your social sites and eventually you will lose interest in the wonderful Art of Street Photography.