As humans, we like to see things categorized. It gives a sense of order and a sense of place. Where do I belong? How do I measure up? What have I accomplished and how far do I need to go? It's human nature.
Before the fifties, there was no real definition or term for "street" photography (or was it the sixties the phrase was coined? I forget). As the 'fad' grew, people felt the need to give it a label. It's human nature.
Although there is a strong and clear foundation by which the term is measured, we have to also understand that it is an organic art form and things evolve and change. What was considered the rule 40, 50 years ago has morphed as more artists push the boundaries of the art form.
One single photograph can also fit into multiple categories, depending on things like subject matter, style, processing and established conventions.
The term "street" was coined simply because the majority of the images in that category came from densely populated urban areas; New York, to be more precise. But I feel "street" refers to anything pedestrians
, people, in the scope of subject matter (not 'pedestrian' as in 'commonplace'). But people out in the open, interacting with (to various levels) or moving through, a public landscape. So even if a photo is taken on a ferry, it is still very public and very pedestrian. Early street photographers were drawn to the hustle and bustle of city life and the characters inhabiting them. Think of it like a kid with an ant farm. The city became a microcosm of human activity. You didn't have to travel the world to see a wide diversity of people and cultures. They were all right there in the big city; LIttle Italy, Chinatown, the Bowery, Hell's Kitchen...
Those who did not live near New York were out of luck. Or were they? Chicago is a big city. So is Los Angeles, London, Moscow, Paris, Madrid, Berlin... They all have their own diversity. These are ripe for capturing those little microcosms. Major cities are still the biggest magnet for street photographers as it puts them closer to the traditional
or "purist" sense of the art form. So what about those living in the suburbs? Or those unfortunate enough to not live close to a large city center? If you distill the meaning of the term to its core, people, well, they can be found just about anywhere. There are people doing people stuff in all corners of the world. Even the most remotest of areas and this is what makes the art form so fluid and hard to lock down.
Finally there is also the presentation. Traditionally, street photography was black and white, gritty, with a straight out of camera feel
. Until William Eggleston, that is. The convention of distilling an urban image down to a monochrome still persists but I feel that's more as a nod to tradition than anything else. Personally I love the look of black and white as it removes a lot of distractions and helps concentrate on the subject or action. But that's me. Joel Meyerowitz does a lot of color work and he's quite amazing.
Here is one of my favorite photos I've taken. Times Square, New York.