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Photography DiscussionWhat Is Street Photography?

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Charles Haacker
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Re: What Is Street Photography?

Post by Charles Haacker » Sat Oct 07, 2017 4:07 pm

St3v3M wrote:I thought we'd try something a little different here and see if we can get a good discussion going.

What Is Street Photography?
- Wikipedia says: Street photography
- and here are 3 Common Misconceptions About Street Photography
- but what do you think?

What's your definition, or at least your opinion?
Do you have any images that are Street but defy the common definitions?
And why does it matter that we define this thing?

This is an open discussion where the only rule is respect. Enjoy! S-

This has indeed become a fas-kinating open, respectful discussion, and pretty much seems to support the idea that much "street" is what you think it is. I find myself wondering why it needs a strict definition at all? We do like to categorize certain genres of photography (and art). Landscape seems pretty straightforward. Buildings, "urban landscape," architectural, well there we start to stray from a strict definition. Portraits? Even murkier. Many, many, many very fine portraits, character studies, have been made in what many call street. You can see examples right here They call it "street portraiture." But when one makes a highly controlled studio portrait... ? Well, we all think we know what that is, until we see something that defies pigeonholing. Consider "environmental portraiture." Commercial photography? Industrial photography? Public relations? Conventions? Weddings? (I did them all!)

I waffle because when I was working full time in my own studio I referred to it as a "general practice." I did just about everything except "street" because no one seems to engage photographers for hire to do "street" (whatever it is) with the possible exception of photojournalists, a genre of its own. Daphne and I used to joke that if it fit through the door we'd shoot it; if it didn't we'd go to it. Sure, I was probably a Jack of all trades, therefore Master of only some, but I needed to at least try to make a living so I did not specialize. This is one reason I just wonder why we feel a need to define or characterize or come up with one single word that says "THIS," This is what That Is. Who actually cares? I said earlier that I think I know it when I see it, and that applies to Art in general. Either I likes it or I duzn't. If I duzn't I moves on. Is that so terrible? :| :oops:

EDIT: This very famous 1937 LIFE magazine picture, made on assignment by Margaret Bourke-White, was meant only to show the aftermath of a flood in the Ohio River Valley, with a line of black folk waiting for relief supplies incidentally in front of an enormous, and enormously ironic National Association of Manufacturers billboard depicting an obviously prosperous WHITE family in their cool new car. LIFE ran it basically without comment on the irony. My personal feeling about this photo is that, while taken on assignment by a celebrated photojournalist, it is quintessentially STREET. But that's me.
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Post by St3v3M » Sat Oct 07, 2017 4:39 pm

This is a tough one! S-
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Post by minniev » Sat Oct 07, 2017 5:47 pm

There is never a definitive answer, and I don't really need one for myself (except when choosing a category to post a picture), but I do like that we can discuss differences of opinion on pM without getting all cranky. I enjoy hearing from those who know far more than I do about it!

I continue to confess I do not know if....

Is it street if there are two girls on bikes on a highway nowhere near a town, obviously interacting and having a good time?

Is it street if it's indoors, taken from the street of a city through a window?

If it's some kind of street performance (albeit one with lots of unscripted parts)?
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Post by Duck » Sat Oct 07, 2017 10:40 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:[...] I just wonder why we feel a need to define or characterize or come up with one single word that says "THIS," This is what That Is. Who actually cares? I said earlier that I think I know it when I see it, and that applies to Art in general. Either I likes it or I duzn't. If I duzn't I moves on. Is that so terrible? :| :oops: [...]

Definitions are important in society in general, not just in defining art terms. It clarifies ideas and focuses discussions so the conversants are clear as to what is being discussed. For example;

Customer: "Hi, I want to buy one of those round things, with the sticks you set on fire."
Clerk: "Round thing?"
Customer: "Yeah, you know, it's got that fluffy stuff on top and it's sweet."
Clerk: "A cake?"
Customer: "Whatever, but it has to be brown on the inside. With brown on the outside."
Clerk: "You mean chocolate?"
Customer: "I guess. And can you put those squiggles on top in yellow?"
Clerk: "Squiggles? Oh, writing? Sure, what would you like it to say?"
Customer: "Um... never mind. I'll get one without the, what'd you call it, writing?"
:?

Obviously that's an absurdist example but you get the drift. Here's a personal one that happens more often than I'd care to think about that really gets under my skin at work;

Customer: "Do you sell gauges?"
Me: "Gauges means size."
Customer: "No, the big things that go in your ear."
Me: "Oh, you mean a plug. Or do you mean a tunnel?"
Customer: "What's the difference?"
Me: "A plug is solid, a tunnel you can see through it."
Customer: "Oh, a plug, I guess."
Me: "No problem. What gauge do you need?"
:?

Then there's this one that'll make any professional tattoo artist's bloodpressure rise;

Customer: "How many tattoo guns do you have?"
artist: "I don't have any tattoo guns. I have tattoo machines."
Customer: "What's the difference?"
artist: "Tattoo guns kill people, tattoo machines create art."
:?

Without categorizing we could end up with a conversation that goes something like this;

Customer: "I need a picture of my face."
Photog: "A portrait?"
Customer: "Yes, it's for work."
Photog: "A corporate headshot?"
Customer: "Uhm, maybe. It's for our corporate website."
Photog: "Oh, for your profile?"
Customer: "No, it's going on the front. And it needs to show some of our machinery."
Photog: "You mean an environmental portrait?"
:?

Because we understand photographic language (hopefully :D ) we know there is a big difference between a portrait, a corporate headshot and an environmental portrait. Those distinctions need to be crystal clear in order to provide the customer with the exact product they need. Imagine if the customer told you, "just take my picture in a variety of ways. I'll tell you which one it is when I see it." :rofl:

Obviously the qualifier here is the importance of the two scenarios. For you to simply enjoy a piece of art, the language used to categorize or define that art isn't important. To the artist who gets commissioned to create art for a client, those categories and definitions are critical to produce the correct results.
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Post by Duck » Sat Oct 07, 2017 11:04 pm

minniev wrote:[...] I continue to confess I do not know if....

Is it street if [...]

For me, and how I see the term, just because an image contains a physical road it is not requisite to being called street photography (in general). The other factor is, if an image is better defined by another classification of photography that better defines or clarifies the image that classification supersedes all other labels. In the case of your first image, I don't see street photography but rather a pastoral one. The setting and the mood combined gives a clearer definition, to me, as being a quiet, country outing... hence, pastoral.

The second and third images can better be described as street. Specially the last one as it has a clearly urban setting and an activity (busking) that is very ubiquitous to big city settings.
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Post by Graham Smith » Sun Oct 08, 2017 4:06 pm

I don't think that street photography can ever be strictly defined, nor should it be.

My preference is that it should show a built environment (city, town or village) and to show people either interacting with the environment or each other. The effect of the hand of man on this street environment such as graffiti, rubbish and so forth is, for me, legitimate street.

Tight headshots of people on the street don't really fall into my definition of the "street" genre, they are perhaps a sub-genre of street.

I am ambivalent about buskers, I do photograph them, but as it is a "staged show" it could easily fall outside of street.

Candid isn't a requirement of street photography as some would have it. I think that candid shots should never be taken in a sneaky manner, either by being hidden from the subject or taken from a distance with a long telephoto lens, this, to me, is akin to stalking. I am prepared to put myself in a position where the subject could punch me on the nose if so disposed. The best street photographs containing people are made by being among the people.

There are those that claim that a street image should have no definable main subject e.g., a person and that the street in it's self is the subject. I don't subscribe to this theory, subject or sans subject is fine by me.

If you produce a picture and call it "street" be prepared for others to say that it isn't street. It's the nature of the beast that is "street".

I never worry about it overly much. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

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Post by uuglypher » Sun Oct 08, 2017 6:18 pm

I propose this definition:

““Street photography encompasses all unanticipated, situationally un-planned, generally (but not always) candid photographic images /grab-shots of people or human-influenced situations in places of public access.”

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Post by St3v3M » Mon Oct 09, 2017 2:56 am

Graham Smith wrote:...
If you produce a picture and call it "street" be prepared for others to say that it isn't street. It's the nature of the beast that is "street".
...

I like this! S-
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Post by Duck » Mon Oct 09, 2017 3:32 am

The term candid, as I mentioned earlier, gets used in a number of ways that convolute the definition when it comes to discussing street photography. Candid can mean something that is straight and to the point without beating around the bush or something that unscripted or unplanned. It is also used to mean a clandestine action in photography and, as Graham mentions, is almost tantamount to stalking. Clandestine photography does have a time and place but as street photography has many levels of acceptance, so does the sneaky aspect of getting those images.

One can look at the act as being the coward's way out of getting a photograph. Paparazzi have given this type of image collecting a really bad name. I have led several photowalks and have met many photographers who are very 'shy' about approaching a total stranger to grab a photo. It's understandable since it can appear to be a little invasive and rude and who wants to be that person? Like Graham also said, you must be willing to face the consequences when openly 'taking' someone's picture because you never know how they are going to react. More likely you'll get a scowl or an epitaph thrown in your direction. It takes a certain level of courage to open yourself up to confrontations.

I am not a big fan of the clandestine approach to street photography for several reasons; first and foremost, it creates a distance between you and the action or subject you are trying to capture. That distance translates into the image, reducing the potential impact of the results. It also has the potential to disconnect the photographer from the life unfolding around them. This is something that I try to instill in my students, to get into and read the rhythm of the action unfolding around them. To be in the moment rather than passing through it. Lastly is a personal reason and more of an opinion than anything else. There's a certain feeling of cheapness or dishonesty by not being out in the open. That whole fair game feeling. It's the same reason I don't make it a habit to photograph the less fortunate denizens of the street.

Graham also mentioned his ambivalence to buskers and a part of me agrees and part of me doesn't. Buskers, like the homeless, are easy targets and in a teaching environment I try to dissuade my students from going after the low lying fruit. I also recognize that they are entertainers and many of them offer up some rich and interesting imagery. How can we resist rich and interesting? Which reminds me of a philosophy I like to share.

Jim Richardson is quoted as saying, "if you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff," yet there has also been a push to break out of the obvious. Specially in landscape and cityscape photography when the subject matter is a well known landmark. The push is to get away from the same old images of the same old landmarks taken from the same old vantage points. Obviously there is a truth to that if one is a commercial photographer looking to create something different. For myself, I have no problems taking the typical tourist shots because they are my tourist shots of my experience, even if that photo is the same as the 100,000 others have taken.
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Post by Matt Quinn » Mon Oct 09, 2017 6:01 pm

Boy, Steve, you unleashed a flood. I like a combination of all definitions expressed here. That's a dodge, I know, but I want to avoid the Humpty Dumpty moment:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.” ("Through the Looking Glass," Lewis Carroll)

So, here are a few photos I took while on or near a street:

Breakfast at McDonald's, NYC
Street photography discussion (1 of 11).jpg


Peace wall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, IRA side.
Street photography discussion (2 of 11).jpg


Two Eisenhower Fellows signing the Peace Wall, the nearer, a Palestinian, the other, and Israeli. Here"s hoping!
Street photography discussion (4 of 11).jpg


Protest in Times Square against First Gulf War; two on the left, against, the fellow on the right, for.
Street photography discussion (10 of 11).jpg


Meanwhile, uptown, the good life goes on...
Street photography discussion (9 of 11).jpg


..and on. The windows at Sax.
Street photography discussion (8 of 11).jpg


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