What Street Photography Shouldn’t Be.

My photography ploughs two furrows; firstly there are the photographs that I take to earn a crust; these are primarily of the product shot or studio variety, and secondly there are the pictures I take for pleasure; which are everything else.

Some of these are what might be termed ‘street photographs’ in the sense that they are taken of, or in, the street. The term; ‘street photography’; is not one I like, but given that the purpose of language is to communicate, and using the term evokes the correct notion of the style, then it is one which I grudgingly accept and use.

Recently one such photograph received a significant amount of criticism, this one:

The criticism centres around the fact that the lady in the picture is my wife; a fact of which I make no secret. The implication is that, in order to be a genuine street photograph, the protagonists must be strangers to the photographer. This demands a lot of the viewer; to know the relationship to the photographer of each of the subjects within a photograph before deciding it’s quality. I may be lazy, but for me that level of research for each photograph I endeavour to appreciate is just too much work. Also one must decide how many levels of separation are acceptable; apparently spouses are out, but what about Uncles? Cousins?

Do I know this woman, and does it matter?

No, and no.

This to me is symptomatic of what much street photography has become; a test of bravery. The notion of capturing a decisive moment, an interesting interplay of characters or design in everyday life, is lost; it is sufficient to demonstrate bravery by sticking a camera in the face of a stranger, to be a good street photograph.

For me a good single photograph, (excepting those which illustrate articles or features) should stand alone with no explanation needed. I don’t need to know the relationships of those involved, or the lengths to which the photographer went to capture the image. These should be irrelevant, and place too much emphasis on the viewer; as photographers we should make the viewers life easy, a photograph should be interesting and endearing with no explanation required.

Trying to deconstruct an image beyond this is perhaps missing the point, and is perhaps the realm of those who obsess over such aspects as sharpness or bokeh, which whilst relevant to the picture, are not the picture.

To quote Garry Winogrand, “I take pictures to see what something will look like as a picture.” Nothing more, nothing less.

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  1. interesting reflections. thanks for sharing 🙂

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