Although anyone with a smart-phone can take candid pictures in public places, most of these photos are little more than snapshots and easily forgotten. True street photography requires a lot more than point-and-press picture-taking.
There may be no people in the shot; just evidence of their presence.
Street photography has been practised almost since photography was invented, although it only became recognised as an artistic genre between the 1920s, when the 35mm rangefinder camera was invented, and came of age in the 1960s. During this period, John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art in New York raised the snapshot to a higher aesthetic level, making it a prominent motif in American photography. Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange became household names, largely because their photographs appeared in popular magazines like Life.
Street photography survives as a genre, despite the proliferation of camera-phones. Although anyone with a smart-phone can take candid pictures in public places, most of these photographs are little more than snapshots and easily forgotten. True street photography requires a lot more than point-and-press picture-taking.
From the first, there has been on-going controversy about what constitutes street photography. Must it always record human subjects? Must the subjects be unaware of being photographed ““ or can they be posed? And, if aware of being photographed, to what extent can they participate in the act of creating the picture?
Some street photographers insist street photographs have to be candid and shot without permission from the subject. Others say the images must record a decisive or inspiring moment and yet others imply photographers should aim to document people and their behavior in public places (although this practice has its own genre: documentary photography).
The overlap between street and documentary photography can be difficult to define. In general, however, documentary photography conveys a deliberate message, whereas street photographers simply reflect the society of the time.
Wikipedia defines street photography as photography that features the chance encounters and random accidents within public places. Human subjects are not mentioned specifically.
The definition continues: Though people usually feature directly, street photography might be absent of people and can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.
Whichever definition you choose, your photographs must be taken in public places; not in private venues. You don’t need to travel to ‘faraway places with strange-sounding names’; often the best places for street photography are close to home.
Street photographers can choose to take candid shots of subjects who are unaware of being photographed.
Subjects may be well aware of the camera.
John Szarkowski Photographs
Street photography definition
This article is an excerpt from Street Photography pocket guide
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