Is the term “Street Photography” a ridiculous one?

Updated on February 19, 2021 in Photography
10 on June 24, 2017

Hi there, I’m new to this board but not new to Eric’s work nor to street photography. It’s been a passion of mine since 2008 when my photography was impacted by Vivian Maier’s discovery. I joined the Kickstarter campaign that John Maloof put together, I founded Atlanta Street Photography Group and it’s been a lovely trajectory ever since! 

Lately I have noticed how hard it is to for the genre to keep its integrity. What I mean by that I am seeing two schools: 1) Photographers who shoot and call their work “street” but it’s really not and 2) Photographers who for whatever reason, have a disdain towards the purists’ view and so they say things like, “street photography is a stupid name”. 

The other day, I wrote a piece about it on my blog. I normally don’t try to publicize or get traction for my photography blog, but I thought it might be time to at least make the connection here and ask you for your thoughts. Here’s the link if you’re interested in reading: Is Street Photography A Ridiculous Term? 

Nice to meet everyone!

Juliette

 
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0 on June 24, 2017

Very nice site Juliette, thanks for the share. I came across VM’s work only recently from a newspaper article here in the UK and found her story fascinating. I’ve just ordered ‘Vivian Maier’ by Vivian Maier et al so looking forward to that arriving (Amazon one-click and Prime are a dangerous combination!).

While I’m not too hung up on naming conventions I too feel it important for a genre with a fairly strict set of principles to be preserved. How far that preservation extends to a retardation of evolution is a matter of personal taste or expression, and where human subjectivity rears its head, a bun fight normally ensues. And there will always be cliques too, ugh!

I can safely say while having an enormous interest in Street Photography I haven’t yet actually shot any. 

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0 on June 24, 2017

Hey Juliette.
Thanks for sharing your concern about this genre. I agree that, for some people, the name ‘street’ is misleading, thinking that a photograph shot on the street, is therefore street photography. However, the people taking this approach more ofte than not, give up very early in the process, or dosent get into the real essens of the genre. If these photographs become popular, I guess they are made popular by other misled people.
So, to me, on the surface it looks like the genre is being killed by the misled masses, but looking more closely I actually think the genre is thriving and forces the “real” street photographers to create even more interessting work.
I hope I made my point clear, as english is not my mother tounge.

Tina

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0 on June 24, 2017

Thought provoking essay on your website (and great photos). Is a candid photo taken on a unpaved rural roadside considered street photography? Must the street be urban and paved? 🙂

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0 on June 25, 2017

For me, “Street Photography” is the documentation of everyday life with humans, its life on the streets and showing their behaviours in public spaces.

Naturally, that’s my interpretations looking at “the classics”.

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1 on June 25, 2017

I read your blog and i liked it. I will keep on reading it.

My very personal opinion;

I don’t give much importance to terms or tags, because i’ve seen terms come and go with the passage of time, everything changes and what was relevant 50 years ago is not anymore and the term street photography in 50 years will probably not exist. Actually, the term did not exist as we know it today 20 years ago, yes there were photos of people in the streets but the term did not exist, the term is recent and you can apply it to whoever photographed people in the streets back 80 years ago, but the concept did not exist. So to me street photography does not really exist, and that is because it’s only a term, and a term can not define a photographer creativity, it’s like an obstacle, i would rather call it just “photography”
The photo below do you think it may be considered a street photograph? It may have been taken in the street or maybe not, but if i were influenced by terminologies i would probably feel uncomfortable taking this picture without the street showing, or maybe i would have just not taken the photo because i am a “Street Photographer”.
On what people say about the term “Street Photography” or anything else is not important unless you make it important to you, people will say many things positive and negative and if you listen to them you will go crazy, who cares about the integrity of the genre it’s made by humans what do you think is going to happen, no matter how much somebody takes care of it’s integrity, it’s going to be taken apart and it will be turned into something else.
But the genre of photography is still standing good and strong, and to define it is this;

“Tha act of taking pictures with any type of device by a person” this may change in the future because i am sure that in the future there will be automated flying drones taking pictures and videos and also automated cars taking pictures.


 

on June 27, 2017

I just read on your blog “New Year’s Eve & This Story I Need To Finally Begin To Tell”

Very good story, i liked it. 

Maybe your true calling is in photo documentaries or photojournalism, where you do exactly what you did in your blog.
I went from landscape photography to seascape photography to street photography to photo documentaries which i am trying to find the time to do.
Keep writing and telling stories. 

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0 on June 27, 2017

I’ve always been partial to the term “underwater street photography”. So I set out and created a homemade “aquarium filter” and shoot the streets through that. Yes it has a live fish in it.

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0 on July 7, 2017

I agree with Gary Winogrand. Street photography is a silly term. It describes a “where” when it should describe a “why.” I used to have an office job in NYC 30+ years ago. I would go out on the street to shoot at lunch time, after work and on weekends….at Battery Park. Back then I (Like HCB) called myself a street shooter but the “where” was entirely incidental. The term sidewalk photographer would have been much more accurate 😉

 

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0 on July 8, 2017

IMO I feel as though the people referring to themselves as being street photographers and they’re not seem to be the guy that does humans of New York and all of the people that were inspired to do the exact same thing in their own town. My parents bought me that book and I hated for my own reasons which aren’t important to this post. But the reason I’m pointing this out is because of the mis communication between us, I said I was a street photographer so they bought me the best selling street photography book. I love street photography and a rose by any other name is still a rose, but it’s a term that only makes sense to the people that have studied photography/art history. To the people that don’t know about HCB, Kertesz, Maier, and so many others the term could not be less helpful. Now when I talk to my friends or my family I just say I take photos of everyday life, and show them the photos to give them a better idea.

Ultimately I feel as though definitions and classifications aren’t very meaningful. More academic and almost like you’re pigeon-holing a person/movement into an easy to understand definition. When you look at any artist very few of them have ever stayed “pure” (whatever that means definitions stretch and change over time) to one genre, Cartier-Bresson did portraits, Mayerowitz work sometimes has more of a documentary feel to it, Jay Maisel did commercial work with a street flavor to it, Eric Kim’s work also has a street/portraiture feel to it. I hear lots of people say that the term photography is being warped out of its classical interpretation with Photoshop changing the idea of what a photograph is, although when you look at the work of someone like Jerry Uelsmann this isn’t really new. The photographer Duane Michaels often wrote onto his photographs and sequenced them and turned them into a story that couldn’t be told using just a single photograph, The story goes that two famous photographers (I think it was Gary Winogrand and Joel Mayerowitz but don’t quote me on that) walked out of his gallery saying that it “wasn’t photography”

 

I agree with TheRazorBlade, Juor, and J1m, I think the term street photography fits when talking to people that understand you, but when trying to describe the work to people that haven’t heard the term before it leaves something to be desired. I’d be interested in hearing what other people say when they describe street photography to people that have no experience with the genre.

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0 on February 19, 2021

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