What is street photography? a video and discussion

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by vincechu, Apr 25, 2011.

  1. vincechu

    vincechu SC Veteran

    316
    Sep 14, 2010
    Saw this from DigitalRev in another one of my breaks from my studies, and for once I think Kai has everything spot on.

    <iframe title="YouTube video player" width="640" height="390" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/J3Hm5LTi40k" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    Do you agree or disagree with what he says? Is this what street photography is to you?

    (Note I did think about putting this in the street photography forum but it says image threads there)
     
    • Like Like x 2
  2. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I think he pretty well nails it. I don't think he said a single thing I disagree with. Of course, he didn't get into what constitutes a GOOD street photograph, but that's in the eye of the beholder to a large extent anyway. But his last point that its shooting elements that are always changing and moving and are totally beyond your control and that's what makes it such a new experience every time out is spot on.

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. vincechu

    vincechu SC Veteran

    316
    Sep 14, 2010
    Thanks for the reply ray. I like that last bit too. It's why I stubs street photography much more engaging, and kind of exciting.

    Indeed what constitutes a gd street photo is subject to much debate. I personally like something which depicts emotion or tells a story which one can associate with - Though everyone may interpret a scene differently.

    What makes a good street photo to you ray?

    Others feel free to join in too :) I guess I'm very interested in everyone's thoughts as I'm just gettin into street photography myself
     
  4. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Real Name:
    Sue
    For once I have to agree with Kai (I frequently become annoyed by him). Those last few remarks are why I am becoming more and more interested in street, because I am getting really bored with everything else and I need to refresh.

    I do have reservations about using a dSLR out there though I know that many many people do. I want to be as inconspicuous as I can be until I get the hang of it all. Thats why I was considering getting the X100 (cannot afford an M9 in this lifetime or the next, unless I sell everything else I own)

    The video clarified a bit of stuff for me... like what it is about street photography thats so appealing to me...that being its everchanging nature. :) I'd never thought of it like that and I dont know why,.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    Well, I can see what he was getting at but I'm afraid that his presentation didn't do it for me, Vince. I don't dislike Kai but in this case I feel his cavalier presentation was not helpful and, in all honesty since I know he is not reading our site's threads - his photographic examples were not so hot.

    I am, however, very glad that you started this thread...because we do need to get into the why's and wherefore's and the realities of what street photography is all about. We have several threads that talk about it in a round about way...but it may be time to get down to the nitty gritty.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  6. Briar

    Briar SC All-Pro

    Oct 27, 2010
    Scotland
    Real Name:
    Karen
    I can't agree more BB. This is my third try at replying to this thread ... I keep timing out because its taking me so long to put my thoughts together. I said it much better in my first two tries and now its way past my bed time so your just getting my thoughts as they tumble on to the keyboard.

    I'm not sure exactly what makes a good street photograph. I'm a novice at this genre but I think time and place can play a big part.

    I've included an example to explain my thoughts. Its not a great picture by any means but to me it has a story linked to a specific time and place in my own past, and it transports me back there in my mind's eye when I see it.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/briar34/4876055185/" title="The Gambia - I Heart NY by Briar34, on Flickr">[​IMG]"683" height="1024" alt="The Gambia - I Heart NY"></a>

    Why does this picture work for me? Well, I took it in The Gambia (a predominently Muslin country) not long after the 9/11 attacks. I was most definitely the "other" where and when I took this picture, I was off the beaten tourist track, it was just coming out of the tourist season, and I was the only white face on the street. People kept asking me if I was a Christian missionary (no, not quite, just a photographic mission). There had been reports in the local news that a Christian church had been burned down in the area, and there was perceived tension in the air. For me I think this picture sums up the tensions I felt there being "the other" at that time.

    What's interesting about this picture, is that if I saw a similar group of girls back home on the streets of say, Glasgow, no matter how keen I would be to take the picture, I wouldn't find it as easy as I did The Gambia. For me, there's something about being "the other" that explains why you want to take street pictures/portraits so I think less about justifying my want to take the picture, allowing me to just get on with the job of capturing the images as they dance into my view.

    I'm keen to see other member's street pictures and to read why they think its an example of good street photography.

    Thanks Vince, for opening up this thread.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  7. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I've just gotten back into photography in the past year and have just started really thinking about (and trying my hand at) street photography since last summer or fall. I think there are two or three key elements to street photography and if a photograph has any one of them it can be pretty good, if it has two of them it can be quite good, and if it has all three, well, that's the holy grail and rarely obtained.

    One of those is, as you say, telling a story - something is happening of interest or there's an interesting or funny juxtaposition at work, etc. Its not just random people sitting or standing or walking, but something is happening or they're relating to each other in some sort of interesting way.

    The second is just something visually interesting about the people, whether they're really beautiful or really funky or really old and/or worn or wearing really interesting or different clothes. Just SOMEthing.

    The third is a really interesting composition. Good composition is tough with spontaneous street photography but if you find an interesting looking place and compose a nice shot and then hang out and wait for someone to walk through or for something to happen, you can make it happen. I think some of my best shots are this type where not a lot is going on, but I found an interesting composition, took several shots as people arranged themselves in the shot, and then pick the best one out of the bunch, if there is a decent one in the bunch.

    If you can get even one of these three things going on, you can come up with a shot that's worth looking at. If you can manage two, you might still like it several months later. On the rare occasion you can manage all three, you really have something going on. I'm not sure I have any of those, maybe a couple.

    But if you just take photos of folks randomly walking down the street, you're gonna have to find somebody really interesting looking for it to be interesting. Or you better have a really good composition worked out with the surrounding buildings or other elements...

    That's my take on it anyway. The beauty of it is we can all make our own rules and come up with our own criteria. Those work for me, but I'm interested in other people's takes as well.

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 2
  8. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    It seems that in the past decade or so, Street has taken on new definitions within itself. What I mean is this.
    What he's doing is not by any means street to the old timers. What he is doing is adding CANDID to the strict definition of Street. Ok, hold on...youse all....
    Street has always had a candid approach but only to the way in which a shooter works, not as the end result. His images he presented are Candid Snap Shots that have no punch to them.
    It's like telling a joke and not having the punchline.... it leads up to something but doesn't deliver in the strictest sense.

    The NEW STREET seems to be more about candid snap shots because it's easier to get a result that one can live with than trying to get some thing that will really excite the viewers.
    I'm not saying that his approach is wrong or right for that matter. What I'm saying, is that it's not the Street Work that is classic in approach.

    Be careful of definitions, even from me. Be wary of doing Street just because it sounds cool. Be advised to try to find your own definition and approach to your own work.
    At M43, I did a series of Image Quest for over a year. The members that really did them have a very clear vision of their own images and working process.

    Most shooters are like a Jack Of All Trades. They are good at many different genre's. The tuned in shooter may be good at many but is a specialist in few.

    Here's the issue in a nutshell. If your honost with your self, this will be true. If your not, then I'm a cranky old stupid man....

    We work for other shooters. We want other shooters, especially the ones we respect to be turned on by our work and vise/versa.
    When you work and make images, if a shooter complements your image... your on cloud 9. If no one responds, hmmmm, what the heck is going on?

    If your doing STREET, and think that a good street shooter will be turned on by that candid stuff....go paint houses cause it ain't gonna happen.
    Street is not really a genre', it's a way of life. Heavy right...BULL!

    Photography is about being in touch with the world, life, death, everything at the precise second of exposure. Street is just your area of operation. Your are of OBSERVATION. It's where you choose to be with a camera.
    The real good shooter, the masters etc are all aware of this basic process. It could be portraits, landscape, city scapes, street etc. If your tuned in then it's just where you plug your eyes in.
    So, do the Street for what it is, not for what it isn't. What happens is, you do candids and call it street and no one pays attention.

    Just stay focused on the history you are creating and the path that you follow. Remember, Street Shooters have laid the path you walk on and you have a responsibility to keep the path in focus and keep it clear for those that follow you.

    I know I alway come off heavy when it comes to photography. Guilty as charged. I LIVE photography. It is the single most important thing in my life.
    So, if I sound heavy, it's because that's how important it is. I hope you share that passion also.....
    Don
     
    • Like Like x 4
  9. vincechu

    vincechu SC Veteran

    316
    Sep 14, 2010
    Don... You're a cranky ol....lol only joking :wink:

    But seriously, wow guys, thanks for the great responses. This is exaclty the type of discussion I was trying to generate and there has been some really interesting points made. I'm quite a newbie to street photography, having only really been interested in it for the pasy 6 months and wanting to get deeper, hence starting this discussion.

    BB -To me Kai made some rather fleeting comments about what he thinks street photography is, and to an extent I agree with him. I think Kai very briefly touches the surface of meaning in street photography, when he mentions capturing the irony of new and old in Hong Kong, though this might noticeable to me because I'm familiar with Hong Kong life (my family originates Hong Kong and I spend a month or so living there every other summer).

    Kyteflyer mentions being inconspicuous, and thats a key thing to street photography to me as people often behave differently if they know they're being observed.

    Briar - I understand where you're coming from and agree. To me street photography has a little aspect of documentary to it, reflecting upon society at that point in time. I really liked your photo and how you captured the childrens gaze. However to me your post highlights the importance of 'context' in photography, in my opinion your words added the context, giving your photo a little more impact.

    Ray - I agree with your three elements, in my opinion tell a story is the most important, if you capture that special little moment, for example of emotion, I don't think composition will be as important though it still will be (hope that makes sense).

    Don kind of identifies 2 types of street photography and I agree with his definitions. To me there's candid-street, what Don calls New-street, to me thats just photos taken of people on the street, going about their lives, which all to me seems a little devoid of meaning and empty. However i see it as kind a kind of art form, in which you capture an attractive image - because 'it looks cool' that kind of thing.

    Now the second definition or type of 'street' photography is what I'm
    .

    Don, you said:

     
    • Like Like x 1
  10. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Real Name:
    olli
    What is street photography? from the website of the In-Public street photography collective.

    A couple of articles from Nick Turpin and Blake Andrews on why 99% of street photography is rubbish.

    And a video from Nick Turpin expressing his understanding of street photography:

    <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/4376763?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="400" height="245" frameborder="0"></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/4376763">Nick Turpin on Street Photography</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user728486">Nick Turpin</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
    Let the conversation continue.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    Real Name:
    you should be able to figure it out...
    After reading back through these responses this morning, I think there's a distinction to be made between the art of street photography and the craft of it. And they're not mutually exclusive but rather two legs under the same photographer. The craft, the composition, having the elements in place, getting the right moment, etc are critical to have some idea of what you're shooting before the art (the heart of it) can come through. Don talks about the heart and the art of the photographs he makes and I think that's what makes him soooo damn good at this stuff - the heart of the matter is pretty much ALWAYS there in his work, and overwhelmingly so in his best work. But he's also got the craft, the technique, together or he'd never be able to express what's in his heart so effectively.

    I find that when I'm in the field shooting, I'm thinking much more consciously about the craft end of it, putting myself in the right situations and positions to see something happening, to have a decent composition as the backbone of the shot, to get the moment as right as I can. And I find the heart or art part (to the extent I can be accused of it at all) happens more in the culling/selection process after I'm back home. Recognizing something MORE in a few of the many images that come up on the computer screen that makes them compelling enough to want to work on, to process, to bring out what I was seeing at the scene. And that has something to do with how you shoot. I tend to shoot a lot. If I'm out shooting in a really people-intensive area or place or event I may take a few hundred shots in a period of 3-4 hours, often several of the same basic scene, catching a slightly different collection of particulars in each shot. Don says that shooting 30-40 images is a big DAY for him - a roll of film! So he's clearly doing a huge part of the selection process in the field. I've adapted to the digital era by shooting a LOT, trying to use whatever level of craft I can to get more photographs to choose the best from. And then when I'm going through the images on the computer later, something will grab me about a few of them, the look in someone's eye, the posture of two people towards (or away from) each other, a certain gesture or angle that gives the photograph heart rather than just competence from the perspective of craft. Sometimes once I see the results I realize that some of my best shots were somewhat accidental or lucky - I put myself in the position to find them and did the work necessary to "luck" into them, so its not all luck by a long shot, but something happened in the shot that I wasn't really aware of at the instant I pushed the shutter button that makes it work much more than I expected at the moment of exposure. And sometimes I pretty much saw what I thought I saw when I saw it and it comes through in the final product. The more I do this, the more I'm getting what I thought I was getting when I pressed the button, but I still get a lot of shots I didn't expect when I shot them in the field. And I'm no less happy to see them come up than the ones I had an idea of...

    As with anything, I think the more you do it, the more second nature the "craft" becomes and the better you're able to let the "art" come through, but I don't think you can get the art to work without having the craft pretty well nailed down. And I think for most of us who are relatively new to this, we still need to put a fair amount of energy into the craft because its far from second nature to us. Yet. For those who have been doing it for years, the craft is probably pretty second nature and all of the energy can go into the art. But you always want to look for the art, even at first, even when it takes more work and you're less likely to get at the heart of the matter on any given shot.

    That's my take anyway...

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 1
  12. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    Vince, your thoughts make perfect sense to me. Just quickly - I did hear Kai discuss the juxtaposition of the old and new in Hong Kong and I do "get" what he's talking about (and what you mean, too). I think if the moment is decisive that including things like this in the image are all part of it. All easy for me to say and not so easy to do. However, it's when you get in to the description of your grandmother and her friend in the hospital - and the moment forever etched in your mind - to me that is "street photography". From my point of view the street is life - wherever it leads you, there you are. It's that pivotal observation, that defining moment for you. Then, I think that it's after the image is printed or up on the screen, that we believe that another human being will recognize what we saw, if they're lucky.
     
  13. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    Nic
    I generally don't like the term "candid" being automatically applied to street photography. I don't think that street photography has to be candid, and that candid shots are automatically "street". One thing I do find is that it is very easy to drift into a mode where you are just taking random shots of people and automatically branding them as "street", when often there is not a lot to the image beyond what you see. There needs to be something deeper in a street image but it is something that I can't define in a sentence or paragraph.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  14. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    olli, thank you for that video. I just listened to it and will again. I caught a few things right away - the street as a stage...and the few seconds the photographer has to get it all together. Can't help but tie it into part of what you, Ray, have written above...about the technical side of using the camera as a tool. At least that's what I think you were talking about as you separated the craft from the art.

    So much is sometimes semantics. To me a craftsman is an artist. I see the nuts and bolts - the f stops, the ISO, the EV compensation...the shutter speed as the technical side...but without those tools we couldn't capture that moment. Without the heart/art, however it can be at worst a sterile image. I'm venturing into a wider area here, because I think these things apply to photography as a whole, not just to street photography.

    P.S. Nic, I'm sorry I was so busy typing that I missed your post. I'm with you on "there needs to be something deeper...".
     
  15. PeterB666

    PeterB666 SC Top Veteran S.C. Charter Member

    From my perspective, I think it would be fairer to say that all real street photography is candid photography but not all candid photography is street photography. Of course there is a little more about street photography but one thing that certainly doesn't fit for me is posed or contrived settings in streets. That is NOT street photography, rather the street is just being used as a backdrop rather than an integral part of the photograph.

    Don't get me wrong, street photography doesn't need for the street to be dominant, but it is about an interaction of the street environment with the subject and, hopefully, the photographer.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Real Name:
    olli
    On the principle of not annoying Google by double posting I won't repeat my random blog comments on street photography and urban photography but for anyone interested you will find them right here.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. snkenai

    snkenai SC All-Pro

    Oct 5, 2010
    kenai, AK
    Real Name:
    Stephen Noel
    Vince's word picture of Grandma and Friend is a very strong image in my minds eye, that I will remember far longer than any photograph posted here. It has the very strong and intense human emotions that stays with us. Street photography rarely captures strong emotion. But it can still be a valuable story telling medium.
    Steve
     
    • Like Like x 1
  18. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    olli, thanks for your link. Would google really be upset if you posted your own words again here?

    I can easily see where you're coming from regarding urban photography and the humanity implicit therein. I believe some of my own pictures kind of fall into that realm, but mine are more urban/suburban. A thoughtful blog post, olli. I think I am going to have to either get up even earlier or stay up later to keep on top of all that I wish to read and look at. Definitely get where you're going regarding there being a difference between the "genre" you tend towards and what street photography is - a well written piece, olli.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  19. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus S.C. Charter Member

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Real Name:
    BB
    Steve, if you've read through all the posts here you'll know I share your feelings about Vince's description of his grandmother.

    My own feeling is that really well done street photography can often include intensity of emotion but I do understand what you mean, too, because there can be a more surreal feeling (still an emotional one, but less visceral) that I come away with in some of the examples I'm seeing in my mind's catalogue of images seen over the many years...
     
  20. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Real Name:
    olli
    • Like Like x 1