November 8th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »
But it’s a posed portrait, and not “street!”
That seems to be the view of many who write about “street photography.” I’m OK with that with the understanding that’s a personal limitation one may want to impose on themselves in order to stay true to their own vision. But when that’s cast into stone as a set of rules for others to follow then it’s time to step back and think a little deeper on the subject.
Street photography is very personal and an experiential activity. Nobody has a lock on the definition or what it is about. As an aside, I use the term “street photography” as a descriptor to clarify writing, not really liking the term because of the definitions and limitations people try to ascribe to it.
Speaking only for myself, street photography is a lot more than going out with my camera looking for people in odd situations, visual puns, or even patches of nice light to enhance a quick capture. As I’ve mentioned previously, there’s a certain energy of the street. And that is made up of people interacting with each other and their environment. Sometimes there’s a very visible dynamic and rhythm that can be seen from a distance. Many times there isn’t, or it is very subtle and shrouded from view. For myself, the aspect of discovery and understanding is far more important than actually making photographs that record a particular experience or event. Some have said, and I totally agree, that a camera isn’t always necessary.
It’s the process of discovery and understanding the rhythm and dynamics of human activity that satisfies my curiosity as to how all the elements of the street work and interrelate. There’s no one approach or single method that addresses all questions. And, of course, there is always more out there to soak in and learn.
Street portraiture provides an opportunity to dig deeper and engage strangers encountered on the street. Through engagements and filling in the blanks with conversation, I learn much more that simply taking candid pictures of situations on the street. I’ve met hundreds of people while out with my camera and the bits of information I absorb about life on the street are like pieces of an infinite puzzle that is never really completed. I like that! For me, that’s what being out there is about. Engaged street portraiture of strangers is just one of the many ways of making sense of it all.
In the years of making street portraits I have found everyone is approachable. Yes, a small number of people decline having their portrait made, but I have never had a negative experience. And, as I’ve mentioned before in other posts, there is great synergy in making street portraits and candid street photos. The skills and comfort developed in street portraiture greatly helps in making better candid photos, most notably in connecting with people.
Sometimes I think that those who feel that posed street portraiture is not street photography might actually be uncomfortable approaching people for conversation and a few snaps. That’s OK, every photographer has his/her own comfort level meeting strangers. But that really is a separate issue from proclaiming what street photography is, or isn’t!