Urban photography by Brad Evans

Street Photography?

November 8th, 2013 Posted in Uncategorized

Mission couple

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!

  1. 8 Responses to “Street Photography?”

  2. By Lauren@Styleseer on Nov 8, 2013

    In my view, what makes street photography of lasting interest is that it is loosely defined with no cast in stone rules. I think those who attempt to narrow the genre with rules (for whatever reason) do it a disservice.

    Great post.

  3. By Vladimir on Nov 8, 2013

    Bah Humbug, this was done “on the street” but it is posed and not “candid” documentary……..

  4. By Dick on Nov 9, 2013

    Just knew what Vladimir would say!

  5. By Brad E on Nov 9, 2013

    >>> this was done “on the street” but it is posed and not “candid” documentary……..

    That’s the point, Vlad. Still street photography…

    Lauren, for sure on no one casting the “rules” in stone!

  6. By Vladimir on Nov 10, 2013

    I agree that anything done on the street is “street photography” The bone of contention seems to be that because the street is the only place in America where candid photography is permitted, there is a tendency to equate “street” with “candid”. Of course I despise posed photographs, because they have no value except sentimental for the people involved. They are a “cover up” of Reality.

  7. By Brad E on Nov 10, 2013

    >>> … there is a tendency to equate “street” with “candid”.

    There was a time when photography was equated with using sheet film. Then Kodak came along with roll film and messed everything up, making it EASY for street shooters who rightly should have never been photographers in the first place.

    >>> Of course I despise posed photographs, because they have no value except sentimental for the people involved. They are a “cover up” of Reality.

    Depends what you’re looking for. I do both. Talking to people fills in the gaps with personal experiences that photos could never capture.

  8. By Mark L on Nov 11, 2013

    Without wanting to sound like a Hallmark card – follow your heart/dreams/nose. So you’re both kinda right (don’t wanna upset the Americans AND the Russians!). Be true to yourself (Hallmark are gonna call me any minute)and do it YOUR way. I’ve been trying some street photography for a coupla years now and it’s way different to what I usually do and way hard right now. So in a spirit of diplomacy I reckon we all just help one another find our way. Either that or tripods at dawn. Cheers. Mark in OZ

  9. By Vladimir on Nov 11, 2013

    Guess what! I’m a Ukrainian who hates Russians. Someday I might change my name. To quote HCB; the only thing that photographers have in common is that they use some sort of gizmo. I am totally devoted to my heart/dreams/nose and work by intuition. In fact for the first 12 years I didn’t know what my stuff would amount to. One day a paranoid business woman asked me “what are you doing?” and I replied “I’ve been trying to figure that out for 20 years” and I wasn’t lying………..

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