What exactly is street photography and how does it differ from reportage or documentary photography?
What makes it so special and unique, and how does it help us learn what it means to be human?
There are many different views on what street photography is…or is not. I am open to all of these and my personal current viewpoint is that it should be candid and un-staged. To remove the accidental, spontaneous energy from any scene moves the art into another genre in my opinion and the comments below apply to the style I believe in. I say this is my current belief as I have proven to myself that I am a great lover of assumptions. I’m keen to see how education and experience affect this belief over the coming weeks.
Street photography is a window to humanity, with a single person on one side and the rest of the world on the other, both aware of each other’s existence but both with very different roles.
The human eye observes and documents millions of random disconnected events every second of every day in every private and public space on this planet and beyond, and each observation fires a neurological message to the brain for processing, reaction and storage or deletion based upon the observer’s state of mind at that exact second in time. The impact and resulting reaction to each of these images is as unique as a fingerprint and forms a singular interpretation of what is happening in the immediate vicinity of the observer. The camera, up until this point is immaterial. The image has already been captured and very often the reaction times involved in getting the camera to the eye, combined with the burden of learned “rules” that have to be followed: composition, depth of field, shutter speed, iso, combined with any amount of mental distractions (trepidation, guilt, fear, indecision etc) mean that the resulting digital “hard-copy” can be far removed from the original flash of inspiration behind every shot that fires the desire to spring into action when the “link” is made inside. The link I refer to is the link between what has just caught the eye and the photographer’s past, their dreams, their pain, their sense of humour, their sense of irony, their empathy, their sympathy, their desire, their curiosity, or any other facet of the complex, incredible coincidences that have shaped them to this point.
By then further observing the result on film we can analyse ourselves and those around us and take our time to unravel the connections between us.
It is this connection that makes street photography unique. We are not merely observing the image, which is the typical relationship with reportage and documentary photography: we are also observing the deeply personal motivation behind the image and getting the opportunity to look back through the window from the other side. In street photography we also observe the photographer.
image below taken in back streets of Nice, France 2013