New tools and language for 'street photography'


One of the things that drives me to frustration about the photographic internet is the cliched thinking, the endlessly repeated dogma and the blind acceptance that there are certain ways and certain gear for certain kinds of photography. 85mm lens for portraits, 'full-frame' is 'better' and 'lookaleicas' for 'street photography.' 

I also hate that term 'street photography.' Whatever happened to reportage or social documentary? I.E. The recording of the real world in front of us and the capturing of tiny fragments of time when things come together to create more than the sum of their parts when viewed later. 

It can be political or just observational, amusing or deadly serious, created with an agenda in mind or just the capture of something that catches a photographers eye, planned or instinctive. Unfortunately, this had become so backward looking and so bogged down in the aesthetics of the 1930's that it was becoming one the cul-de-sacs of modern photography, lost in it's black and white exclusivity and discussed reverently on websites with rangefinder in the title and basically disappeared up it's own sunless orifice in some torpor of it's own conservatism. Fortunately out there in the real world things were changing. 










Because if you want to photograph the real world and what's happening 'on the streets', then instead of thumbing through back catalogues of 'The Best of Magnum' look at facebook, twitter or instagram. This is where people take real pictures of real people. And these days the idea of the objective detached, intellectually and aesthetically superior 'street photographer' has finally been shown to be the artifice riddled fraud it always was. No longer does the 'artist' the 'visionary' and the visual 'decoder' of modern life descend from Mount Olympus with their Leica to show us how it should be done. 

Because those who were only deemed suitable as subjects for the whims of the 'creatives' who do us all a favour by turning their lenses on us, have been doing it for themselves for a number of years now. They don't need to be shown how to record some 'photographic truth' that usually requires the outlay of a substantial sum of money on photographic equipment that says more about the photographers vanity than anything else, they are out there living it, recording it and putting it out there for everybody to see. And they don't need Leicas, Fujis, Nikons and the like to do this. Their tool of choice is most likely an iPhone.











And the nice thing about this social media, social documenting, truly social photography is that it has no pretensions, no inflated ideas of it's own worth and photographic merit and, for the most part, no intention to do anything other than entertain and be no more that what it looks like, a record of everyday life. And yes I've been resisting it for years. And yes I'm one of those po-faced photography snobs who've had their heads up their trousers for far too long. But I do see some light at the end of my own self-created tunnel. 

















Now that's all very well, but what about all those filters? Well I suspect how you feel about heavily filtered images depends on how old you are. And also how long you have been making photographs. Because what looks old-hat to some of us is fresh and 'modern' to many others.

















Well for my part I like high saturation and high contrast in my images and I must admit this 'smartphone aesthetic' that's emerging gives me license to indulge myself. And I'm unapologetic about that. However I make no pretence about it being artistic or creative, it isn't, I do it because I think it suits a particular picture and also to make a point. 

 
For example, there are two versions of the above picture. The top version focuses on the (very good) young violinist who was playing Mozart in a world of her own and the bottom is to convey a more general Stratford-upon-Avon atmosphere showing a tourist town on a hot summer afternoon. And I've used the filtering to create two different images that 'say' different things.

Ultimately, however, whether you use filtering is personal choice and far be from me to suggest you should or shouldn't do it.

So, as far as I'm concerned 'street photography in it's outdated, precious form is dead in the water. What's the point of creating images that look like they could have been shot in the mid 1900's on gear that looks like it was maufactured in the mid 1900's. Black and White, Lookaleica, 35mm lens. Yawwwwn! For me it's about colour, contrast and hopefully an attention-grabbing look. Nothing is off the table and ways of creating and manipulating images from any era of photography are valid. 

As you can see from the above images, there is the beginnings of a 'style' emerging and it's still early days in finding some way of working that will take me forward. But I've resolved to throw the 'street photography rulebook' out the window (not that I ever followed it), because it's unimaginitive, uninspiring and so rigid in it's constrictions. It's the curse of the photographic internet yet again. Endlessly repeated mantras about what you use for this, what you use for that, repeated ad infinitum in some kind of Groundhog Day loop. 

Finally I should point out that all the above were taken with a variety of different cameras from 35mm film SLR's to smart phones. I can't tell which is which half the time and I suspect you can't either. Which as far as I'm concerned is an entirely positive outcome. 


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  • N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) at the bottom of this post. 






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