Point of View: Street photography

Disclaimer: All photos in this post are not mine, rather by talented photographers from the past and present days. This post is my 2 cent on the subject. I am not a professional street photographer yet I do read and research both contemporary and the founding photographers of the genre. There are numerous blogs and sites related to the art of street photography, I have included some of these at the bottom of the post.

Point of View is a series of posts that will discuss various topics related to photography, from techniques to equipment, from styles to form of photography.

What is Street photography?

It is a photography genre that depicts people, their behaviors and environments in public urban settings. This definition can fit literally hundred thousand of photos taken every day around the world such as a graffiti on a wall within an urban park or a crowded café on a street corner. With such a variety of subjects and instances, there is no wonder this is one of the most prolific photography genre on Instagram.

What is a good street photograph?

To generate a good street photograph, the image should elicit some emotion with the viewer. Objectively-speaking, the stronger the emotion, the better the photograph is. For example, the image of Florence Owens AKA “The Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange (1936) is an iconic image:

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(Originally posted on March 8th, 2016) "The Migrant Mother" is an iconic photo taken by Dorothea Lange during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. In March of 1936, after picking beets, Florence Owens Thompson and her family were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 towards Watsonville, when their chain snapped and they stopped at a camp where nearly 3,500 people were living as refugees. While her husband and sons went to find repairs, she and her daughters sat down to make camp, when she noticed a woman pulling up and fumbling for her camera. She photographed the family, with the caption being "Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian, destitute in pea picker's camp. These people had just sold their tires to buy food." Lange later admitted that she never asked the woman her name or history, and simply asked her age and story. According to Thompson, Lange promised the photos would never be published, but the Washington D.C. paper The News printed it immediately. Thompson identity was discovered in the late 1970s, when she was located living in a mobile home. She was initially upset that her photo had been in circulation for 40 years, but ended up settling with it. Her daughter, in an interview, called her mother a "very strong lady" and "the backbone of our family." #themigrantmother #migrantmother #dorothealange #walkerevans #photography #photos #history

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Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress

Here one can feel sadness and sympathize with the women and her worries for the future. Another classic example from Henri Cartier-Bresson (1932):

Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1932

This complex composition contains several layers of “emotions” – tensions due to the almost touching foot, the contrast between the still pond and the moving subject, the aesthetics of the perfect reflection, the awe of “freezing the moment” and so on.

There are many kinds of emotions and different aspects of an image that can elicit one or more emotions. There are certain conditions or graphical elements that can provoke strong emotions and these are the kinds of images that viewers often remember of pause over before moving on.

Some the techniques to provoke emotions

Contrast  & shapes

Whether it is a play of light and shadow, color, or a conceptual one, contrast can generate both appeal or disgust.

Martine Frank (1976), Magnum

Juxtaposition

Panagiotis, 1980

Felix Lupa

Mystery

Garry Winogrand, 1967

Craig Whitehead, 2017

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New York City, 1963.

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Joel Meyerowitz, 1963

Framing

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NYC, 2016 #streettogs

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Eric Kim, 2016

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London

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Alan Schaller, 2018

Gaby Ben Avraham, 2018

Humor

Saumalya Ghosh, 2018

Felix Lupa, 2017

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With my edit for the book due by the end of summer I've been shooting my Venice Beach project heads down with not much time for anything else, including posting on IG. Sorry about that! Now about this recent image. I had been struggling a bit about ways to depict the police on Venice Beach. I have to represent them somehow in this body of work but I found their presence very nuanced: from everything I've observed they have a very difficult job policing a boardwalk notorious for its tolerance toward a colorful cast of characters. Keeping the peace in a place like this without crushing its free-spirited mood is a tall order. I must say that for the most part I have found the police to be sensitive and respectful. Still police brutality has brought its share of casualties on the boardwalk too so it's not all black or white (no pun intended!). This past week , I had a breakthrough with a couple of images on the subject including this juxtaposition, which uses humor to reflect the grey nature of the situation. Tech Data: Leica M10 + 35mm lens. 1/2000 at f8. ISO 400. #venicebeach #venice boardwalk #leicacamera #bnw_captures #bnw_society #bnw #devil #leica #streetphotography #streetphoto_bw #streetphoto #police #arrest #losangeles

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Dotan Saguy, 2017

Duplicity/Multiplicity

Joel Meyerowitz, 1975

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“I’d describe Alex as a street photographer whose color work is so resonant and atmospheric and, at times, astonishing. It’s as if, gazing deeply into one of his most iconic, layered images, say “Tehuantepec, Mexico” — whose young man looks as if he’s balancing the blue, ever-turning world on the tip of his finger — one seems somehow to have slipped into one of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realist novels, a source of inspiration for Alex’s Latin America work.”—Rebecca Norris Webb, “From Friendship to Marriage, a 30-Year Dialogue Between Two Photographers,” by Craig Hubert in @hyperallergic. See link in profile. Photo: Alex Webb, “Tehuantepec, Mexico,” from Slant Rhymes with Rebecca Norris Webb @lafabrica_ @artbook. @craighubert. #slantrhymes

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Alex Webb

Alan Schaller, 2018

Gestures & emotions

146a08e4-f207-4579-9656-37c9a231c355-1020x687

Gary Winograd, 1969

Henri Cartier-Bression, 1938

What camera is recommended for street photography?

Any camera will do as long as you are familiar and comfortable with such that it won’t interfere with you capturing the moment. It can be a smartphone camera, a rangefinder (Leica or Fuji or any other brand) or it can be a DSLR (or film SLR for that matter). In street photography content and timing rule, image quality is secondary.

Color vs. black & white

This is one of the most discussed topics in street photography. Since street photography was born in the age of black and white film, the modern use of black and white generates the feeling or atmosphere of street photography as it was conducted in the mid 20th century. Today, many street photographers use either black and white film or digital transformation from color to monochrome (or even having a sensor that captures only in monochrome, such as the Leica M Monochrome) to generate a very distinct street scene. Even so, the role and place of color in photography, and also in street photography, is central and can be refreshing, especially as many published street photographs are done in black and white.

Street approach

Every photographer has its own preference how to approach his subjects on the street, yet there are two distinct and contradictory approaches that are applied by photographers:

  • “Fly on the wall” – in this approach the photographer approaches his subject of interest with the intention not to be noticed, at least not until the shutter is released, or soon before the picture is taken. This is a documentary style in which the photographer doesn’t wish to affect the scene and can capture the moment as it unfolds without introducing emotions that surface due to the presence of the camera.
  • Interactive – in this approach the photographer interacts with subjects on the street in order to glimpse or uncover the nature of the subject beneath the “street façade”). This in contrast to the previous technique and which may hinder any authentic street moment since people change their behavior and put on a mask once a camera is introduced. Even so, if one can develop a brief relationship with the subject and its environment, one can learn a lot about human nature, especially concerning the specific subject(s). Some photographers, such as Bruce Gilden, interact and direct his subjects what to do in order to capture a certain moment that he envisioned.

Resources

  • Eric Kim – contemporary photographer that have researched to the depth and core of the street photography genre. See his website for a plethora of information about street photography.

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/the-ultimate-beginners-guide-for-street-photography/

  • Ibarionex – A great resource for street photography, especially if you like podcast. Ibarionex podcast, the candid frame, is a great place to expose yourself to other great street photographers, contemporary, renowned and professional street photographers. His questions and ability to listen to the interviewers enables to glimpse into the minds of the great street photographers.

http://www.ibarionex.net/

  • Thomas Leuthard

http://noptialbe.net/docs/GoingCandid.pdf

  • Calling the shots – A Guide to Street Photography by Anonymous
  • The Ultimate guide to Street photography by James Maher

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