You may argue whether Cartier-Bresson's definition of what he thought "street photography" ought to be is something other photographers should care about, but at the end of the day it's just an empty academic exercise.
Hi Doug, I shouldn't have let this one float by back there.
Henri didn't call his photographs anything, and if he'd given them a name it almost certainly wouldn't have been "rue photographie"
or anything like that. He identified himself as a surrealist, but that's not the same thing as calling yourself a street photographer. I don't know when the name "street photography" got attached to HCB's early work, plus most of the work of Andre Kertesz, and Robert Doisneau, but it did. And later it got hung onto some of the work of Willy Ronis, Brassaï, Walker Evans, Elliott Erwitt, Marc Riboud, Helen Levitt, and even later, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and recently Vivian Maier.
But as I've said, it's an unfortunate name because it gives people who aren't familiar with the history the idea that any photograph taken on the street is a street photograph.
Whether or not a photograph falls into a particular generic category has absolutely nothing to do with the value of the photograph, but gathering certain types of art into arbitrarily defined genres is more than "just an empty academic exercise." When you say that a particular painting is impressionistic it helps anyone familiar with art history visualize what you're talking about. And the same thing applies to any art genre. Categories can make communication more efficient in any situation, but unless the people trying to communicate understand the categories the categories can add confusion.
But in the end there's no way to define an art genre with words. In order to say that a particular work falls within a genre requires that you become familiar with the actual work that defines the genre. And, of course, that's something lazy people refuse to do. What the hell, we already know what that means. The name says it all. Street photography is photography shot on the street. Why go look at stuff shot by those old, dead guys?
But take a look at Street Photography Now,
edited by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren. The book's copyrighted in 2010, so it's recent enough to show what current street photographers are shooting. Most of the pictures in that book fall squarely within the genre. So there are people out there who know the difference, and when you set out to do something like publish a book called "Street Photography Now," you'd better know the difference.