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Author Topic: A Lecture on Street Photography  (Read 1818 times)

RSL

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A Lecture on Street Photography
« on: May 15, 2018, 09:52:27 am »

Now that we have a "street" section I'm troubled by what I see here. What troubles me is how many people posting in the street section haven't a clue what street is supposed to be. One of the problems is the name: "street." People who aren't familiar with street jump to the conclusion that a street shot has to be made on a street. Many also seem to believe that street is an "urban" activity, dealing only with urban phenomena. Like you guys I really, really wish we had a better name for the genre. "Landscape" fits its genre pretty well. "Portraiture" fits its genre quite well. "Wabi sabi" is a little less specific, but pretty well establishes a name for a recognizable genre. But "street" implies something that has nothing at all to do with the genre.

Now, you can call a single rock "landscape" if you want to. You can call one of Picasso's distortions "portraiture" if you want to. And you can call a picture of a woman standing on a street "street" photography if you want to. And, of course, you'll be correct in all cases because the cops aren't going to come screeching up to arrest you for misunderstanding the very heart of the genre whose name you've abused.

To me, poetry and street photography are closely related. Todd Papageorge agrees. (You all know who Todd is, right?)  I keep coming back to Archibald MacLeish's book, Poetry and Experience, which I think every photographer attempting street photography should read. The thing MacLeish made very clear in that book is that poetry's "meaning" comes not in the words themselves, or even in the images, but in the interstices between the images. And so it is with street photography. In street photography an image of a single individual by himself doesn't convey enough meaning to grab the viewer -- unless, as is the case in Kent's "Joy a the End of the Day" -- it's a single person doing something that gives the viewer an unmistakable message. Good street photography gives you meaning in the interstices between images of people, and between images of people and their surroundings.

Bottom line: If a picture doesn't contain a message -- a story -- it may be street photography, but it's pretty crappy street photography. If the story contains the kind of ambiguity that makes the viewer look inside himself in an attempt to find a meaning, it's probably damned good street photography.

In the meantime, I wish we had a better name for the highest and best use of a camera.
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KLaban

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2018, 10:46:49 am »

I think we need to enjoy this new LuLa showcase and have fun rather than get too anal about definitions and what should and shouldn't qualify as Street.
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RSL

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2018, 11:02:28 am »

You need to re-read that, Keith. I didn't try to define street. What I talked about was the difference between crappy street and good street. You can call any damn thing "street" that you want to, and you'll probably be right. Same situation with "landscape." But everybody recognizes that there's good landscape and bad landscape. Unfortunately you can't say the same about street, unless you're familiar with the genre. You can even call a fuzzy picture of a monkey "street" if you want to, just as I can call a picture of a fish "landscape."
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KLaban

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2018, 12:08:42 pm »

You need to re-read that, Keith. I didn't try to define street. What I talked about was the difference between crappy street and good street. You can call any damn thing "street" that you want to, and you'll probably be right. Same situation with "landscape." But everybody recognizes that there's good landscape and bad landscape. Unfortunately you can't say the same about street, unless you're familiar with the genre. You can even call a fuzzy picture of a monkey "street" if you want to, just as I can call a picture of a fish "landscape."

Crappy, good, just bring it on, let's have fun.
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RSL

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2018, 12:26:04 pm »

Okay, Keith. Here's a landscape shot. Are we having fun yet?
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KLaban

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2018, 12:29:09 pm »

I am.
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RSL

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2018, 12:30:41 pm »

That's what I  figured. And here's a shake. :) I've been having a ball, especially in The Coffee Corner.
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BobDavid

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2018, 01:14:09 pm »

Now that we have a "street" section I'm troubled by what I see here. What troubles me is how many people posting in the street section haven't a clue what street is supposed to be. One of the problems is the name: "street." People who aren't familiar with street jump to the conclusion that a street shot has to be made on a street. Many also seem to believe that street is an "urban" activity...

Russ, I'm thick-skinned and thrive on honest critiques. ...I've come to realize that up to now, I've not taken a very good "street" photo. Some of my pictures may "look" the part, but they're not.

I've been reading your notes on "street" for several years and because of that, I've revisited and continue to visit Erwitt, Evans, HCB, and other masters of the genre.

Take for example the airport photo you posted the other day. It is an excellent "street" photo. It works on several levels: 1) It's not contrived; 2) It captures a dynamic situation--we can imagine what happened moments before the photo was taken and anticipate what will ensue (an open-ended story); 3) The composition is impeccable; 4) Technically, it's beyond reproach; 5) It distills and amplifies an aspect of the human condition.

The human condition traverses a range from the banal to the extraordinary.

So, it's good that you're able to educate us--raise our awareness. The best "street" photography is an art form that enables one to view the world from a different perspective. The same goes for genres within painting, music, literature, etc. 
« Last Edit: May 15, 2018, 01:21:26 pm by BobDavid »
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BobDavid

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2018, 01:18:17 pm »

By the way, that's a neat picture of the shell. I think of it more as a still life than a landscape. An art dealer I knew (she's no longer alive) referred to pictures like the shell as "botanical" go figure...
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Ivo_B

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2018, 01:25:50 pm »

Do I understand correct: Street photography is about visual story telling?

Then define 'story' and how a story should be seen in a picture. Does a story needs to be a sequence of events, literally readable in the image? Or can the story be cerebral ?
Is it ok if the story is purely viewers projection, or should there be no room for interpretation. And if interpretation is allowed, what are the interpretation boundaries?
If an image is considerate not street, is this because it isn't or is it because the viewer didn't take the effort to look twice or is the viewer not emphatic enough or is (s)he not visual trained enough to read images.
Could the lack of a story tells more story than any obvious story can?

ceci ne pas une pipe or is it?







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BobDavid

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2018, 02:45:37 pm »

Do I understand correct: Street photography is about visual story telling?

Then define 'story' and how a story should be seen in a picture. Does a story needs to be a sequence of events, literally readable in the image? Or can the story be cerebral ?
Is it ok if the story is purely viewers projection, or should there be no room for interpretation. And if interpretation is allowed, what are the interpretation boundaries?
If an image is considerate not street, is this because it isn't or is it because the viewer didn't take the effort to look twice or is the viewer not emphatic enough or is (s)he not visual trained enough to read images.
Could the lack of a story tells more story than any obvious story can?

ceci ne pas une pipe or is it?

I think you'll find the answers you seek by studying the photos of the masters of "Street" photography. There's a wealth of literature on the topic too.
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petermfiore

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2018, 02:58:31 pm »

ceci ne pas une pipe or is it?

Exactly! Exactement, Esattamente...

Peter

Rob C

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2018, 03:02:48 pm »

Do I understand correct: Street photography is about visual story telling?

Then define 'story' and how a story should be seen in a picture. Does a story needs to be a sequence of events, literally readable in the image? Or can the story be cerebral ?
Is it ok if the story is purely viewers projection, or should there be no room for interpretation. And if interpretation is allowed, what are the interpretation boundaries?
If an image is considerate not street, is this because it isn't or is it because the viewer didn't take the effort to look twice or is the viewer not emphatic enough or is (s)he not visual trained enough to read images.
Could the lack of a story tells more story than any obvious story can?

ceci ne pas une pipe or is it?

It's difficult.

Klein and Moriyama take no prisoners and neither do they really appear to be telling me anything. What they are doing is shoving slices of the pie of life into my face and saying, hey, take a bite on this!

I like that approach; I tend to think that the more romantic version that Russ espouses, the one that suggests a story, is another branch of the family, far removed from the one that swears, winks at women and is, essentially, the one I like.

The old masters of the art lived in another age; they could wander around and snap as took their fancy, and people were not going to be terribly impressed or upset. Today, the public is hostile, and probably rightly so.

Let me tell you a true story. The very first prints that I saw developing in a tray belonged to a street photographer, a breed that existed legally via a hawker's licence obtainable from the local town hall. I got into the darkroom of one such snapper because another engineering apprentice in my year knew this guy, and did Saturday printing for him and, as I wanted to know how it was done, he took me along to see a darkroom in action (I originally typed acton, another place altogether, as Keith will know; you begin to understand how much work a keyboard represents for me?), and I discovered that being a steet photographer, in Britain, in the mid-50s, meant you were one of those chaps who walked around holiday towns and took pictures of the holiday makers, offering to send them a print for a couple of shillings or so, postage included! People did buy, a lot, and the pix really were delivered.

As people accepted those guys, so they would accept anybody with a different, unknown agenda. Today, I imagine those old street guys are feeding the dodos.

Today, the pipe, were the shooter smoking one, would be rammed into his eye or down his throat.

Ivo_B

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2018, 03:59:38 pm »

It's difficult.

Klein and Moriyama take no prisoners and neither do they really appear to be telling me anything. What they are doing is shoving slices of the pie of life into my face and saying, hey, take a bite on this!

I like that approach; I tend to think that the more romantic version that Russ espouses, the one that suggests a story, is another branch of the family, far removed from the one that swears, winks at women and is, essentially, the one I like.

The old masters of the art lived in another age; they could wander around and snap as took their fancy, and people were not going to be terribly impressed or upset. Today, the public is hostile, and probably rightly so.

Let me tell you a true story. The very first prints that I saw developing in a tray belonged to a street photographer, a breed that existed legally via a hawker's licence obtainable from the local town hall. I got into the darkroom of one such snapper because another engineering apprentice in my year knew this guy, and did Saturday printing for him and, as I wanted to know how it was done, he took me along to see a darkroom in action (I originally typed acton, another place altogether, as Keith will know; you begin to understand how much work a keyboard represents for me?), and I discovered that being a steet photographer, in Britain, in the mid-50s, meant you were one of those chaps who walked around holiday towns and took pictures of the holiday makers, offering to send them a print for a couple of shillings or so, postage included! People did buy, a lot, and the pix really were delivered.

As people accepted those guys, so they would accept anybody with a different, unknown agenda. Today, I imagine those old street guys are feeding the dodos.

Today, the pipe, were the shooter smoking one, would be rammed into his eye or down his throat.

Can not agree more.

Do you know the story of Artur Fields, Man On The Bridge?
I can recommend the documentary.

« Last Edit: May 15, 2018, 04:10:18 pm by Ivo_B »
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Ivo_B

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2018, 04:09:03 pm »

I think you'll find the answers you seek by studying the photos of the masters of "Street" photography. There's a wealth of literature on the topic too.

I'm a bit documented on the topic and find it difficult to segregate the caff from the wheat. There is a lot of blabla about the topic. About photography in general.
I try to find the answers in the pictures I make, it seems to me the more productive approach.
And I can fall into a photographers block, you cannot imagine, and suddenly my brain seems connected to my camera and I come home with a few pics that makes me happy.

If I had any talent to paint, I dodged my camera and started a real art.

:-)
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Rob C

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2018, 04:44:32 pm »

Can not agree more.

Do you know the story of Artur Fields, Man On The Bridge?
I can recommend the documentary.

No, I'd never heard of him. Another business that's perhaps alive somewhere that doesn't do selfies!

BobDavid

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #16 on: May 15, 2018, 07:20:02 pm »

I'm a bit documented on the topic and find it difficult to segregate the caff from the wheat. There is a lot of blabla about the topic. About photography in general.
I try to find the answers in the pictures I make, it seems to me the more productive approach.
And I can fall into a photographers block, you cannot imagine, and suddenly my brain seems connected to my camera and I come home with a few pics that makes me happy.

If I had any talent to paint, I dodged my camera and started a real art.

:-)

Photography can be "a real art" as much as painting. It's a matter of intention. I know house painters who are skilled at their craft. They're using paint differently than John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, Edward Hopper, etc.
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RSL

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #17 on: May 15, 2018, 07:46:43 pm »

Exactly!
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petermfiore

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #18 on: May 15, 2018, 09:37:03 pm »

Exactly!
Russ,

Not Impossible, but very difficult not to anonymous...

Peter

Rob C

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Re: A Lecture on Street Photography
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2018, 04:04:39 am »

Yeah, photography can sometimes be art, but given the talent, I would rather have been a painter, but not a "weekend" one: very good, or not at all.

Photography is just too easy; perhaps a great painter feels the same about painting, a musician about music. But a difference is that you don't have to be a great photographer to be able to make technically great photographs, and this is an accelerating phenomenon which, I fear, can only devalue photography more every day.

Perhaps, with analogue, apart from the look of a good wet print, it's the small tech. challenge of the entire medium that allows one a greater sense of achievement when its magic is learned.

I linked a new - to me - video of Sally Mann in the "Styles" section; I just fell in temporary love with her, listening to her cite her emotions at the moment of making what she feels might have been a lovely shot: nothing else I have done either has given me the same charge. The sense of shared kinship within that experience is so binding! It's also a bit reassuring to realise that it doesn't mean you're nuts, or at least, if you are, others have - and enjoy - the same syndrome too!

;-)
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