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Author Topic: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?  (Read 2637 times)

petermfiore

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Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« on: May 19, 2018, 08:01:45 am »

Interesting read, Much food for thought...   

http://thephotofundamentalist.com/general-discussion/is-street-photography-killing-itself/     from 2/2/17

Peter

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2018, 09:54:13 am »

Hi Peter,

It's an interesting article, but right off the bat I'm brought up short by his use of the word "egalitarian," in other words, "favoring social equality." I don't see how street favors social equality. But he seems to accept that idea without question and then plunges on. It's sort of like Marx deciding that value comes from human labor and that inequality can be explained by Capitalism stealing the fruits of that labor, then plunging on into Das Kapital.

He then charges into the idea that all those people out there are accessing public areas and banging away, and that all of that is street photography. That's roughly equivalent to saying that all those people making tourist pictures by banging away at distant mountains are ruining landscape.

He also seems to think that because digital photography is less work than film photography it's now easier to get good street shots. That means that as long as you have the right gear, you're a "rock and roll street photography sniper." It's sort of equivalent to Brooks Jensen telling us about the guy with the "good camera." (see http://www.russ-lewis.com/essays/TechnicalExcellence.htm).

But in general, I agree with him. I hate to see street photography brought down by people doing it badly. It would be easy to post a link to a good example of that, but I don't want to insult anyone I correspond with and often admire when they're not trying to do street.

Then I reflect on the first Impressionist exhibition, banished from the Salon and hung in Nadar's studio, and the fact that time heals all wounds (as well as wounding all heels), and that in the end good art survives while bad art dies a quiet death.

Two23

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2018, 10:21:00 am »

The guy makes some good points, but over all I get the feeling this is a person a bit jaded with photography in general.  I found his argument that current cameras are much easier to get good shots with than those we had 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago I was using a Nikon F100, whose operation (auto exposure, AF, fast zooms, etc.) is pretty much the same as my current D800E.  It is easier to get a technically good shot with either of those cameras than it is a camera from the 1930s, but he didn't go back that far.  All of his comments could be said about any other genre of photography--birds/wildlife, landscape, etc.  There is a flood of people out there "banging away", partly because there is no longer the cost of film.  I will argue that most of these photos aren't taken with cameras at all, but cellphones.  Finally there is this: "The sad truth is that most of our effort in photography amounts to nothing. We’ve all worked hard and come back with a slew of entirely disappointing images, but this does not mean we stop trying."  He is exactly right.  I've been shooting and learning for over 30 years now, but still think only 5% (if that) of my photos are really any good.  At times I find that discouraging, but then I look at the photos I took 25 years ago which I thought were my best, and now wonder, "Why did I take it?" ;D   So, I'm making progress.  It's that 5% that keeps me going.


Kent in SD
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32BT

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2018, 10:33:45 am »

Actually, it seems that his point is that people actually publish those 99% failures because, amongst others they don't take the time to sit down and really filter the result. On top of that the social interaction creates filterbubbles that encourages "bad" results.

He also claims that there must be really good results out there but our exposure to it is diminishing quickly. The latter is a point that Mike over at TOP frequently makes that these days we make judgements about photography based on an extremely minute samplesize of images we see, since even if we see 100s of images each day, that still represents a completely negligable number relative to what we produce collectively.

But the former point is probably a correct observation, if we flood a genre with mediocre images in filterbubbles, this could well spell the end of the original meaning of such category.
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RSL

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2018, 10:36:16 am »

The guy makes some good points, but over all I get the feeling this is a person a bit jaded with photography in general.  I found his argument that current cameras are much easier to get good shots with than those we had 20 years ago.  Twenty years ago I was using a Nikon F100, whose operation (auto exposure, AF, fast zooms, etc.) is pretty much the same as my current D800E.  It is easier to get a technically good shot with either of those cameras than it is a camera from the 1930s, but he didn't go back that far.  All of his comments could be said about any other genre of photography--birds/wildlife, landscape, etc.  There is a flood of people out there "banging away", partly because there is no longer the cost of film.  I will argue that most of these photos aren't taken with cameras at all, but cellphones.  Finally there is this: "The sad truth is that most of our effort in photography amounts to nothing. We’ve all worked hard and come back with a slew of entirely disappointing images, but this does not mean we stop trying."  He is exactly right.  I've been shooting and learning for over 30 years now, but still think only 5% (if that) of my photos are really any good.  At times I find that discouraging, but then I look at the photos I took 25 years ago which I thought were my best, and now wonder, "Why did I take it?" ;D   So, I'm making progress.  It's that 5% that keeps me going.


Kent in SD

Kent, if 5% of your photos are good you're hitting on all cylinders. Oh, and hindsight is always 20-20.

BJL

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Yet another curmudgeonly, elitist rant about how when a change makes it less difficult for people to do something, more people do it, and do it more often, and almost inevitably a greater amount of poor to mediocre stuff comes out; even a greater fraction of the products being low quality. So harrumph, we should also have to do our own developing and printing, or maybe even prepare our own hand-coated emulsions, so that only truly dedicated artists can make photographs!

But it seems likely to me that even if the good quality stuff is a smaller fraction of the total, the overall number of good outcomes and of talented people getting into the field increases. Just more work for him to cull down to the stuff that impresses him.

And he documents the rant with a half dozen photos that do not impress him, with no indication of how he selected them (key words: "confirmation bias"), as if that proves anything beyond "hey, photographers inferior to me get to put their photos on the internet!".

P. S. I see this in my field of higher education: there are often complaints that easier access from about the 1950's on has lead to a reduced _average_ quality of an undergraduate education, but what I also see is that the total number of well-prepared graduates likely exceeds the total number of all graduates in that former era.
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BJL

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... I'm brought up short by his use of the word "egalitarian," in other words, "favoring social equality."
I think he makes it clear what he means by that term: the easier access due to the lower "cost of entry", since the genre does not require a studio, lights, assistants, etc.  So "equality of opportunity", not "equality of outcomes"'; are you more comfortable with that?
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Rob C

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2018, 11:40:46 am »

Overall, I think he makes a good point: the world is flooded with snaps.

And no, it's not a modern problem nor is it confined to street alone. During the 70s/80s I was contracted with Tony Stone Worldwide, the foremost stock operation in the U.K. Soon after I settled here in Mallorca I explored every little bit of territory that looked promising for model shots (beaches, mostly) and also shot lots of so-called atmospherics for the travel market etc. I eventually got a call from the library asking me to stop shooting Med material, that every library in London was drowning in it.

Later, I contacted the stock library association HQ asking for advice regarding a different agency for model pix for lifestyle/calendars. The lady there wrote back saying exactly the same thing as the Stone agency: London agencies are flooded to drowning with every genre you can think about. That was pre-digital. Imagine the state today.

Why would street, even less of a commercial prospect, fare better or attract better photographers?

Dream on.

petermfiore

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2018, 12:50:47 pm »

Why would street, even less of a commercial prospect, fare better or attract better photographers?

Dream on.

Rob,

Exactly...Too much access, Too many pictures of nothing and most a quirk at best. Todays cameras make tech easy. Lots a snappers aim and make an "art" frozen moment in time. It's all around us. The author was just saying we need to work harder and not rely on cliched concepts. We ALL can do better...

Peter

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Is Street Photography Killing Itself? counter-rant continued!
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2018, 03:24:48 pm »

... Too many pictures of nothing and most a quirk at best. Todays cameras make tech easy. Lots a snappers aim and make an "art" frozen moment in time.

I have to ask again; why is an increase in the number or even the proportion of bad to mediocre photos on the internet in itself a problem? That increase does not rule out there also being as much or more good work being done, so long as it is not much harder to find it.

That "finding" is his main grievance seems, based on the the photos to be found by rambling through social media (he mentions Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, apparently not even considering the slightly more upscale options like 500px). So I am tempted to grumpily suggest that one way back for him to get back the "good old days" is to get back to the ways he discovered good examples of street photography in those days: probably through more "curated" outlets like galleries, magazines, word-of-mouth from fellow photographers and other trusted sources, and websites with actual editorial practices beyond "click here it upload".

So my rant would be against "relying on crowd-sourcing and automated search" and in favor or "curation and establishing some trusted sources".

The author was just saying we need to work harder and not rely on cliched concepts.
He was not just saying that; his headline (and yours) was far more dire: raising the prospect that street photography is killing itself.

Or maybe that was just click-bait in his headline — but then overall, I find misleading, fear-mongering or over-promising "click-bait" headlines far more damaging to journalism, communication and judgement than the ability of less talented and less "invested" people to take photos and publish them on social media, where none of us has to look at them if we are not interested.
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Telecaster

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2018, 05:57:31 pm »

If there's an issue with actually getting to see the creative/compelling/innovative photos being made nowadays, I think it has to do with a lack of credible tastemakers. People who wade through the muck, filter out the dross and spotlight the gems. Which in turn has to do with the decline of photography as a commercial enterprise. Same deal with other creative media, such as music. Not enough people being paid well enough to keep doing it at an ecosystem-supporting level. The tastemaking systems of the past were certainly flawed—favoritism, personal vendetta, payola, etc.—but they were economically viable and were taken seriously enough by enough people that they worked pretty well overall.

Nowadays you've gotta put more effort into finding the good stuff, and in an environment where there's so much more stuff in total to wade through. IMO it's hard not to get overwhelmed in the process.

-Dave-
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petermfiore

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2018, 06:05:50 pm »

If there's an issue with actually getting to see the creative/compelling/innovative photos being made nowadays, I think it has to do with a lack of credible tastemakers. People who wade through the muck, filter out the dross and spotlight the gems. Which in turn has to do with the decline of photography as a commercial enterprise. Same deal with other creative media, such as music. Not enough people being paid well enough to keep doing it at an ecosystem-supporting level. The tastemaking systems of the past were certainly flawed—favoritism, personal vendetta, payola, etc.—but they were economically viable and were taken seriously enough by enough people that they worked pretty well overall.

Nowadays you've gotta put more effort into finding the good stuff, and in an environment where there's so much more stuff in total to wade through. IMO it's hard not to get overwhelmed in the process.

-Dave-

Exactly the point...and the payoff is slight.

Peter

Rob C

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2018, 04:26:54 am »

If there's an issue with actually getting to see the creative/compelling/innovative photos being made nowadays, I think it has to do with a lack of credible tastemakers. People who wade through the muck, filter out the dross and spotlight the gems. Which in turn has to do with the decline of photography as a commercial enterprise. Same deal with other creative media, such as music. Not enough people being paid well enough to keep doing it at an ecosystem-supporting level. The tastemaking systems of the past were certainly flawed—favoritism, personal vendetta, payola, etc.—but they were economically viable and were taken seriously enough by enough people that they worked pretty well overall.

Nowadays you've gotta put more effort into finding the good stuff, and in an environment where there's so much more stuff in total to wade through. IMO it's hard not to get overwhelmed in the process.

-Dave-

Absolutely right on the money (or lack of i!).

Stock photography used to be a great second-string for many professional photographers, and some very talented and persistent ones could make it a lucrative career that offered as close to total freedom as any artist could want. In my case, it was mainly a useful outlet for the extra shots from commisioned work, and promised to turn into a reasonable addition to later pension and savings.

The reality? I'm no longer even in a stock library and the people I knew who were in similar positions to myself have stopped contributing anything too. Not worth the cost of making the work. Why? The same reason that killed Kodak: people don't need to invest to speculate, now, thanks to digital. On top of that, one can thank the monopoly of Getty and Corbis (if it still exists) and the massive drop in percentage of the sale money going to the photographer. What's he gonna do? From 50% of the value of the sale, down to a few pennies in the dollar makes it attractive only to the guy who does it to get published, poor sod. What he is really getting, is screwed.

But he'll never believe you; pride won't let him.

OmerV

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Yet another curmudgeonly, elitist rant about how when a change makes it less difficult for people to do something, more people do it, and do it more often, and almost inevitably a greater amount of poor to mediocre stuff comes out; even a greater fraction of the products being low quality. So harrumph, we should also have to do our own developing and printing, or maybe even prepare our own hand-coated emulsions, so that only truly dedicated artists can make photographs!

But it seems likely to me that even if the good quality stuff is a smaller fraction of the total, the overall number of good outcomes and of talented people getting into the field increases. Just more work for him to cull down to the stuff that impresses him.

And he documents the rant with a half dozen photos that do not impress him, with no indication of how he selected them (key words: "confirmation bias"), as if that proves anything beyond "hey, photographers inferior to me get to put their photos on the internet!".

P. S. I see this in my field of higher education: there are often complaints that easier access from about the 1950's on has lead to a reduced _average_ quality of an undergraduate education, but what I also see is that the total number of well-prepared graduates likely exceeds the total number of all graduates in that former era.

Yes, he admits to his own taste and prejudice. Interestingly, in the days of paper, photography editors were rarely doubted or questioned but they certainly had their own prejudices.

I agree with you that while the democratization of photography has inundated us with pictures, we are the better for it. Digital and the internet has done for photography, and more so for video, what the printing press did for the written word which of course has also greatly benefited.   

Rob C

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Yes, he admits to his own taste and prejudice. Interestingly, in the days of paper, photography editors were rarely doubted or questioned but they certainly had their own prejudices.

I agree with you that while the democratization of photography has inundated us with pictures, we are the better for it. Digital and the internet has done for photography, and more so for video, what the printing press did for the written word which of course has also greatly benefited.

Don't quite accept the totality of that!

Yes, the Internet has become a massive enabler of rapid transmission of thought, but there are many problems associated with that. As has been touched upon already, much of it is the little matter of editing (as distinct from censorship) or, rather, lack of it. The world of paper largely took care of that, and the filters were pretty efficient, which is perhaps why we of longer memory have based our view of good and evil (at midnight or otherwise, in gardens as in studios) on the culled work, not the entirety of the dross from which the jems were shaken out.

Now a hard heart could argue that it boiled down to editiorial opinion which, of course, is entirely true. But don't forget: there were enough of us out there who agreed, to the extent of buying the publications, often when we could ill afford them. That meant we cared, that we felt a common, visceral connection; today, looking at websites costs nothing but the electricity, just like making a cellphone snap. And our three-minute minds save us from sleepless nights. In other words, in contrast, the viewer numbers are not reliable value indicators as were the buyer numbers of old.

I've looked at many of the so-called expert camera tester guys out there on the web, some self-appointed gurus of street; what an amazing bunch of con artists amongst them! Every new product is the best since the last, and not a shred of visual evidence backs them up. Some go walkies down the streets of wherever, sip coffee in coffee shops and make insider jokes. So coooool, so pointless and bland. Yet, of them all, poor old Ken R. appears to have been arbitrarily appointed principal cross-bearer.

As for finding the Internet as rewarding to language/writing as the printing press... you have to be joking! You were, weren't you?

;-)

petermfiore

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Don't quite accept the totality of that!

Yes, the Internet has become a massive enabler of rapid transmission of thought, but there are many problems associated with that. As has been touched upon already, much of it is the little matter of editing (as distinct from censorship) or, rather, lack of it. The world of paper largely took care of that, and the filters were pretty efficient, which is perhaps why we of longer memory have based our view of good and evil (at midnight or otherwise, in gardens as in studios) on the culled work, not the entirety of the dross from which the jems were shaken out.

Now a hard heart could argue that it boiled down to editiorial opinion which, of course, is entirely true. But don't forget: there were enough of us out there who agreed, to the extent of buying the publications, often when we could ill afford them. That meant we cared, that we felt a common, visceral connection; today, looking at websites costs nothing but the electricity, just like making a cellphone snap. And our three-minute minds save us from sleepless nights. In other words, in contrast, the viewer numbers are not reliable value indicators as were the buyer numbers of old.

I've looked at many of the so-called expert camera tester guys out there on the web, some self-appointed gurus of street; what an amazing bunch of con artists amongst them! Every new product is the best since the last, and not a shred of visual evidence backs them up. Some go walkies down the streets of wherever, sip coffee in coffee shops and make insider jokes. So coooool, so pointless and bland. Yet, of them all, poor old Ken R. appears to have been arbitrarily appointed principal cross-bearer.

As for finding the Internet as rewarding to language/writing as the printing press... you have to be joking! You were, weren't you?

;-)
Spot on my friend...

Peter

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2018, 04:22:25 pm »

The other side of my post above, and the thing that keeps me from being pessimistic about the situation, is that overall people are good at adapting to change. I don't mean individual humans…as individuals we're pretty crap at adapting. But the saving grace is that we all die off, leaving younger folks free to do things and respond to situations their way. Generationally we not only adapt but we bend our circumstances to better suit us. Nothing is static.

-Dave-
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petermfiore

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2018, 10:16:49 pm »

Dave,

The new will always redefine the ground rules for it needs to grow. Always has been that way, and will always be.

Peter
« Last Edit: May 21, 2018, 06:57:09 am by petermfiore »
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Ivo_B

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2018, 05:10:49 am »

Dave,

The new will always redefine the ground rules for it need to grow. Always has been that way and will always be.

Peter

+1

Maybe street photography as it is defined by the street guru's is obsolete.

I find an image interesting when some elements come together: Strong story (and this can be the total absence of a story), Strong composition (and this can be the total ignorance of composition rules), colour balance, tonality, character of the image (I think B&W is obsolete for many reasons), Graphic, light balance (Contrast, Shadow vs light, claire obscure)

Imo, Street photography as defined is a subset of a broader photography theme: Urban Photography.
There is nothing 'elevated' or 'higher' on street photography. It is relatively narrow subset of a much more interesting scope: Human proliferation made visible with the comprehension of a camera's eye.

And I'm not convinced there where less garbage images pre digital era.
I remember endless dia shows at family evenings or photoclub presentations with all the same shit. Uncle Will who had the money to blow up every single shot of his perfectly centered unsharp picture of the tomcat of the house to poster format and hung it on literally every wall of the freaking house.
My dad who had the need to enlarge (and show the family) every 6x6 frame he shot in the local park. A birch. Two Birches, three Birches,........ But I have to say, all perfectly composed according to his 500BC manuscript 'Photographic compositions' written by Dr. Socrates himself.(ok this is not true)

The difference is, the internet is the perfect tool to flood all who is looking to his computer whit this image diarrhea. Is this good or bad?
It doesn't change a single thing.
If I want to see good photographs, I visit a well chosen exposition, just as we did pre 1990. Or I buy a Photo book with interesting theme or from the hand of a good photographer. Internet is not a trusty source for good photography. It is the flee market and that does have it's own charm.

Street photography is not killing itself, Society changes, so the subject is changing. If street photographers do not allow exegesis of the definition the style is deemed to fade out.

And there is something else. Contemporary Urban photography reflects the modern mentality. It reflects the complexity of people aware of there rights. Nowadays it is key to make you rights count, regardless if it make sense or not, if men have 'a right', are entitled to something, they race to court. (It would be great if peoples had the same urge to fulfill their duties as well)
In my home town, we have a mix of nationalities, pointing a camera in one direction on the street can end up with disturbances and perhaps physical violence, pointing the camera to the other direction can end up in a 'portraiture rights' claim. I was once arrested because I made a picture in the central station and by accident I had a undercover officer in the frame. He got me to turn in my film based on a 1890 law with states Rail station are of military interest and for that reason not allowed to photograph.
This change of environmental condition can not be kept out of the image, it sneaks in. Photographers have to find an answer on this changed reality.

A good friend of my have the natural talent to interact with peoples, even with the ones who would create disturbance. He makes wonderful street photography, but not according the 'rules' because there is interaction between the photographer and the subject.

If street photography is not following the reality it is framing, it will disappear for sure.

I think.  :o :o 8)

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Rob C

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Re: Is Street Photography Killing Itself?
« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2018, 06:17:28 am »

Urban Photography is a neat title, but it's still too broad for what's generally understood to constitute street. You'd have to exclude architecture as it appears in broader cityscape shots. No Empire State snaps, then. So, what about HC-B and his equivalents in Paris?

I feel that anything that's trying to retain some connection with the origins of street, which was not called that in Europe during the 50s, at least, should have some human connection - even if just a reference to human consumption and appetites. Local, human-scale environment, then, as distinct fom wider shots.

Now that I think of it in this light, it strikes me that street has turned out to be one of the most confusing - and misleading - photographic brands; I believe that the pre-street appellation - candid - achieves exactly the humanistic sort of vibe that today's name tries to enforce without, it appears too much success.

On the assumption that unposed is the ethic of street, then what better word than candid, which really implies without artifice, cooperative planning?

Rob
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