Too Many Terrible Photos

No, the heading isn’t a description of my own My London Diary, though I have to admit that I have often posted too many pictures of a particular event, but part of the headline of an article I read on PetaPixel, Rant: Street Photographers are Posting Too Many Terrible Photos Online.

Its an article worth reading, though I think I start with a more basic objection to much so-called ‘street photography’, which is that too often its concerns are essentially trivial. For me photography isn’t about the paragraph in the article which I think clearly expresses the article’s writer Nicholas Goodden’s view of what photographs should be about:

Is it outstandingly beautiful in the way it contrasts light/shadow, or the way the lines, silhouettes, and shapes come together? Is there some clever juxtaposition? Will the viewer be hit by a tornado of emotions? Will it make people laugh, blush, or cry?

Of course it’s sometimes nice to make pictures that use some of these things, though I’m rather doubtful about that “tornado of emotions”; I’d prefer to have photographs that make people think and that are more open to different interpretations. And that have perhaps a certain mystery. But above all photographs that are not just about making pictures, but that have something to say about the society we live in.

And of course much that has been called ‘street photography’ does. One of the books on the shelves next to my computer desk is perhaps the bible of street photography, ‘Bystander’, by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz. It’s a work that everyone who wants to think of themself as being a ‘street photographer’ should read and digest, full of great work by photographers I admire, including Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, Garry Winogrand and more, although one of the photographers dealt with at greatest length in the book, Robert Frank, refused to let his pictures appear, so they should read it together with his ‘The Americans‘, a book I think you can’t really call yourself a photographer unless you own a well-thumbed copy of.

I spent some years working on the streets of London (as I still do) when I thought of myself as a ‘street photographer’, and have hundreds if not thousands of contact sheets from those days, which perhaps one day I’ll revisit and publish something from. Back in 2008 on this site I wrote Street a State of Mind? which I think is still worth reading, with a more or less random selection of black and white images (including the one above) which I just happened to have scanned for various articles from that large body of work. Here’s my first paragraph from that post:

I think I’ve more or less got over being a street photographer, though I work most of the time on the street, if anything I do think of myself as a ‘post-street’ photographer. Been there, done that, eventually got bored.

Rather than repeat myself, I’ll leave you to read what I wrote then.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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