Street talk

Thomas Stanworth asks Is Street Photography Killing Itself?, and gives an excellent summary of some of the reasons why so much of it is boring and pointless, along with many images culled from the web to support his case. It’s an article that will probably be reacted to with some forceful comments, particularly from those who either haven’t bothered to read it or who have failed to understand it.

Personally I’ve never been convinced ‘street photography‘ was ever alive. I’ve written a little before about it and my feeling that it is not a real or useful category, something which I think becomes entirely obvious if you read it’s ‘bible’, Westerbeck & Meyerowitz’s ‘Bystander. Fortunately almost none of those whose work is in its pages considered themselves as a ‘street photographer’; they were all taking photographs on or from the streets – as opposed to working in a studio – but they all went on to those streets with particular ideas and stories they were interested and involved in photographing.

The problem with most so-called ‘street photography’ I see now is simply that it is vacuous. Stanworth uses a lot of examples and explains the point well, and there are a couple of sentences in the middle giving a little advice to those who must be street photographers that I think really the crux:

“However, just engaging in the subject of photography helps. Learning a little more about yourself helps. Learning about the people and environment around you and your thoughts and reactions to it helps. The sad truth is that most of our effort in photography amounts to nothing.”

‘Street photography’ in general is, as he said, seen as ‘cool’. It is generally cool in that it is unengaged, using a small ragbag of tricks to produce images as deep as the average street puddle.

In his final sentences Stanworth again makes his views clear:

“And here we are back to the supreme importance of relationships, expression and connection. Without these things, both just become repetitive, predictable acts that lose their lustre.”

For a quite different piece of writing by Stanworth, I’ve also been reading his review of the Fuji X100F on his Photofundamentalist blog. It’s very much a photographer’s review rather than the technical tour-de-forces that sites such as offer, and one that complements their work well.  It makes me think I really ought to buy one, though having also read his view on the Ricoh GR I think I might find that more useful – if I can live without an optical viewfinder, though there is a rather expensive external accessory that will fit in the hot shoe.

His photography is also worth a look.

2 Responses to “Street talk”

  1. ChrisL says:

    “Everyone else is better off editing at least until it hurts.”
    That’s a great take home message.

    I would, if I had the skills, write a similar article on “landscape” photography which has some benefit of being more defined as a form (and certainly more books to support it, a father figure in AA and perhaps is less cool, but has equally, if not more, depressingly large numbers of “me too” sunsets/sunrises and locations that are repeated ad nauseam often with “filters” or processing that I consider so extreme to be surely intended as a joke.
    (I plead guilty to having taken a frame of the tree at Milarrochy Bay, feel free to Google images and you will find maybe a few more than me have done that, I do know a good cliche when I see one).

  2. Yes, I think the difference is that too many of the people who talk about themselves as street photographers somehow think they are doing something new and exciting. There was a huge lot of hype about the new street photography some years ago that rather got up the noses of me and other photographers who had been working on the streets for years, with largely fairly untalented photographers claiming to have invented the wheel.

    Though there is a lot of bad landscape photography around (including from some people who have books and exhibitions that get them called the UK’s leading landscape photographer and suchlike nonsense) I don’t think we’ve ever seen the same hype or pretentiousness. And frankly anyone who uses a tobacco filter just doesn’t understand photography so far as I’m concerned!

    We all take plenty of cliches, hard to avoid. But some of us aren’t proud of them!

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