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Street Photography Now – book review

In feedback I received on assignment 3, I was recommended to look at modern developments in street photography, including the book Street Photography Now. I owned this book prior to starting the OCA course, but felt it would be interesting to revisit having now spent a few months studying.

The book is an international guide to over 40 contemporary street photographers, providing not only a selection of images from each photographer but words from each on their motivations and ways of working. There is also commentary on the evolution of street photography and brief analysis of the works included. The insights provided brush-away the cobwebs from the traditionalist views of street photography based on the works of Cartier-Bresson et al from the early 20th century. Some of these views are still pervasive on certain photo-sharing sites that demand, for example, black and white images only, no post-processing, no staged images.

The book is remarkable for its breadth and depth of coverage and commentary on genre now, its developments and challenges it faces. The main lessons I took away from the book after reading it for the second time were:

  • There are no rules in street photography – the best practitioners make their own rules
  • Motivations for making images on the street are as varied as the number photographers in the book. From serious social commentary to amusing visual puns.
  • Without fail, the photos fill the frame and are full of visual interest. Many are close up. There are no dead spots.
  • Street photography often features people, but not always. Commentary 2 of the book, No Ideas But In Things, explores ‘still life’ street photography. One example is Nils Jorgensen’s image of shoes left on a corner pavement in the rain. Another is Matt Stuart’s photo displayed as the feature image of this blog post. I found this type of image compelling and not necessarily something I would look for when preoccupied with filling my frame with a person.
  • The street photographers featured have many different approaches to dealing with the challenge of taking uninvited images of people on the street. From what to me appears highly intrusive and even aggressive, through sneaky (unseen), to collaborative and spending time with the subjects. In certain jurisdictions some photographers talk about the challenges of privacy laws – a memorable example is Bruno Quinquet’s work in Japan, where it is legal to take photos of people, but not to publish them. To overcome this in his Salaryman Project he ensures that none of the subjects are recognisable, with either their faces obscured or blurred.

In summary, this book provides a lesson in experimentation for street photographers everywhere.

References

Howarth S and McLaren S (2010). Street photography now. Paperback ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Bibliography

Coombes P (2010). BBC photoblog [online]. Street Photography Now – review. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/photoblog/2010/10/street_photography_now.html [accessed 27.6.15]

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