Street photography has always been a popular genre in the world of photography. It takes a prominent position in the body of work of famous photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.
Why street photography matters
Street photography is also important for our view on history. We have an idea what the US looked like in the 1950s thanks to “The Americans” of Robert Frank; we know what Amsterdam looked like in the 1960s thanks to the work of Ed van der Elsken, and what New York looked liked in the 1980s thanks to Richard Sandler. A couple of years ago, Vladimir Sychyov published his beautiful pictures of Moscow during the 1970s. These pictures provide us with a completely new impression of this city in that decade. The reason for this is that our previous impression was shaped by official propaganda pictures, or pictures taken by tourists that were only permitted limited access to Moscow. You could argue that street photography is a form of “slow journalism”, closely related to the “fast journalism” of press photography.
A great book
“Street Photography Now” is a great introduction to the world of Street photography at the beginning of the 21th century. The book contains work of and information about street photographers from around the globe.
The information about the individual photographers is interesting and tends to focus on the philosophy behind their work and their way of working. Whilst reading this book, it becomes clear that some street photographers take themselves and their work very, very seriously. Take Wolfgang Zurborn for instance: “My aim is to express the loss of orientation in the impenetrable thicket of our consumption- and media-fixated society”.
The book is beautifully illustrated and clearly geared towards the artistic side of street photography. It can serve as a source of energy and fountain of inspiration for everyone interested to develop himself in this area.
However, it does not cover technical aspects of street photography (cameras, lenses, post-production software, etc.). Also, the book does not deal with “the how” of street photography (e.g. if and how subjects need to be engaged) nor does it treat legal topics like release contracts, etc.
…in need of an update
It would be great if the publisher would decide to issue a new edition which would cover the massive impact Instagram has on street photography. The book stems from 2010 and does deal with Flickr, but not Instagram. This is a pity, because Instagram is the single most important development in the area of street photography since the Internet was founded.
The integration of smartphones and social media is having such a profound impact on street photography, that in due course we will distinguish between street photography before and after the introduction of Instagram.
In my opinion, our image of the second half of the 2010s will be informed not by famous photographers like those mentioned earlier, but by the multitude of people who post high-quality street photographs on a daily basis. The evidence? Type in #streetphotography in Instagram. At the exact moment I wrote this post there were 15.859.579 photos on Instagram with this tag…
Review “Street Photography Now” by by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren
Thames and Hudson Ltd; Reprint edition (13 Jun. 2011)