Undefining Street Photography
In the interviews and seminars that I do two questions continually arise…
1- Can you define Street Photography for us?
2- Does Street Photography have a future?
In the past I have tried to explain the place of Street Photography within the documentary tradition, I have talked about Street Photography as an approach, an attitude rather than a place where the pictures are made, I’ve talked about the minimal equipment required to shoot on the streets and the lack of interaction between the photographer and subject.
To the second question I have talked about society and culture continually changing and therefore the subject matter of Street Photography continually being renewed and refreshed and relevant.
Finally I have arrived at the realisation that I have been coming at these questions from completely the wrong angle, I have been playing the interviewers game, I have been going along with the notion that ‘Street Photography’ is a ring fenced region of some greater province known as ‘Photography’ the boundaries of which need to be demarcated with rules about its practice.
Now it is absolutely clear to me that these questions themselves were flawed and the things I had talked about were indeed characteristics of Street Photography but they did not define it.
Now I understand that ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form, it is the medium itself, it is actually all the other forms of photography that need defining, landscape, fashion, portrait, reportage, art, advertising….these are all complicating additions to the medium of Photography, they are the areas that need to be defined, ring fenced and partitioned out of the medium of ‘Street Photography’.
When a child picks up a camera and pushes the button that simple spontaneous image is a Street Photograph, it is, first of all, a raw reaction to the scene in front of it, a person, a car, a color. That primitive urge to react, to make a picture is at the heart of Street Photography beyond any other area of picture making, it comes before any other agenda.
So we are all Street Photographers before we narrow our sights and impose conditions and rules on ourselves to become Portrait photographers, Fashion Photographers, Landscape Photographers, Art Photographers (whatever that really means) etc.
Street Photography is Photography and so the second question is easily answered, the future of Street Photography is intrinsically tied to the future of the medium itself, while there is Photography there will be Street Photography because it is the Prime Mover, the evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.
It is not a coincidence that the first ever photograph was a street scene, a simple candid view, the most basic form, it might be considered a landscape but it will always be firstly a Street Photograph, any other definitions will be subsequent and overlaid.
As Street Photographers we need no longer explain ourselves, we need no longer wrangle over a form of words. It is for the rest of Photography to define itself, to explain what new and meritorious characteristics it has brought to Street Photography that make it different and worthy of note.
This article written by Nick Turpin was first published in 2012