What is Street Photography? Most people when they first hear this term, think Street Photography is a photo of a Street or the image has to be taken on a Street. Is it Art or Documentary? What makes it so hard to define? Street Photography as a genre is constantly evolving, so that means our definitions are also evolving. It means many things to many people. I am no authority on this matter, however I can say what it means to me.
For me, Street Photography is all about my subjects. It is a study of humanity within the Urban Environment. It’s at best when it is candid and spontaneous. It has a strong composition and captures a mood or an emotion.
The urban environment is usually defined as a public area that people are free to come and go, however many images are taken in subway stations or art galleries that may not be a public space but are accepted as such. Even portraits taken inside a person’s home if travelling and the subject is unknown to you is generally accepted. Beaches are also classed as an urban environment and are an excellent space to photograph people at their leisure. Street Photography encompasses candid street photography, street portraiture, still life and urban images (which are more about the urban landscape and the stories that people have left behind). Street Photography can be decorative or documentary. I lean towards the decorative, but I admire both.
So what images do not fall into this genre? For me, Landscapes and Cityscapes are beautiful but have a genre of their own. The same can be said for portraits of models and a known subject. If I were to see a model on their coffee break and the image was completely candid, they are fair game. If I were to hire a model and take her out on the street, that is not what I see as a street photo. This has been done however, when a model is hired to walk by and provoke a reaction or a response from a subject, but I see this more staged than street. So we find so many grey areas and more often than not, we must agree to disagree.
This image was captured by the River Seine, this woman seemed to be in her own world, and much younger than her years. Perhaps dreaming about her past. The leading lines in this image draw your eye directly to the subject.
This image was taken of the same subject with her consent. I see it equally valid, there is still a candid feeling to this portrait. I like her ambivalent expression, she seems to be amused and barely tolerant in the same expression. I had imposed upon her, but not for long.
This final image is of a man sleeping by the River Seine. There have been many debates about if it is ethical capturing people as they sleep, personally I am drawn to these images and find no problem at all if they are in a public area.
So all you really need to do, is decide what Street Photography means to you. Study the Masters and your contemporaries but look to yourself first and foremost.