What IS Street Photography

Love it or hate it, street photography is everywhere around the globe. Most people live in urban areas, and everybody has a camera burning a hole in their pocket wanting to show others what they see nearby.

The art of photography has evolved right along with the art of art and society.

Back in olden days at the beginning of the last century, people were running around, well maybe not “running” with big complicated contraptions on stilts to capture everything they could see and make with their chemical driven machines.

Then a group of mechanics sprang up to optimize each bit of the photographic machines from the chemistry of the innards capturing the light, gadgets to measure the light, the glass optics in the lenses; to the chemistry, light, and lenses of the developing laboratory. The goal was perfect, just so photographs. This meant the stuff being photographed had to be arranged in all the right places for the carefully focused lens to capture the measured light perfectly. One f64 gang was lead by a landscape photographer named Ansel Adams, who kept the faith pure and exact.

The PPP, perfect photograph people, developed rules of all photographs and photographers to follow to be able to make their own perfect photographs—don’t call them “pictures.” The rules meant if a photographer followed them carefully, they could learn to make their own perfect photographs—it was not important what was in the photographs, as long as they were following the rules.

At the same time there was another gang called “pictorialists,” lead by a godfather by the name of William Mortensen. He was a terrible person, according to the mechanics, who thought what was in the photograph mattered more than the rules followed to make it. He went crazy photographing naked people doing risque and even irreligious things, as opposed to photographing naked people, women of course, artistically following the rules.

Both groups claimed the same patron saint of photography, Alfred Stieglitz, who was actually a pictorialist. Such is a common story in human history…

To the credit of the mechanics, their work got incorporated in cameras and photographic techniques everywhere today. They were free in sharing what they learned for everybody to use.

The pictorialists were sidelined to some extent by the views of the mechanics who became the mainstream of photography…or did they?

The pictorialists became the street photographers, art photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers. They learned the techniques of the mechanics and then used them to take pictures of the world and the world their artistic vision showed them. They took pictures of everything everywhere, and staged pictures just like the old pictorialists did to make art—and art always shocks and offends somebody somewhere, because that is what it is about, along with beauty and imagination.

The mechanics went on to be the landscape photographers, still life photographers, macro photographers, advertising photographers.

The two descendants argue with each other, steal from each other, use techniques and equipment from each other, … oh the humanity.

The pictorialists will always demand the picture be about something and show something, rules be damned. The mechanics will always demand the rules to be followed. And so it goes…