What makes street photography so compelling and captivating? One of the main reasons is the power of storytelling.
Storytelling is the art of creating images that tell a narrative, evoke emotions, and provoke thoughts. It is not just about capturing what you see, but also what you feel and imagine. Storytelling in street photography can be done in diverse ways, such as using a single shot or a series of shots, using composition, lighting, color, symbols, gestures, expressions, and timing.
However, unlike other forms of storytelling, such as literature or cinema, street photography does not have a fixed plot, characters, or dialogue. It relies on the viewer’s interpretation and imagination to fill in the gaps and create their own story. This is what makes street photography so fascinating and unique.
The story behind a photo is influenced by many factors, such as the photographer’s intention, the subject’s situation, the context of the scene, and the technical aspects of the image. But more importantly, the story behind a photo is influenced by the viewer’s perception, perspective, and preferences and even their conscious and sub-conscious biases. The same image can have different meanings and messages for different people. For example, a photo of a woman smiling at a man can be seen as friendly, flirtatious, sarcastic, or nervous depending on the viewer’s point of view.
As a street photographer, you should be aware of the potential stories that your images can convey and how they can affect your audience. You should also be open to the possibility that your images can be interpreted in ways that you did not intend or expect. This can be both exciting and challenging, as you never know how your images will be received and what stories they will inspire.
One way to understand how different viewers will interpret the story behind a photo very differently in street photography is to look at some examples of famous street photographs and analyze how they can be interpreted differently by different people.
For instance, consider this iconic image by Henri Cartier-Bresson taken in 1937.
The different takes on this image can evoke different emotions and thoughts in the viewer. Some may find the image amusing, others may find it alarming, others may find it innocent, others may find it aggressive. The story behind the photo depends on the viewer’s imagination and experience.
Despite these differences, getting to the real story can sometimes be guessed or may even be impossible. In the example image above, I always loved the image because it is intriguing. It can be hard to figure out exactly what is going on. Is the man at the bottom asleep, knocked out or dead? Why is he down there? Was he pushed by the young boy that is looking at the camera? Based on clues (the empty space where the young boy is) you could guess he fell and perhaps that is why he is unconscious. Was he pushed?
Iti s not until you find out about the story (read more here https://www.magnumphotos.com/events/exhibitions/king-coronation-london-crowds-hcb/ ) that you learn that Henri Cartier-Bresson was sent on assignment to photograph and document the coronation of King George VI. And, luckily enough for us, he didn’t concentrate on photographing the King and entourage but rather he turned his back and chose to photograph the crowd as he found it more interesting.
Here is what Henri had to say about the image.
“People had waited all night in Trafalgar Square in order not to miss any part of the coronation ceremony of George VI. Some slept on benches and others on newspapers. The next morning, one who was wearier than the others, had not yet wakened to see the ceremony for which he had kept such a late vigil.”
There is the actual story. Or is it? Weary? Or still asleep from a long night of drinking? A late Vigil or a full evening of celebration? You never truly know and THAT is the magic of street photography.
This is just one example of how different viewers will interpret the story behind a photo very differently in street photography. There are many more examples of street photographs that can have multiple interpretations and meanings. As a street photographer, you should embrace this diversity and complexity of storytelling. You should also respect your viewers’ opinions and perspectives, even if they differ from yours.
Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of street photography. It can make your images more engaging, meaningful, and memorable. It can also challenge you to grow as a photographer and as a storyteller. So next time you hit the streets with your camera, don’t just take pictures; tell stories.
Note: When naming any images, DO NOT tell the story or give the story away with your title. Let your audience create their own story without guiding them!
See you on the Streets.