Nick Turpin’s statement
“Now I understand that ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form…..”
Is probably the least accurate statement I have ever heard when it comes to describing ANY form of photography, let alone, Street Photography. There is nothing about ‘Street Photography’ that is simple or simplistic, or basic in its values, processes, composition, nuances or artistic elements.
His notion that a child spontaneously pushing a button on a camera, perhaps photographing their sibling, or their favorite toy, or unknowingly, whatever is just in front of the camera, is “Street Photography”, is way off mark to the point of being silly.
That would be like suggesting that any beginner using a paintbrush for the very first time is the purest form of painting, even if it’s a purple shade of Benjamin Moore for a small bathroom. Or, that any mindless pen or pencil doodle on a napkin is the purest form of unhindered carnal art.
The base of “Street Photography” is Photography. The camera, is the medium, the tool, much like a painter uses Paint and Brush. To suggest that a child’s first view through a viewfinder is at its base Street Photography is much like suggesting that a child’s first painted “stick person” is the base of “Fine Art Abstract Nudes”. There is NO correlation, one does not lead to the other.
Keep in mind that Street Photography is an art. As such, when looking through the viewfinder the street photographer composes. Even when blindly shooting from the hip, the street photographer looks at backgrounds and makes decisions. This is after looking at the main subject and making decisions on when to shoot the decisive moment. These are NOT mindless, thoughtless snapshots. And, at all times, the Street Photographer thinks about art, creating amazing images. Never an easy task in such a fluid environment.
Another problem with the statement is that the same can be said of almost any art or any photographic genre. The principles of Sports Photography are as pure as are the skills required. Timing is everything. Sports photographers capture “decisive moments” even more so than most street photographers. When working with models in Fashion Photography, or Portraiture, or Wildlife, it’s the same “raw reaction” and “primitive urge to react” to the scene in front of the photographer that is at the heart of what they are doing. So, ALL forms of Photography are Fashion Photography, or is that, Wildlife Photography??
I understand the need, or the want, to think of your art form as being the purest art form, but one should toss any of those thoughts aside. Nick’s example of the very first photo ever taken, “View from Window at Le Gras”
Is another example that he has not thought through. He gets it wrong right from the get go. The image maker, Nicephore Niepce, was a scientist. His simplest purest thoughts were to achieve making an image, ANY image, and, as his equipment was in his Laboratory, and large, he pointed it out the window. He did this NOT because the view of rooftops was better, but because there was more sunlight out the window than there was in his Laboratory or Workshop. As a scientist he knew and understood that the extra light was required for what he new, or guessed, would be a rather long exposure. His exposure was in the neighborhood of eight hours. You can’t capture life with 8 hour exposures, but you could capture a picture of a street.
One of his readers rightly states that by defining Street Photography as he does merely simplifies Street Photography down to “nothing”. If Street Photography ‘is’ Photography, every form of, genre of, artistic abstract of photography, then any image taken by a monkey, or chicken, is Street Photography. I think not. Street Photography is so much more than merely pointing a camera with no purpose and pushing a button.
He further tries to correct his statement by defending himself when he accuses a reader of “misreading him.” The readers have not misread him, they have read him very well. It is Nick that has not described his intents very well.
In reading this, and other similarly bad examples given by different Street Photographers, I have pondered why they make these statements? What drives them. I think there are several things to look at that may lead to answers. Another reader of Nicks suggested the “elitism” is partly to blame. This is very true of Street Photography. How can an average Street Photographer, or even a top notch Street Photographer, distinguish themselves from the rest of the world doing Street Photography? In this day and age, it is no easy task.
So, they start off by laying claim to their art as being the purest form of Photography, even to the point of saying;
“Street Photography is the Prime Mover, the evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.”
This partly comes from other things artists do when trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, they push boundaries. I think that many photographers have lost sight of the boundaries. Pushing boundaries means amongst other things;
“To take undue risks, esp. through overconfidence, thus risking failure.”
It is the pushing of artistic boundaries within the context, NOT changing the context, to suit your artistic needs. It’s the “Fake News” of photography. Deciding that photos of dogs posed on a chair in a studio is Street Photography, does not make it ‘avant-garde’ Street Photography, no matter how many times you say it, who you can convince to say it for you, or how famous you are. Now, its possible that your very naïve clients may agree with you and buy your dog images as Street Photography, but its still not Street Photography.
Many Street Photographers have tried pushing the boundaries of the definition of what Street Photography is versus pushing themselves to push the boundaries of their own Street Photography Art. In the way of pushing the definition, they have failed miserably. Many that have taken this route have NOT pushed the boundaries of their art at all but rather have lazily attempted to change definitions to suit themselves. Pushing a boundary in a BLUE school is NOT going RED. Those are the Boundaries Broken, much like shooting Fine Art Nudes on a couch in a Studio is NOT Street Photography, it is a change in context. If you believe that Street Photography can be posed, not candid, doing nude fine art on the streets could perhaps be considered Street Photography.
If you believe, like I do, that Street Photography should be ‘candid’ and should capture and be about life on the ‘streets’, then pushing boundaries should stay within this context. A great example of a photographer pushing boundaries is Alexey Titarenko. His long exposures the blur the life component of Street Photography still capture the sense of ‘life’. It could easily be argued that his images ‘enhance’ life as the amalgamated blurs of lives in his images show the bland everyday mundane repetitive nature of everyday life.
If, on the other hand you are ok with ‘directing’ or ‘interacting’ with subjects, you could argue that bumping into them to capture their expressions and interactions with the rude person that just bumped into them, is pushing the boundaries. Is it everyday life? Did you capture a real moment? If you captured their reaction ‘before’ they realised they were being photographed, it would still be ‘candid’, perhaps ‘rude’, and if done on purpose could potentially be considered assault, but it would be ‘candid’ Street Photography. This would also be pushing the boundaries.
The point is that it becomes very important to define “What Street Photography is to you?.” What’s your definition? When you start pushing your own boundaries, are your images still in keeping with your definition? If you believe that ‘posed’ images of people on the streets is Street Photography as it captures ‘a person’ on the streets, does photographing them in a pool still count as Street Photography? What about photographing them in a studio? Where do you draw the line?
The important point is that ‘you’ should define Street Photography for yourself. But don’t be that lazy photographer. Put some thought into it, research it, think about it again, then decide. Oh, and if along the way you need to tweak your definition, make sure it’s a refinement and not just an easy way to get a photo of your dog on the couch, shown as Street Photography.
See you on the confused streets!
So we had another great outing on Sunday. The weather co-operated this time keeping everyone dry, if not a little cold. Coffee & doughnuts by the fire were great as usual. Met a few new photographers interested in Street Photography including a Film Shooter with a Nikon F2. That takes dedication and forces you to get the right shots and be more selective. Well done Warren.
Speaking of shooting film, we did see (and photographed) someone walking along Main Street with a Hasselblad over their shoulder. Not too often do you see that nowadays.
Overall a great day with some good shooting opportunities and a few need to return opportunities including a lady that walked out of the Library to feed the birds. After shaking their food tin and calling for some time, a large flock of pigeons came down. Will need to time that better.
• Part-1.3 – Nick Turpin: Street Photography Pie
You can tell by his writing and well thought out points that Nick Turpin believes in his definition of what Street Photography is. His point and arguments are concise as are his replies to comments on his page.
He starts off correctly with his statement of
“redefined the phrase Street Photography to what we recognize today…a documentary form that celebrated the candid public moment. And now whether you like the phrase or not there is unarguably a large and growing international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed, whose intention is to record public life as it is found.”
With the points of “candid public moments” and “to making pictures is purely observed” and “is to record public life as it is found” being key points in explaining what Street Photography is all about. This definition is the root, of what Street Photography is, what its about, and leads us to the Truth and the importance of Truth in Street Photography.
This definition excludes posed portraits, subjects directed by shouted comments or directed by photographic confrontation techniques.
The statement also brings up another very good point; “international community of photographers for whom it is very important that their approach to making pictures is purely observed.” If the root of Street Photography is about Truth and real life, its important that Street Photography hangs on to that. No matter what other genres are trying to claim or what Artists that are trying to push boundaries state, Street Photography is about ‘real life’.
His example of Jeff Walls Mimic 1982 is a great example. If the consumers of the image believe that street photography is real, it should be real. If they think and posed images or directed emotions are acceptable, then Street Photography will become nothing more than ‘fake news.’
Again, his comments are backed up with this comment
“The reason I get up again and again to defend candid Street Photography is because I believe IT REALLY MATTERS HOW PHOTOGRAPHS ARE MADE, it matters because it changes their meaning and historical value.”
If ‘all’ your images are faked or posed, what value to they have? Then you need to think about the integrity of your work, if some of your images are directed, how can viewers NOT question the truth or validity of the remaining images? A reader to his post commented on whether Street Photographers should take an oath like Journalists do and the reader suggests that we shouldn’t need to. I honestly believe that most good Street Photographers have taken an oath to themselves. And, this is why Nick’s statement below is so important and so valid
“it’s why we need the Street Photographers candid approach to be understood and respected.”
If Street Photography turns into nothing more than “Fake Images”, the art of Street Photography will be forever lost.
On this site I post some posed images that are “obviously” posed in that I like to share moments and some of the people I encounter on the streets. But, none of my other images are directed or posed. I do show a few images where I have been caught in the act of taking an image. This is so that I can; further setup the article that I am writing about what Street Photography is and; share with those learning Street Photography that these moments do happen; use then as examples of what maybe or may not be Street Photography (as in the bird down below).
Nick Turpin’s Street Photography Pie is a little over simplistic and doesn’t guide the reader that well. The three questions would fit into a flow chart much better. His explanation however is better
“It’s Photography yes, it’s Documentary Photography yes and it’s Candid Photography…yes.”
It’s Photography? Well we use cameras, so it is obviously photography.
Its Documentary? For this let’s take a closer look at what “documentary” means. Definitions for Documentary mostly go along this line; “Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter.”
We then need to further break this down and look at “objectively” meaning; “Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices,” and “editorializing” to mean; “to insert one’s personal opinions into an otherwise objective account.”
So, shouting out ‘Hey, look angry’ would lead to a photo that is NOT OBJECTIVE and one that IS EDITORIALIZED.
And lastly, we need to look up “candid”; meaning several things including “Characterized by openness and sincerity of expression” and meaning “Not posed or rehearsed.”
I think this says it all. This is what I believe street photography to be and I have taken that personal oath to making “candid” image. It’s what I aim for every time I am out shooting.
One last comment about what Street Photography is or isn’t based on Nick Turpin’s article. In the comments below his article he responds to someone and leaves good links to photographer’s sites (and a book) that are clearly NOT Street Photography (or at the very least not great Street Photography).
One reader comments on ‘Boogie’s work’ As being “fairly vacuous and fabricated.” It’s clear going to this link http://boogiephoto.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/nyc that he is correct. He is also correct in pointing out that Boogie’s previous work that put him in the Street Photography Spotlight, is rather good. “Belgrade Belongs to Me” is great work. Some images are obviously staged while others are clearly candid. But take a close look, you’ll find some in between images where we do not know?? Are the images all “truthful?” I think not. And, just because a known Street Photographer takes a photo of a dead bird, it doesn’t mean its Street Photography.
What’s your belief? Should Street Photography be Candid? Is it important? Is it important to you? And, more importantly, is it important to the survival of Street Photography? More to follow in my Street Photography Definition article.
See you on the truthful streets!