Ironically, one of the things that originally made me look to photography as a hobby, and then as a career, is the genre called “street photography”. Street Photography is, as the name says, photography on the street. But it’s not about streets or buildings or sidewalks or cities—it’s about people. People going about their daily lives, interacting, strange coincidences caught on film, fleeting moments or expressions. It differs from ‘Street Portraiture’ because it’s not about going up to someone and saying “can I take your picture?” It’s about seeing a magic moment unfold, and capturing it before it’s gone.
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When I was still in the music business, I happened to be looking through a music-and-lifestyle magazine, which had an article on ‘lomo photography’. Lomo was a Soviet Russian camera company, and they made bad cameras. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Lomo cameras caught on in the west as a way to take low-fidelity, quirky images. This type of photography came be known as lomography, and was a mixture of street photography and lo-fi, cruddy images with a certain magic to them. It has since been co-opted a bit with commercial interests, but it is essentially street photography for a younger generation.
After reading that article, I bought my first Russian camera. It was even a Lomo! The Smena 8M came straight from the Ukraine, and was weird and quirky. And thus started my camera collection, which at one point totaled over 40 cameras (but that’s a story for another day). I then started delving into street photography, always searching for the perfect cheap old camera, and reading as much as I could about it.
Turns out though I’m a coward!
It’s one thing to be taking someone’s portrait. It’s quite another to smile, look a stranger in the eye, and snap their picture. Or to wait patiently while someone walks by doing something interesting. Especially in this more suspicious era, it’s hard to get the guts to take pictures of passers-by. I think it takes practice, but I never was able to get any successful ‘street photography’ pictures. Perhaps one day I will.
After thinking about this post last night, I vowed as part of my picture-a-day program, to get an old rangefinder camera out today, and wander around doing street photography. I froze up on the first attempt.
The good news is that there are plenty of people who can do street photography. So I have some links for you to enjoy. I’ll just have to enjoy them too, since I’m too much of a coward to take my own!
The most famous street photographer is without a doubt Henri Cartier-Bresson. He is the father of photojournalism, street photography, and also coined the phrase “the decisive moment”.
One of my favorite modern street photographers in Anne McAulay. You can see her work here and here. It’s not all ‘street’, but I like the fact that she’s able to capture in color what most people can only seem to do in black and white.
Here is a site that features a group of street photographers. Click through their “picture of the month” series. There are some brilliant shots there.
And to round it off, here are some more favorites:
Johnny Mobasher (NSFW)