My Definition of Street Photography

What's 40 years between friends?

If you've looked at previous posts you'll immediately see that there has been a significant passage of time between the last one I posted and this one.  Right around 40 years in fact.  Does this mean that it was 40 years before I took another street photo.  No, but even though I took tens of thousands of photos during that time, very few were street photography and I have no idea where any of those might be.  In those 40 intervening years I took numerous classes and even got my under graduate degree in Communications, Art and Photography.  I owned and operated some photo studios and did a lot just for the pleasure of it.

Even when I captured this shot in a park in Albany, Oregon in 2011 I still wasn't thinking "Oh, I'll go out and do some Street Photography".  I'm not even sure if I was familiar with the term yet, but when I saw these feet sticking out the window I could just imagine her lounging back and taking a little nap, and I was kind of jealous.

This might be a great place to share my definition of "Street Photography".  I emphasize the words "my definition" because others' definitions may be different.  As a matter of fact, I know that some are.  Does that make either of us right or wrong"?  No.  This is just "my definition".

To me "Street Photography" is:

  • A candid* shot of a stranger
  • In a public place -  Meaning anyone could have been there and taken that shot
  • Includes a human element - Person or part of person or telling a human story
  • A clear element of interest and/or design which grabs the viewers attention

*Candid shots include those where the subject catches the photographer in the act and they are seen looking into the camera.

For me to call it "Street Photography"  it does have to be "candid".  There are great photographers out there, such as Eric Kim to name only one of many, that talk to their subjects ahead of time and ask permission to take their photo and even pose them to some extent.  I've done that too, but for my purposes I classify that as Street Portraiture, which is another fun and interesting genre.  Some may also send a friend or family member to stand in a certain place to give balance or scale . . .  Again, "Street Portraiture".  Unlike myself, many do not differentiate between "Street Photography" and Street Portraiture".  You may occasionally see "Street Portrait" shots among my street photos, but I'll try to identify them as such.

One last rule I have for myself is that I very rarely include any shots of homeless or destitute, beggars or drunks.  To me that is picking the low hanging fruit; taking advantage of others' unfortunate situations and disrespecting them.  Having said that, I have seen work by photographers such as John Free who spent 10 years going to the train yards in Los Angeles, California nearly every day at great personal effort, diligence and in some cases even personal risk, photographing the tramps there.  John documented their trials in a beautiful way getting to know many and giving them the respect and friendship they needed and deserved.  In addition, we have Dorothea Lange to thank for the amazing images of the great migration in America during the depression years.  Again, there is a difference between grabbing the low hanging fruit and documenting an important social event of period.

Your comments and questions are always read and appreciated. Don't be shy, let me hear from you.

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