Photography Sundays – Is Street Photography Lost?
To preface this blog post, I’m going to try and run a weekly or monthly Sunday post which includes a podcast or audio version of this episode to cater for those of you who are visually impaired. The posts on Sunday will mostly focus on street photography topics.
It’s no secret that street photography is becoming very popular. So much so, that it’s distinctive definition, history and present use are challenging its paradigm. But is it changing for the better?
Many traditionalists argue that it is not and want to stick to what they know about street photography, established by its iconic history. Others with a more contemporary view love the platform and opportunity it presents to expand on previously unexplored ideas. So what’s right? Do we maintain traditional values or do we allow the ever-evolving technology industry to influence the way we make and create photos?
Whenever this idea confronts me, or whenever I’m feeling uncertain about my own chaotic approach to photography (more on that later), I look to street photographers of the past to try and realign my direction. I have a collection of books I flick through often, namely by Daido Moriyama. It’s not about the products that Daido produces those are his own, I’m more interested in the mind that drove the man to work through the ambiguous and often challenging realm of photography.
I think all photographers agree that they would like something to come of the photos they take. Recognition, success, a retrospective, a tag in a considerable photography body such as Lens Culture or World Press Photos – but men like Daido Moriyama, never cared for this. They had a vision, they did it repetitively with little remorse for everything else they were missing out. This is why I idolise men like Daido. His approach to photography was always the same; to produce photos that were quintessentially Daido. This leads me to discuss the statement ” if your photos are good, you will get the recognition”. I think this is total garbage, here is why.
Photography functions as an observation of the surrounding state of society. It is, rather than art, it serves a higher purpose in documenting the human condition; our eternal existential struggle with what life is. To label that as “art” is at best observational and reduces the significance of photographies unique position in history.
The techniques of a painting can be repeated, and as we all know, a photo can also be reproduced in similar manners – we need only look at the hashtags on Instagram to validate this – but in each photo, we have unique moments significant to that location and time alone – these moment being judged as “the same” are actual moments that will never occur again. To me, that is far more substantial than just art.
A more natural example to display this idea is a photograph of an extinct animal and the significance of that photo existing; we value all of the versions of photos we have of that lost animal than we did when the animal lived. I believe the same would hold true for a city or location where it wiped out by a freak meteor. Currently, it’s a mundane city which undergoes an everyday grind, 10 years from now (if it was wiped out) it would be “The lost city”, and we would lament over the images we have wondering why we didn’t take more.
So what should street photography be? What should we be taking photographs of? In my opinion, given street photography formal definition is merely photographing outside of a studio, photography should continue to represent and display the ongoing presence of human existence. It should continue to document behaviour, experiences, and what we do as people as endlessly as possible; because even if a photograph were taken of every moment of every day in every space and spot the sum total of all of those images would still not complete “the human” picture and our existence.