My Street Photography Definition
I posted an image a while back, and a viewer told me that it wasn’t “street photography.” When I took the photo, I was living in a small, gulf coast town in Mississippi. Not exactly the big city! I captured the picture at the beach, not in an urban setting. It is a candid shot of tourists feeding the seagulls. When we lived in Mississippi, the beach was my street.
When someone asks me what type of photographer I am, I start by saying I’m an educator and teach photography. Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually satisfy them. They always follow this with, “But what do you shoot?” So I appease them by saying that my current passion is street photography. So this got me thinking; what is my definition of street photography?
A Street Photography Definition
The definition of street photography is such a subjective one. Wikipedia says that it is “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.” No mention of streets here!
So, does a street photograph have to be captured on a street? Is any image made on a street considered a street photograph? Should a street photograph have a human figure in it? So many definitions and rules for street photography exist. Sometimes the lines between street, architectural, documentary, and urban photography are blurred. But is that a bad thing? As I have said on my blog before, I shoot what moves me. I don’t like definitions. And I love breaking the rules!
Here are a couple of images I made in Vancouver this January. I took both of them while I was teaching a street photography class. We were capturing images in a small pocket of light when a flock of pigeons suddenly took off from a ledge. Instinctively I raised my camera and took a shot.
In the second image, we were exploring angles and perspectives. I love to point my lens in directions that most people neglect to see as they race to their destinations with their eyes buried in their cell phones.
Neither one of these photographs have people in them. They are not candid, although the pigeons taking flight was unexpected! I captured them because I saw something interesting in the ordinary. One of the purposes of my street photography is to show people a fresh perspective on their surroundings.
The Street is my Stage
This next image is one I made during the 24 Hour Project a month ago. I did not post it for the Project because I staged it! It was taken between four and five in the morning, and the rain was pelting down. The streets were empty when we came across this fantastic window. The reflection on the road and silhouette of the tree were too good to pass up. But I needed the human element to complete my vision. So to kill some time, the three of us took turns posing in the pink light. There were no passers-by, but there was also no vehicle traffic. And the lack of cars allowed me to shoot in the middle of the street from a low angle without getting run over! Capturing this image from this perspective would not have been possible at any other time of the day.
Even though this is a posed shot, I love the final result. I envisioned the photograph in my mind and found a way to capture it. Photography is not just about clicking the shutter. It is about finding a way to use light to paint your vision purposefully.
Some people say that classic street photography has to be candid, so street portraits are a no-no! Well, that won’t stop me. I love capturing portraits of strangers, especially environmental portraits. In a single frame, you must create a sense of place and tell a story about your subject. I love meeting new people and learning about them. To me this is what is so unique and satisfying about this type of photography, regardless of what genre you call it.
Some Final Thoughts
So I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have a definition of street photography. It depends on the day, and how I feel, I don’t let a definition dictate what and how I shoot. I love to shoot candid shots of people going about their everyday life. I also love to capture unique perspectives of buildings and details around me. I don’t think it is necessary to put a label on my work. Some will call it street; others will call it architecture, some may call it garbage! The important thing is that I’m having fun, developing as an artist, and hopefully getting a few decent shots along the way.
I’ll leave you with a few more of my “street” photographs. You tell me if they fit your definition! And until next week, cheers and happy shooting!