If there’s one form of photography guaranteed to stir up strong opinions, it’s street photography. Why? Let’s start by understanding what is considered to be street photography.
Wikipedia describes it as
a type of documentary photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other settings.
Street photography uses the techniques of straight photography in that it shows a pure vision of something, like holding up a mirror to society. Street photography often tends to be ironic and can be distanced from its subject matter, and often concentrates on a single human moment, caught at a decisive or poignant moment. On the other hand, much street photography takes the opposite approach and provides a very literal and extremely personal rendering of the subject matter, giving the audience a more visceral experience of walks of life they might only be passingly familiar with. In the 20th century, street photographers have provided an exemplary and detailed record of street culture in Europe and North America, and elsewhere to a somewhat lesser extent.
So what does this mean for me? Above all, I see my street photographs as documentary in nature. I am an observer, capturing individual moments which show context and I aim to tell a story – the interaction between people and their environment and each other.
There is a “style” of street photography that attempts to interact with people on the street by shocking them (such as leaping out in front of them and firing a flash) and provoking a reaction that would not exist without the photographer. This doesn’t appeal to me one iota. Not only do I think it shows a lack of respect to others (how would you feel if someone did this to you?), but the photographer changes from an observer to a participant, essentially rearranging the scene to suit them.
Similarly, asking people if you can photograph them before-hand alters the whole dynamic of the scene. Once people become conscious that they are being photographed, their behaviour changes, and you are no longer capturing a “true” or “real” situation.
So I observe, and capture those moments of interaction.