Â Ever wondered about street photography? Why all the hype? Although street photography seems to be enjoying a lot of popularity in recent times, it really isn’t anything new. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Vivian Maier or even Joel Meyerowitz were not born yesterday. One might confidently assert that street photography, as a genre proper, has been alive and well for at least a century. With the advent of 35mm film, also about a century ago, photography became much more, well, portable and instant! This, no doubt, was a primary factor in the birth of street photography. Speed, after all, was a key ingredient for Cartier-Bresson in capturing his decisive moments. Maier did more work in medium format, consequently more deliberate and slower, but still aimed to capture that candid moment which characterizes the genre. All of these masters of course worked the streets. So then, street photography is a candid form of photography, likely dominated by 35mm, which has existed more or less for a century. So why all the fuss over it today?
There is no right or wrong answer as to why street photography enjoys such popularity today. There is as many answers as there are street photographers. A couple of obvious reasons, however, would seem to be the popularity of photography in general, and the speed and availability of cameras. Perhaps camera manufacturers will disagree, but I believe that SLR (single lens reflex) cameras are enjoying their most popular period ever. It seems everyone has a DSLR slung over their shoulder! And, for those who are not carrying a DSLR, they most likely are carrying a camera phone. The fact is: we are all carrying cameras! This leads to a lot of candid, street-based photography. Hence, so many people creating what they call â€œstreet photographyâ€. It has also lead to a lot of people calling themselves â€œphotographersâ€. Photography is not alone in this phenomenon however. There are more poets and writes now with the advent of print-on-demand publishing, more â€œfilm makersâ€ with the emergence of $99 camcorders and so on. There is more of everything and everyone in our world today. Along with this is the tendency for people to latch onto labels – â€œwriterâ€, â€œphotographerâ€, â€œfilm makerâ€, â€œjournalistâ€ and so on and so forth. Thanks to our modern â€œsocial lifestyleâ€ we all want to be something or someone and we can all get our hands on the necessary equipment and find a public platform to do so. Give me access to the internet, a free blog site and ten minutes and I too can be a journalist!
So is street photography a fad created by our new found access to cameras and other related tools like flickr and tumblr? Maybe. More likely is the notion that street photography as a â€œtermâ€ is being overused given the onslaught of candid photographs which are littered across our social media, combined with people’s desire to label themselves and their creative work. Street photography proper has existed almost as long as the 35mm camera and the number of masters has most likely remained somewhat constant. I would suggest there really is not a massive explosion in the field of street photography, merely an explosion in the use of the term â€œstreet photographyâ€. There still is, and always has been, a certain and somewhat limited number of photographers who really are defining the genre. By far a comprehensive list, some of the â€œolderâ€ generation, shall we call them the â€œmastersâ€, include Joel Meyerowitz, Diane Arbus, Bill Cunningham, Daido Moriyama, Mark Cohen and Helen Levitt. Bruce Gilden straddles the fence with more contemporary street photographers such as â€œyoungstersâ€ Eric Kim, Markus Hartel, Thomas Leuthard, Nick Turpin and, of course, yours truly!
“Such a Doll” by Michael Ernest Sweet
Michael Ernest Sweet is an award-winning educator, writer and street photographer who divides his time between Montreal and New York City. His work may be viewed at www.MichaelSweetPhotography.com.