street photography

“snapshot aesthetic” and the social landscape

By | photography, street photography

“Interestingly enough, the snapshot’s significance in modifying our attitude toward picture content and structure has been quite remarkable. [….]  [It] has contributed greatly to the visual vocabulary of all graphic media since before the turn of the century [e.i. before 1900, TS].

Friedlander on one rare occasion simply stated: “I’m interested in people and people things”. Winogrand in an interview with Mary Orovan in U.S.Camera suggested “For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film….   if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better.”

I do not find it hard to believe that photographers who have been concerned with the question of the authentic relevance of events and objects should consciously or unconsciously adopt one of the most authentic picture forms photography has produced. The directness of their commentary of “people and people things” is not an attempt to define but to clarify the meaning of the human condition.”

© Nathan Lyons: “Toward A Social Landscape” (George Eastman House of Photography, Rochester, New York 1966)

love and desire

By | photography, street photography

When William A. Ewing, the author of the the photobook “Love and Desire” (Chronicle Books / Thames and Hudson 1999, and a number of editions in various languages) asked me if he could use one of my house parties pictures, he wanted to know, did I perhaps have more photographs that could be grouped under this heading. O, sure, was my instantaneous reaction. Come to think of it, in fact most of my photography is about love and desire; especially when you think of it in the widest sense, apart from the purely physical or erotic connotations. Photography may well be seen as an act of love and desire; the love of life itself in all of its manifestations and sudden beauty, the desire to experience and partake, to observe and understand, to capture and share and maybe even own some of it.

This is what I also realized when I recently looked once again at some books by Garry Winogrand. To me he remains the greatest observer of life’s miracles at street level, but who elevated photography far above the business of making a buck or making an impression. His maniacal search for images of life going on all around him (he left a third of a million pictures at the time of his death) could only be stopped by his untimely passing away, and even his closest friends could only guess what he was striving for in the images that he had taken during his latest years, once they looked in bewilderment at the proofed and printed results from the bagloads of undeveloped films they found at his house. If you could call him an addict, he wasn’t addicted to photography, but to experiencing and getting to grips with life where he discovered it: on the very streets of his own life.

collecting: photobooks or real prints after all?

By | photography, street photography

Original prints by well-known photographers have become very expensive. Many collectors have moved to collecting photography books instead, rather than looking for less famous names and photographers whose work is still available and sometimes just as interesting. Martin Parr’s publication The Photobook about what he considers to be the most important  photobooks did the rest. Personally I don’t care which photobooks are hot or not, I know what I like and I will buy the occasional book that I love (and if you read my blog or visit my website  you won’t be surprised that it’s mostly black and white photography, of which a big part is street photography, and no digital). I prefer the original print, there’s nothing to beat it, and one of my own signed 30/40 silvergelatin prints for instance, is still cheaper than some of these collectable photobooks, so ….

no life stories please

By | photography, street photography

It was on Dutch t.v., some artists had a great idea – their words – to get people out of their isolation. Those (old) people were given a digital camera and some instructions and then had to ask someone they did not know personally before,  if they could take portraits of them. That way they would get into contact because “in order to make a good portrait you have to know a lot of personal details of your subject” (?? –  O, really?). Also it seems odd to me that you need a camera as an excuse to start talking to someone. Hopefully this will not inspire people to start telling me their life stories when they encounter me on the streets with a camera.


By | street photography

I came across a Dutch site called announcing a contest for March 2009. Subject “street photography” – interesting maybe… Participants were asked to take photographs showing something “allowing the viewer to make up his own story about” [there’s the story-telling again!]. They also made some suggestions, which I will translate here, because they’re so revealing:

– people queuing at the subway or a building;

– old man on a bench reading a paper [an old favorite];

– someone feeding birds in a park;

– passers-by in a crowded street;

– loner on a bridge seen from afar [if that doesn’t do it!];

– child playing next to a parked car;

– animal feeding on the street;

– legs and bag on the stairs [seems a new favorite; very story-telling obviously];

– old car with new building in the background.

Where do people get this kind of inspiration? Looking at Photo Year Book 1937 or something? It’s 2009 for heaven’s sake, give us a taste of what’s going on. Don’t make a want list when you take your camera to the streets, show what’s there and open up to what you do not know already!

you really wanna do street photography?

By | street photography

Street photography seems to be quite fashionable in some circles, judging from the heated debates about hipshooting, getting permission and using long lenses, that I occasionally find on the net. And when I look at some results of all these photographers who have overcome their fears, and proudly present their pictures, I see very little that was worth the trouble in the first place… I guess, with an urban mindset (whatever that is exactly) you can even do landscapes in street style (as the great Lee Friedlander proves), but otherwise the country boy/girl spirit will always show through in you images, most likely making them look like the day out in the big town that they probably are depicting.  So the thing to ask yourself is: do I really want to confront all these people, what do I want to show… Not the pitiful homeless beggar again please. Or the living statue in front of that poster.

hipshots, horizons, and eye levels of dwarfs and giants

By | street photography

In earlier posts I have argued that hipshooting is simply bad street photography. Now you probably know that your horizon is always at eye level, no matter how high or low you’re standing. This means that unless you’re a dwarf or a giant, and given the fact that you should look through the finder at the moment of exposure to do your framing, the horizon will just about go “through” the eyes of the people coming at you on a crowded pavement. This will give away many of the hipshot-type photographs, that is, if you had not already noticed the clunky or haphazardous framing!

I know that Garry Winogrand said on several occasions that he did not advocate shooting from the hip. He was very much in control of his framing, in spite of what some (obviously bad) observers of his work conclude. Nevertheless I used to be puzzled by a number of his better-known photographs that have very low horizons, shot from the hip? He certainly would not have been sitting on the curb!  And he was a tall guy… A friend of mine, who is a remarkable street photographer himself, has one such original Winogrand print on his wall, which I was studying. It was certainly taken from a low vantage point! Did Garry not practice what he preached… Then I noticed a vague dark line at the bottom. Problem solved: no hipshot, but one of his occasional “drive-by shootings”. This one was taken from a car window at a street corner. Perfect image, what incredible timing.

woman reaching for merchandise on a street vendor’s cart in Arlington, Virginia

By | street photography

“Woman reaching for merchandise on a street vendor’s cart in Arlington, Virginia”  is the well-documenting title (pity there’s no date ! …) of a shockingly insignificant photograph. This ridiculous photograph has to be seen to be believed as it is about nothing at all; yet it is given as an example of  “street photography” ! See the equally hopeless article at Wikipedia, screaming out for revision, or in fact: rewriting … Who will have a go at it ?