Street photography has become such an ambiguous umbrella term in the photography world that it really lacks any meaning at all. The brilliant and time-honored work of great photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Joseph Koudelka, Elliott Erwitt, Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark are now lumped into this same genre that produces hundreds of thousands of dull, hackneyed candid images of random strangers by hopeless photographers every single day. Should the two really be one and the same? Is that grainy Gildenesque photo of someone’s grandmother on their grocery run, that is currently making the rounds on Facebook, actually of any artistic value? I think much of what we know and call street photography today is in for a serious moment of truth.
One of the greatest issues with street photography is that there really is no barrier to entry. It is the most accessible of the mimetic arts, which is both a positive and a negative feature. All a person needs is a camera and a street – or seemingly so. In the fine arts you need to know how to draw, which requires a lot of skill and training. If you forgo this and draw poorly, most people will stop drawing. Likewise, in the literary world, if you don’t write well most people will stop writing. Interestingly, this is not the case in street photography. People with virtually no photographic skill, training, or vision, continue to produce and distribute their “street photography”. This is the work I am writing about in this article, not the work of the people named above, or others making work of similar quality. There is no dispute that some of what has become termed as street photography is important, engaging, well done and is (as it should be) considered art. The truth of the matter, however, is that this is a very small proportion of what is being produced and called street photography today. So, does this problem exist in other genres of photography? Are there a bunch of inept fashion photographers trolling the streets of the information highway peddling their appalling fashion photographs? Likely so, but because of the simple ease of access to street photography (no studio, no expensive equipment, and apparently no real audience are needed) there is a deluge of street photographers in comparison to these other segments of the industry….continue