Is This A Good Time To Redefine “Street Photography” !?

Is This A Good Time to Re Define Street Photography?

Have you ever heard of “Cardinal de Retz”?? Nope? well, don’t worry! Most Street Photographers haven’t!

Cardinal de Retz (b.1613 – d.1679) once said:

“There is nothing in this world that does not have a Decisive Moment”

sounds familiar now?
The above quote is attributed to the 17th century French Cardinal and used by Henri Cartier-Bresson as the title of his 1952 seminal work ‘The decisive moment’ which is a collection of 126 images in exploration and support of the statement. Bresson, centuries later Glorified the “Decisive Moment”

Bresson Explained:
“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” you can read more about
Decisive Moment

And Going back to Cardinal de Retz alleged full quote “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment”

Accepting that in the realm of excellence, EVERYTHING in life, from Learning to Business, Manufacturing, Inventions, Innovations, Relationships, Communication, you name it, has at times a Decisive Moment, burnt on our brains, most Photographers associate this phrase largely with “Street Photography”. ( and you might also be interested to read about The concept of CONVERGENCE )

In Photography, The “simple” idea is to seize ‘The Decisive Moment” as it happens! is it that simple? let me give to a simple photographic analogy. An Excellent wedding Photographer, in this digital age, might take a thousand images at a wedding. most will be “Good” and some “Very Good” images worthy of a frame. But only a very handful ( if he/she was awake) will capture a moment that it couldn’t have been planned! a moment that in readiness, PRESENTED itself to the photographer and ONLY if the photographer was CONSCIOUS and instinctively in the moment of Anticipation, looking and waiting for it, could he have captured that very moment of LOVE. Now here is the crux of it: I said he couldn’t have planned it! But the difference between THE BEST and the average or rather, anything other than the best is that THE BEST ALWAYS is looking and searching for it, he’s ready to spot it, to sense it, to feel it approaching, to be in the moment, to be CONSCIOUS.

What is often unsaid, is that it isn’t just enough to KNOW about this Decisive Moment. What is also crucial is The Build Up to the moment. The road to it. To be or rather position yourself to be in the stream of conscious anticipation of that moment. To Free your mind. To Turn It On.
Can you be taught to be a Great Street Photographer? This is question that I ask myself every time I see a New Street Photography course!! They are popping up everywhere by the obscure and the Know Nots!! is Street Photography like Studio Portrait photography? is it like Landscape Photography? is it like learning how to play an instrument? Can you teach someone to become Mozart? or can you just teach them to play the piano! There is a Gene in the Best at anything that, is just there and you cant teach a gene to be a different gene when it comes to Street Photography. Sure you can get better in painting if you take classes and if you have talent but thats it.

And What Is Street Photography anyway!!? a Few years ago, I started a Flickr  Street Photography Group. it now has over 41,000 members! 41,000 self claimed Street Photographers! Its the most heavily curated Street Photography Group on Flickr. with 41,000 members, we only have about 2500 images accepted into the pool. We used to have theses pointless and meaningless rants & arguments with our members about why an image of a Tree, A cat, a Girlfriend, a Building, Street Graffiti, etc etc etc was NOT accepted into the pool! the argument was: Well… it was shot on the street!! Not any and every image shot on the street is Street Photography is it!?

The Digital Invasion both Glorified and Killed Street Photography! Instagram recently announced that in Sept 2015 they reached over 400 Million users!! I bet 399 Million of them, claim to be Street Photographers on their profile and hash-tagging some excellent but irrelevant and a whole bunch of other garbage as Street Photography. Self Publishing on social platforms removed the judges and the juries. It is Brilliant that photography became popular especially to people who didn’t know what to do with roll of film or had never even smelt one! good in a way. But illiterate editors, Media, Social Platform Freedom, diluted the genre. Images that a camera on a tripod and a remote trigger could made, Banal, Isolated, Randoms and just about anything became Street Photography. Whatever happened to The Decisive Moment!?

Street photography is a visual ‘social perspective’ and paradoxically, both Public & Private. A street photographer remains faithful to a sense of spontaneity, humour, Narrative contrast, juxtaposition and story-telling of ‘the only’ moment in which the scenario comes to life. Usually a rare moment, not often repeated.

Street photography is an unpredictable genre, which is part of what makes it unique and special. It isn’t Documentary in its essence. Sometimes the conscious spot a ‘frame’ but by the time you have lifted your camera up, the whole scene has taken a different turn! Sometimes for the better, but sometimes not and you have lost it forever.

If someone standing right behind you can take the same picture one second later, then the odds are that – as good a picture as it might be – it doesn’t fit into this particular genre.

There are some beautiful images round that ARE taken on the Streets, But it’s not ALL Street Photography. I take NOTHING away from these beautiful images, But….

Can we Re Define Street Photography!? Harsh Shadows & high contrast images are perhaps Contrast Photography. A person, a silhouette against a red wall walking, is perhaps Art Photography. Buildings are Architectural Photography. Faces are perhaps Street Portraits or Candid Photography. My Girlfriend on the Street is personal Photography. A non Narrative animal is just animal photography. Urban or Street Graffiti, is probably Urban or Graffiti Photography. Photojournalism isn’t Street Photography. Documentary Photography which has a intended narrative is not Street Photography. Buskers and beggars and the homeless just sitting on the street, are probably buskers and homeless photography! Images of Just people, beautiful or otherwise, are People Photography or even Travel photography, nothing else… boringly it continues on and on and on.. do you get the picture!?

In my view, some of the great names of the present and the past, with some excellent iconic images, have been and are Art or Documentary photographers.

I have been fortunate enough to acquire two great domain names:

StreetPhotography.co.uk and recently

StreetPhotography.com (work in progress)

and I have also been fortunate to have been taking pictures in the streets for over 40 years now. I started at a very young age with a Lubitel in my hands. I didn’t even know such a genre existed. I can honestly say that perhaps I only have a handful of images that myself would class as Street Photography. The rest, some good, some not so good, are JUST taken on The Streets, that’s all.

So… Have I re-defined Street Photography? can we Re-define it!? The Answer is NOPE!!

True Street Photography hasn’t changed. We Have.

Talent Hasn’t Disappeared. But we have less of an eye to see it.

My advice to anyone starting out in street photography is to go outside with an ‘intense intent’, and do not be shy! Be awake and maybe you will benefit by studying the works of some of the established names & ‘the greats’ to see if it is for you. Do you understand it? If you search hard enough, you will find them.

It’s a talent that is in the genes and it’s seldom learnt!

And last but not least: What is the BEST equipment for Street Photography?

Always remember that the Best Camera for street photography is the one in your hands!

Street Photography like most Art, is a conceptual continuity.

The Present Day Street Photographer, Refuse To Die….

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5 Comments

  1. by f.d. walker on January 10, 2016  3:53 am Reply

    First off, I just came across your post and see here that you started a flickr group I'm in. Great job on that and on the curation. Highly selective with great quality. And thanks for accepting a couple photos of mine in the past :)

    Personally, I don't feel a need to re-define or complicate it. Many of those genres you named could overlap with certain photos, in my opinion. The most important thing in Street Photography, or any of those other genres, is that the photographer is trying to make a great photo, that they are focusing on making the best photo possible given the situation, instead of focusing on the genre. Technology and access to the masses is part of the reason for all the bad Street Photography we see, but so is the fact so many people have a very simplistic idea of the genre. That it only needs to be a photo on the street, nothing more. So they don't even attempt to make something interesting or special. Or attempt to learn what makes a good a photo.

    Fortunately, there's still plenty of photographers that strive to be great. In Street Photography, they might not always get the most "likes," so they can get lost in the sea of simplicity, but they're out there.

    • by Johnny Mobasher on January 10, 2016  2:31 pm Reply

      Yes indeed I agree that they are out there ;-) thank you for reading and commenting which is much appreciated

  2. by Greg on January 10, 2016  12:36 pm Reply

    Interesting...

    In regards to re-defining Street Photography, the question is "was Street Photography ever defined?" Also, I don't think it is about recognizing a moment when it happens, but the skill of anticipation, being able to predict what is going to happen in the next split second. That means to "read" people as they pass you by. But hey, that is just my opinion. Interesting read nevertheless.

    Funny to find out that I'm a member of your Flickr group ;)

    Best

    • by Johnny Mobasher on January 10, 2016  2:33 pm Reply

      Thanks Greg for reading and commenting, much appreciated , indeed we need to keep the flickr alive and kicking...

  3. by Glen London on July 6, 2017  1:10 pm Reply

    I think it is interesting that you talk about 41,000 members being self proclaimed street photographers - and 400 million Instagram users. There is also nearly 2 billion Facebook users - all relying on photographic images of some sort. Using a DLSR on the street, I have had my fair share of hassles with Joe Public while all around me people are taking photos with iPhones and nobody notices. I view the internet as a conversation and post images and see if I get comments - and I have some people I have got to know who are constructively critical. The bar does need to be raised if you want quality to stand out in the 21st Century. I have got to know people locally who exhibit (not just street photography) - get images placed in magazines, have made the effort to get distinctions (I note your LRPS). Photographers with talent and commitment go beyond the digital.
    “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.” ― Susan Sontag, On Photography. Written before digital cameras and the internet. Time to get out of the swamp.

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