Please Don’t Hijack the Genre!

September 30, 2011

Giant Inflatable Cat

Since opening a second Flickr account in 2010 and getting involved with the street photography groups it is evident that the definition of street photography has become much broader than what it was when I began a long time ago. At one time the roots of street photography were firmly planted in documentary photography and the heritage was clear. Today that connection is muddy and SP seems to be more about being “artistic” than showing us the world and the people in it. There is something about this modern style of street photography that has been bothering me and I have finally identified what it is. Much of this new breed of work is formal, intellectual, artistic, restrained, proper and it keeps the viewer, at least this viewer, at arm’s length. It does not engage my senses or touch my emotions like Winogrand or Arbus. It is not visceral or raw like Danny Lyon or even today’s Bruce Gilden who is one of the few traditionalists featured in the trend-setting book by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren, Street Photography Now. While evolution is good and change is eventual, to transform the documentary heritage of street photography into cool, stylish studies of feet going up an escalator or a parking lot bordered with shopping carts troubles me. I certainly have no aversion to the type of photography coming out of this new school of “style over substance” and find much of it truly remarkable. But please, call it something else. Start your own genre. Don’t hijack established traditions.

Giant Inflatable Cat, West Palm Beach, October 11, 2010
Is this really street photography? Hardly!

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