Subject matter for street photography has certainly broadened in the past decade. In the days that I was starting out it was pretty straightforward: black and white shots of people filling the frame. Today almost anything goes and those who are shooting that “anything” vigorously defend their right to call it street photography. London-based street photographer Nick Turpin has said “it is actually all the other forms of photography that need defining…street photography is just photography in its simplest form.” Ironically, while the limits are being pushed as to what can be photographed in street photography, there still seems to be iron-clad rules as to process. In a recent discussion about one of Mike Aviña’s Flickr image postings, the word “ethics” was being used to question such image manipulations as cropping and dodging-burning. The ethics comments were essentially one person’s point of view, but the general guiding policy for SP has always been to capture an event in its pure, unaltered form. Of course, the mere act of photographing something alters reality. As Winogrand said, “I like to see what something looks like as a photograph.”
When a purported to be street photograph has subjects that are so far away that you have to look really closely to see if the person’s eyes are open, then it is not really a street photograph. When the scene dominates the subject, a photograph becomes something other than a street photo. It becomes a landscape. The whole point of street photography is to interact with events around us, not stand back and watch them from afar. That is the point where its roots are deeply embedded in documentary photography. Practitioners criticize the use of any lens longer than 35mm. The reason is so the photographer is in the action, not farther away from it. Standing across the street from a scene with a 28 or 35mm lens is not in the action any more than standing in a valley looking up at a mountain. If you watch videos of Winogrand or Gilden, they are not camped out in a comfy chair waiting for something to happen across the street, they are like cats stalking their prey.
We all need to make our own definitions. A photograph can be good regardless of what you call it, but for my own work a street photo prioritizes people as the subject and an urban landscape may not.
TOP: Mother, Child – New York 2011
ABOVE: Birch Bayh Federal Building – Indianapolis 2011