June 11, 2012

When asked, most fellow street photographers will tell you that they constantly look at other’s work and suggest that a strong visual literacy is essential to being a good street photographer. That is good advice to follow. But in today’s world of image overload it is easy for me to get distracted. My natural curiosity pushes me to want to try everything. HDR for street photography? Not quite, but if I see an approach to SP in someone’s photostream that I have never tried and it interests me I am likely to stray from my own path and try it, just to see what it results in. This can be good for personal growth, or it can result in a hodgepodge of a body of work.

Since street photography is a photographer’s impressions of the world they experience, ideally there should be no established style as long as the photographs are un-staged. Would living in a vacuum produce personally pure impressions of the world? Not only impossible, but probably not.

Often I find words to be more of an inspiration than other people’s photographs. There is so much good writing about photographs and their process. I would like to share a few of my favorites of the moment.

Garry Winogrand
When I’m photographing, I see life, that’s what I deal with. I don’t have pictures in my head. I frame in terms of what I want to include, and when I want to snap the shutter. I don’t worry about how the picture is going to look. I let that take care of itself. We know too much about how pictures look and should look. How do you get around making those pictures again and again? It’s one modus operandi, to frame in terms of what you want to have in the picture, not about making a nice picture, that anybody can do.

Joel Meyerowitz
There is something exciting about being in the crowd, in all that chance and change – it’s tough out there – but if you can keep paying attention something will reveal itself – just a split second – and then there’s a crazy cockeyed picture!

Nick Turpin
Now I understand that ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form, it is the medium itself, it is actually all the other forms of photography that need defining, landscape, fashion, portrait, reportage, art, advertising….these are all complicating additions to the medium of Photography, they are the areas that need to be defined, ring fenced and partitioned out of the medium of ‘Street Photography’.

Tod Papageorge
Critics and even photographers have commonly assumed that photographers should have the same wary, respectful relationship to what they describe in their pictures that moral philosophers presumably have to what they think and write about. This, however, repeats an old confusion that a picture (or a poem, for that matter), because it resembles the world, is therefore somehow equivalent, and morally responsible, to it.

Elliot Erwitt
What occurs in a scene, in a situation, and what you get in the photograph can be totally different.

Sean McDonnell
It struck me that it wasn’t about finding the golden shot any more. It was about recognizing the possibility of a picture.

Gus Powell
It’s harder and harder to take a picture without someone in the picture who’s also taking a picture. We all take pictures now, that’s what we do.

Tod Papageorge
Writing about Garry Winogrand:
It seems that he wanted to discover the point where, as Clement Greenberg put it, form “calls the least attention to itself and lets the almost ‘practical’ meaning of the subject come though” – and thought that he could discover it only by attempting to ignore what he had already understood about what he calls "picture-making systems and devices"
Winogrand understood that the “practical” meanings of things are in fact transformed when photographs are made of those things, and that by describing new, discursive forms he would, with them, claim new meanings.

Markus Hartel
Street photography is like gambling. You get lucky or you get nothing.

Robert Doisneau
If I knew how to take great photographs I’d do it every time.

Stephen McLaren
Above all they {street photos} should have the WTF factor. Life isn’t easily interpreted and neither should photographs which are derived from it.

Nick Turpin
That’s what I see in the best street photographs: evidence of the quick witted mind of the photographer

Alfred Stieglitz
I don’t care what you did or how you did it, I’m only interested in the finished picture.


Emerson, Stephanie (ed.). 2000. The Social Scene. The Museum of Contemporary Art. Los Angeles.

Howarth, S. McLaren, S. 2010. Street Photography Now. Thames & Hudson. London.

McDonnell, Sean. Flip. 2011. "The Distance Between Us." London.

Moyers, Bill. 1982. WNET television interview with Garry Winogrand. New York.

Newman, Arnold. 1974. One Mind’s Eye. New York Graphic Society. New York.

Turpin, Nick. 2010. Sevensevennine. Blog entry "Undefining Street Photography", March 22.

Winogrand, Garry. 1977. Public Relations. Museum of Modern Art. New York.

One Response to “Literacy”

  1. Sean // Hewlbane Says:

    … a good article / discussion that is well referenced …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: