TAKE YOUR BEST EVER STREET PHOTOS
Only a few decades ago the term ‘street photography’ didn’t really exist even though what is claimed to be the world’s first photograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, shows an urban scene. While more formally posed portraits and urban or rural landscapes were fashionable in the 19th century a lot of early travel and documentary photographers were of course taking photographs of street scenes. French photographer Eugène Atet was consciously taking images of a Paris which he saw expanding and developing very quickly as more and more people flocked to the capital. As well as capturing old buildings he was keen to record ordinary people on the streets and how they lived their lives. Atget went on to the future generations of big names including Man Ray and the surrealists Henri Cartier-Bresson Diane Arbus, William Klein and so on. Martin Parr, arguably Britain’s best known photographer along with David Bailey and Don McCullin, is also best known for a lot of his street work.
Fast forward to the present day and street photography now tends to be seen as a discreet candid type of image making which records the complexities and quirks of our modern very urbanised age often using visual puns and wry juxtapositions in creative new ways. Or it can go down a more documentary road with the emphasis on recording the decisive moments of modern life as it unfolds or just interesting characters you see on the pavement. Smartphones have revolutionised the genre too and to an extent everyone is now a street photographer. This is not to say that the craft of street photography is easy to acquire, however, and there is a big demand for tuition from experts.
You don’t need to attend a workshop to enjoy street photography however and there are some great books on the subject including a new one from Ammonite Press. Masters of Street Photography does a great of exploring how 16 leading lights of the genre go about their craft and while it can never be the last word on this very diverse subject. It gives a great overview of current trends and best practice. As editor Rob Yarham explains, ‘Be it a decisive moment or not street photographs work best when they capture the emotional and context of their subject matter.’
This said there is an incredibly diverse range of street photographers included in the book who are shooting in very different locations all over the world. This international scope is only fitting as street photography is very much a vibrant and evolving art form. Their images not only record modern society but ask questions about it arguably making street work more relevant and poignant than many other forms of contemporary photography. Also the ‘street’ itself will often be different every time you visit it even more so in very fast-developing parts of the world such as China Southeast Asia. What approach you follow is very much a matter of personal choice, and Masters of Street Photography reveals a lot of very diverse ways of working. Some leading exponents such as Jesse Marlow are drawn to the use of abstract shapes and strong colours following a very ‘graphic’ route; others such as Rui Palha, are more about capturing atmosphere and emotion with a lot of powerful portraiture. As this fascinating book reveals. It’s really about capturing what you find interesting and compelling about your subject matter, be it in Birmingham or Beijing.