I’ve written about street photography before – about my photographic first love, the times we’ve had together and the stars and city lights under which I’ve carried it on.
The charm of it is simple. While you might go to a football match to take sports pictures, or to a a studio to take portraits, street photography is an intangible. You go there and see what will happen. You take pictures of what walks in front of you. And the words “the times we’ve had together” echo those of a book I read many years ago, and which also contain the words:
Nothing seems to matter, thats the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination of whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.
This little quotation is, of course, taken from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind In The Willows wherein the water rat is explaining to Mole why nothing is quite so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. There is a wonderful sense of this in street photography, in the go-with-the-flow nature of reacting to the streets. There however the comparison ends.
Street photography is urban. It is not the preserve of morning mist but of diesel fumes, the only streams visible are composed of traffic and we deal not in ploughed earth but smashed concrete. Still, it’s an ever-changing canvass on which to make art, Spring’s upon us, and like with the critters all along the river bank, there’s a natural inclination to be off traveling – going to far away places, drinking different beer, and photographing new things. With that in mind, I’m heading off to the big city for a few days.
Street photography is a broad church, with an incredibly rich history. Its borders are indistinct – it’s hard to tell where Cartier-Bresson’s street photography bridges over into fine art, or where McCullen’s images of social deprivation could be best called street photography, documentary or reportage. Personally I would apply the term street photography to any image in an urban environment, which is unstaged, not directly intended for use in the news media, and where the photographer wasn’t quite sure what image he would take until he was seconds from firing the shutter. That’s a broad definition granted, but it rather neatly sums up the way I go about it.
Generally speaking I’ll tend to go to places which are well travelled and where you’ll see a lot of human life. In London that included Trafalgar Square – I’ll often move on from there and head up toward Leicester Square and on to Piccadilly Circus. I’ll quite often visit Borough Market – partly for the photography, mostly for the food (there’s a place there which has salt-beef and gherkin bagels that I’ve been known to dream about), and it’s a handy distance from The George, one of the oldest pubs in the city. In another chapter of my life the nightly route included Times Square, Broadway, Columbus Circle and occasional trips south to Union Square.
Street photography’s about moments. It’s about a unique combination of people, places and timing. There’s other aspects as well – social document for one – but my major imperative is to create an arresting image which tells a story.
That’s what I’ll be doing for the next few days. I’m looking forward to it immensely.