What is Street Photography?

Every other day is my first day on the Internet. Time and time again, Tobyjoe has asked me, “What is this? Your first day?” because I’m upset by something I have read, taken part in, seen, or instigated on the Internet.

I got dissed today on Flickr. Actually, I wasn’t really dissed but I am so much of a sensitive and selfish freak that I assume everything directed toward me is, in fact, a diss.

Here’s the skinny. On Thursday, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Web site she thought I might enjoy because of the new project I’m currently working on. This was the featured story at the time.

I read the paragraph below. I’m not sure I agree with what the author wrote, but that’s not the point.

Diane Arbus’ apartment room portraits. She met many of her subjects on the street and followed them home to photograph them in their surroundings. The pictures were taken indoors, but it’s still street photography. One could ask, “why?” but one can ask “why?” about a lot of things. Trust me, the medicine is good for you — Arbus was a street photographer.

Let’s back up for a minute. Up until recently, I didn’t know anything about how Groups worked on Flickr. I knew how to join one after someone sent me an invite but I had no idea how easy it was to add an image to one of your Groups. (This should further reiterate how every day is my first day on the Internet. Had I spent about half a second more looking around, I’d have figured this Group thing out a long, long time ago.) So, I’ve warmed up to Flickr Groups. I decided to join this gent’s Not Street Street Group even though I do not know this person and I’m not a street photographer. (I hold street photographers in high esteem; the good ones amaze me.) Since this was a group about NOT street street photography, and a group that even the author admitted was undefined, I figured I’d take part. I figured I might help him to define it.

I convinced myself that since my pictures from The New York Post Project were posed portraits of people I approached on the street, they would fit into this group. The thought that they might not be street photographs because they are shot outside also crossed my mind so I looked at some of the other ones in the group. I saw this one and this one and assumed that my own worked as not street street scenes as well.

Today, the administrator of the group left the comment below on one of my photos. (I have since deleted the comment because, well, I can. I am God of my Flickr page.)

These are street pictures, why are they in the Not Street Street pool?”

I immediately removed the pictures because it is, after all, his vision and I’m not one to crash a vision or a Flickr Group. I also realize that while my images may have been posed they were still taken outside and near a street. But one wonders. What if my pictures were taken in Phoenicia in upstate New York? What if I had asked farmers to hold the New York Post? What if they were on a street? Would that be considered not street street photography? Similarly, if I had asked these New Yorkers I met on the street to come into the lobby of my office building, or into the local Starbucks, would that be considered NOT street street photography?

In a perfect world, I think he should have written me directly, deleted the photo, or started a discussion about street photography. Because, had there been an open discussion, I could have lost the battle the mihow way: by jumping in, eventually saying something nonsensical, being trashed because of it, and then promptly being voted off the island, because when it comes to online forums I am the world’s biggest loser.

The statement below was pulled from the “Welcome Section/Disclaimer” on the group and written by the author:

I’m not entirely sure what I’m talking about in terms of what this group is for—but I know it when I see it.

My photographs were not what the author of this group was looking for and he knew it when he saw it. I’m totally cool with that. I feel a little foolish, like I underdressed for the big ball, but that’ll pass. It always does. He did leave me with a big fat question, which is the main reason I’m writing this today. What is “street photography?” And if you have an answer to that one, what is considered NOT street photography? I always thought that street photography was a from-the-hip kind of art form not something posed and in a park. I feel that this image, this image, and this one, as well as this one are all good examples of what I might consider street photography. But like I said this is my first day.

I realize that I know very little about the subject. I also realize that if you put something out there you open it up to critique. I’m excellent at handling creative feedback whether it is positive or negative. I wrote the author of said group and explained why I had uploaded the images to his the group. But I’m still left wondering: what is street photography anyway?

P.S. If you diss me, I will cry.

P.P.S. This is why I shouldn’t join online groups.

21 Comments

  1. Maybe it DOES come down to posed versus non posed. Who knows.

    I love your project. I think it’s a great idea. (No, that ain’t no diss).

    Reply

  2. The 8th word in this post is not what I feel an 8th word in a post should be. I won’t clarify what I think an 8th word in a post SHOULD be, but I know it when I see it.

    Do you feel bad now? Or do you feel like I should take a little break and commit to my criteria before starting something up?

    As for street stuff, it’s not required that a street be in a shot. Street shooting is that unplanned, off the cuff, super-quick shooting of people and, in some circles, objects, that show the shared or common parts of our world.

    Some photojournalism is street shooting. Some isn’t. It’s more like a modal and environmental thing. If you’re in a public space and shoot non-posed shots of people (and sometimes objects) with a standard-angle lens (no macro), you might be shooting street stuff.

    Reply

  3. The 8th word in this post is not what I feel an 8th word in a post should be. I won’t clarify what I think an 8th word in a post SHOULD be, but I know it when I see it.

    Ok, that made me laugh out loud.

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  4. You know, I only know you from your photos/comments on flickr. Which means I don’t really know you, but after your posts today, I have an overwhelming urge to invite you over to hang out in the garden to stuff you with comfort food.

    flickr groups are often weird. And some people need to get over themselves. (Not you.)

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  5. Um, that was and stuff you with comfort food.

    Which probably makes it only slightly less weird and stalkery. Heh.

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  6. jenblossom, I love comfort food. Also, comfort food in a garden? In NYC? Are you KIDDING me? I’m down. I’ll bring the wine or tea—whatever you like.

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  7. I also discovered groups on Flickr not long ago, and have a hard time keeping all the rules straight. Maybe I shouldn’t have joined 10 at once…

    I’m thinking of starting a new Flickr group called Street Not Street Street, Not. You can join if you want. Or not. :)

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  8. My husband and I live on the first floor of a Bushwick rowhouse, and have an awesome backyard with a garden full of all sorts of goodies (and lots of random neighborhood kitties)… and I do love to cook, and to feed people. We should totally set something up. ;)

    Reply

  9. You should just start a pool called ‘8th grade lunchtable’

    People submit photos, and you- without any sort of explanation- allow or reject.

    When you allow things, you praise them and say ‘That is SOOO coool’

    When you reject things, you taunt and torment the photographer.

    Why? Because EVERYTHING i’ve been told about flickr groups makes it sound more like cliq(ue)r groups

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  10. I’m slowly discovering that about the Flickr Groups thing. I do believe my phase is going to come to an end.

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  11. 1st off, it’s strange how the 8th word in the 8th post is the first word of my post but i’m not sure if i used it in the proper context for which this post indended. tobyjoe, that’s funny stuff! well michele, like my grandaddy always said,” f#@k’em if they can’t take a joke!”

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  12. Greg, I missed you. Where the hell have you been?

    And, what do YOU think street photography is?

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  13. I think it is photographs of the street. But NOT the sidewalk, not the grass, not the buildings. Do you hear me? The street only!

    Reply

  14. I subscribe to a few groups, one being a Macro group because I love the photos posted and I love the challenges they put forth. I have posted a few pics (I have a peice of shit camera compared to others out there, but post I did anyways because I have a “macro” setting and therefore have a taken a macro photo). People liked my photos, they commented. I haven’t come across anyone as high on their high horse as that guy, but there was one person who posted a photo that was questionable in its macroness. There was a thread started about macroness. Discussions ensued about size of subject, blah blah. This person did not have their submission ganked or spit on. Everyone learned from it. I think he even left it up himself.

    Anyways, moral of the story… there’s only a few, but flickr assholes should crawl under rocks. You are a talented and wonderful person who has every right to participate in flickr groups. There were better ways of getting his point across.

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  15. montana, camping/walking in yellowstone, the tetons and the badlands. a few days in state college too and all away from the news and a computer…….pure bliss!

    i agree with missy…..it’s only shots of bituminous paving, concrete, rock or dirt that is used for directing and supporting modes of transportation other than pedestrian traffic. hehehe

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  16. That gives me an idea…

    ::starts Flickr Group::

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  17. Oh, and tina, thank you for the kind words.

    I feel that I need to specify something. I really couldn’t care less about whether or not I’m a part of this guy’s Flickr group or not. I just find it funny that he went through the trouble of starting a public group, stating that he wasn’t sure what it was going to be, and then actually going through the trouble of leaving a (let’s admit it) passive aggressive comment on my photograph. Do these sort of things really truly bother people? It’s a Flickr Group, after all.

    Bridge

    Water

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  18. mihow… “street photography” isn’t anything… it’s barely a genre that over time has become more and more undefined.

    Arbus, Winogrand, Freedlander, etc… took some photos “on the street” because they loved the way the world look photographed and it was what they knew. Most of them never even referred to themselves as “Street” anything. They were documentary style photographers and thats how they often referred to themselves, they took pictures because it made them.

    Photography (as an art form) is barely old enough to have any type of classification system, let alone anything as pointlessly vague as “street photography”. Digital photo, the internet, and flickr are a micro blip on the radar, nothing that you should allow to phase you for a moment. What you are doing is great! It’s making you think about what you are pointing a camera at and why. Keep going, don’t be silly… make more photographs and put em in little labeled piles later when/if somebody asks.

    I have a few books you might want to come over and see, it will put the lame lunchroom of flicker groups in perspective. You and the man should come over for dinner some night soon.

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  19. Matthew, I’d love to come over for dinner and I really do mean it when I say thank you for leaving your comment. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    Now, about that dinner…

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  20. Hello mihow! Matthew is right. Defining street photography is an impossibility, which is exactly why I started the group.

    I wanted to enlarge the definition by creating a group of photos that contained characteristics of street photography (either in set-up, subject matter or execution), but were not taken on the street.

    I asked about your pictures because they were taken on the street. I had no bad feelings about them, just a simple question that I failed to encircle with smileys. ; )

    If you take other photos that you feel are “street-y” (but weren’t taken on the street) please add them to the group!

    Reply

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