Street photography – at least as I think it’s commonly understood – is something I wouldn’t ever say I aspire toward. For a start, I’m not sure I really know what street photography is! It’s such a broad term that seems to get applied to such a vast array of different sub-fields of photography that it’s quite hard to put a finger on.
To my mind, what most people – or at very least the layman – think of when they hear the term street photography is probably closer to the output of the likes of Bruce Gilden. But of course this isn’t really that accurate. The broader field of street photography seems to have laid claim to all sorts of sub-fields of photography. Take Fan Ho for example. I’ve repeatedly read of Fan Ho being classified as ‘street’, but look at his most famous works, and then compare them to Gilden’s. Unless you’re some sort of history of art type with a masters in bullshit, you’re probably going to find it quite hard to find much parity. Both shot/shoot a lot of black & white, both are highly regarded within their respective sub-fields of street photography, yet in pretty much every way they are different in terms of style and output. Gilden is brash and heavy handed, whereas Ho was contemplative, and produced work that feels gentle and light in its touch.
Not only is the field of street photography broad, but also – perhaps because of so many of the greats being easy to classify as such – it’s a very difficult field to find solid a footing within, never mind master. It’s gotta be incredibly difficult to do anything that stands proud amongst so much incredible work. In fact, the moment you classify yourself as a “street photographer” you’re automatically classifying yourself amongst such a vast sea of greatness, where do you even start to attempt to make a mark?
Ok, you could say the same about calling yourself a landscaper. By the merit of what I’ve just said, if I then went on to claim my primary output was landscape, would I not be holding my work up alongside the likes of Adams? Perhaps I would, but somehow street photography is different; street photography is much more popular, it somehow seems to have an ability to give a photographer some sort of credibility; it’s a little ‘edgy’, and dare I say ‘trendy’. Landscaping is not so much of any of these things is it?