Up for Discussion: Street Photography: A Few Myths and Misconceptions
Today we have another guest post and this time it’s from Sharon Morris. She first approached me about the magazine on Facebook with a suggestion for a name, which turned out to be one that we couldn’t use, unfortunately. She was interested in writing so I suggested she do a guest post and here it is. It is on Street Photography, and I’m sure you will find it interesting.
Street Photography: A Few Myths and Misconceptions –
I cut my photographic teeth on the streets, falling into it instinctively, only after starting did I begin to follow other street photographers and read the myriad of thoughts about it online. Occasionally, or more than on occasion, I would find myself frustrated with espoused rules, particularly when they conflicted with my own experiences This post is an attempt to address a few of the commonly held furphies I’ve seen perpetuated by photographers of all styles and street photographers themselves about the genre. I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Leanne to set a few things straight… from my humble point of view… around this challenging and often controversial form of photography.
Lets start with the two most common issues I see presented by non street photographers,
1) It’s an invasion of privacy – You should check when entering any country what the local laws and customs are regarding public photography, that’s a sensible practice and culturally appropriate. In Australia the law is clear, if you are in public view, walking down the street for example, then you are not afforded any right to privacy, and I am legally entitled to take a picture of you. Now just because I can doesn’t always mean I should, and that subjective judgement comes down to each photographer. Personally I believe in professional integrity as a photographer and respect for your ‘subjects’ should be paramount. Furthermore you can get yourself into legal bother if someone asks you to desist from taking their picture and you continue. Charges such as Disorderly Behaviour can be laid as a WA man found out in 2013.
2) You require a Model release – A model release is required when an image is intended for commercial purposes such as to flog beer or burgers. No model release is required if you intend to show or sell the image for its own sake. Again though there’s no guarantee you won’t find yourself in a legal minefield if the person in an image decides to challenge your right in court, but it’s my understanding that as of this week, in this country, there is no imminent change to law in this regard….yet.
3) Gear Matters – Not really. What matters is that whatever gear you choose is the most comfortable for you to use and accomplish your aim. Many street photographers will advocate for small cameras with a prime lens around 50mm. They believe using a compact is the key to being unobtrusive, which is paramount in grabbing candid shots. However I think the key to getting candid shots is to be quick as well as discrete, and there are many ways to do this, each person needs to work out their own style, but one way that’s most useful for grabbing a candid photo is obviously speed. This means having the camera you are most familiar and comfortable using, not necessarily the smallest. I shoot with a 6D and zoom on the street most of the time, I know it well and find it helps me to look like a tourist.
4) You Need to Get Close – Again, no. Bruce Gilden is well known for having a style that is literally ‘in your face’. There’s few others who manage to pull off this approach and probably more than a few who have been on the receiving end a right hook for trying. It’s not necessary to good street photos to be up close and personal. Those who use a prime lens often need to be, but there are plenty of wonderful togs out there using a zoom to give a sense of space and place to their images.
5) Have to Have People In Them – Nope. Evidence of people who have since left, scenes from a deserted street, suburban landscapes are all part of this diverse genre. The classic mono shot in the busy city centre is but one of the many styles of street photography around these days. Three of my favourite Australian photographers illustrate this point beautifully. Trent Parke with his haunting rural like suburbia shots, Narelle Autio’s wonderful beach series includes spectacular underwater scenes and Melbourne based Jesse Marlow in his latest publication ‘ Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them’ has many stunning images that contain no humans.
– On a quick side note, the three photographers mentioned above all reproduced the images described in colour underlining that street does not have to be black and white.
6) Background and Composition Don’t Matter – A personal bug bear of mine. I see some photographers who think because they went into a public place and took pictures of people walking around their work is done. While’ it’s true that is street photography in a literal sense, it aint necessarily good street photography, unless you got really lucky. If you look at the best street photographers both past and present, their images are technically wonderful, as well , they often have a narrative, a moment of serendipity, humour, connection or emotion. That doesn’t happen by accident. Although some luck and good timing is absolutely an element of many great shots, a lot of thought in terms of background and composition often go into street pics, just like any other photographic style. Light of course is also powerful in terms of creating mood. This is why street can be so challenging, you don’t control the environment, it is constantly moving so you have to work in an ever evolving space of cars, people, lights and so on. You still need to take into account distracting aspects in your background by positioning yourself accordingly.
That’s almost enough for now, but there’s many other points of conjecture, such as whether or not street should try to be aesthetically pleasing . Personally I think the best street photos can be as beautiful and captivating as a portrait or landscape. See the wonderful work of Marius Vieth as an example. The best street shots are unique in that they catch more than the day to day mundane, they often have an engaging playfulness. For me one of the best contemporary examples of this is London based street photographer Matt Stuart. Like the others mentioned above his work encompass the elements of photographic skill, beauty and years of persistence, while breaking the stereotypical mold of older street styles.
The only hard and fast point I’d make about street photography is – if it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Website – Sharon Morris
I would like to thank Sharon for taking the time to write this post for us and I hope you will thank her as well. There are some links above so you can go and see more of her work. She has also given me some more links to some of the photographers she mentioned.
I am going to put all the photos from above in a gallery as well so you can look at them individually.