Should street photography always be about nothing?
The title of today’s blog post may seem a little enigmatic, so I will try to explain. In a previous post, I suggested that, ideally, street photography should be about “nothing”: its subject matter should not be something in itself particularly unusual, or extraordinary, or funny, but rather the supposedly mundane fabric of everyday life.
However, does this mean that a street photographer cannot approach and photograph “events”? Where does street photography end and documentary photography begin? How purist should we be about our definition of street photography?
In my opinion, our conception of street photography should not be too rigid and narrow. After all, organized public events are also part of everyday life. I think the main thing is how the photographer approaches his subject-matter, not what that subject-matter is. The street photographer is always on the lookout for spontaneous moments, for candid, unposed photos. If he can find and capture those moments in the context of events or happenings that are usually photographed in a posed, fake, non-spontaneous way, that may in fact make the photographs even more interesting. By photographing such subjects in an original and candid way, the street photographer can add a dynamic element of surprise and tension to such photographs, and make an implicit comment about our culture and its emphasis on manufactured appearances and staged images.
The street photographer works on the fringes – he approaches public events as an outsider, perhaps as an anthropologist, focusing on the sidelines, on what is not officially in the spotlight. The street photographer is an explorer and documentarian of the unspoken subtext lying underneath our culture’s official narrative. He holds a mirror to our culture, instead of blindly accepting the glamorous “publicity shot” the culture wants to present about itself. And, ultimately, he shows how life, spontaneous expression, always breaks through and has the last word, even in the context of the most rigidly and carefully staged cultural event.
To try and illustrate these perhaps somewhat vague comments, here are some photos I took a few months ago during the New York Fashion Week event.
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