Street Photography – myth and fact

Street Photography – myth and fact

How do we unravel all this Street Photography myth and fact? Well, for a start, my personal definition of Street Photography is a very loose one. Beach, market place, pub, back yard, farmyard or open street, it’s all the same to me. The fact is that If I can find visually interesting people to photograph, I’m quite content.

What is common to my street photography is a lack of pre-arrangement. So it follows that in almost all cases, I
have never met my subjects previously. Therefore, each photograph is a result of a chance encounter with a
complete stranger. My aim has always been to make the best pictures out of each and every encounter.

Street Photography myth and fact. Young girls on scooters in a Venice street at dusk. Behind the girls is a vegetable stall lit by light bulbs. The street goes away into the distance towards the Grand Canal
Pure Street Photography – there was no contact with the subjects in this Venice street. If the children knew I was there, they ignored me – I was just another tourist with a camera. The success of this type of photograph depends entirely on the photographer’s positioning, framing and timing. Well, I suppose a choice of subject matters quite a bit, too


Potential for pictures

Having met these strangers, and probably having taken a picture of them without them knowing, I have
sometimes made my presence known to them. This might have been for one of several reasons: perhaps they
spotted me photographing them, and so I felt it best to explain what I was doing. Perhaps it was because I realised
the potential of more pictures that could only be obtained with the subject’s co-operation. Maybe they had such
an interesting face that I wanted them to pose for a portrait.

Powerful black and white street photography portrait of an old Venetian lady with lined face
I had photographed this old lady sat at a vaporetto station in Venice. She did not know I was there. But I could see the potential for a powerful portrait of a lady with such a wonderful face. So I spoke to here and asked her to look at the camera. This was the result.



What I would say to anyone who believes that the best street photographers are able to go around in a blessed state of isolation, somehow melting into the background like a ghost and never getting involved with the people
they photograph? Never speaking. Hardly ever communicating, and never making his or her presence known.

Useable photographs

I’d say don’t believe a word of it. It’s a myth, make-believe, a nonsense. That’s because real world just is not like that.

The professional photographers who pretend to live this pretence don’t last long because they don’t produce
many usable photographs. Therefore they don’t make a living.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Street Photography myth and fact really comes to the fore when we mention great names like Henri Cartier-Bresson. In the past I’ve expressed my admiration for the great Henri Cartier-Bresson. Let’s face it, so many of his pictures are just
superb; right up there among the very best. Captured moments revealing a whole array of natural human

But do I belief all the hype that surrounded this great photographer? That he had the uncanny ability to wander
about like a shadow, infallibly pressing his shutter button at the ‘decisive moment’, as if by magic. Never
missing that magic moment? No, of course not. Nor do I believe he never asked a subject to ‘just do that one
more time’.

Passengers on Vaporetto, Venice. A man, heavily wrapped against the cold, snoozes in his seat
No contact whatsoever was made with this snoozing passenger on a Venice vaporetto. None was needed. The result is an entirely candid shot of a moment in Venetian life. Photograph by Philip Dunn


Be a realistic photographer

If you start off in Street Photography with this unrealistic ideal in mind, you are doomed to be disappointed. My hero Henri Cartier-Bresson would have done what was necessary to get the picture needed.

There will be times when you miss that magic ‘decisive moment’ – or perhaps the decisive moment you are waiting for
eludes you and just doesn’t happen. That might be the time to ask your subject to ‘just do that one more time’. Much depends how hungry you are to capture good pictures. It’s amazing just how hunger can concentrate the mind of a freelance photographer.

Street Photography myth and fact – focus on the real world

So, don’t get too bogged down with all this Street Photography myth and fact – get out there and do your thing, take the pictures you want to take in the way you want to take them. Above all, enjoy taking pictures of people in the street while being a realistic Street Photographer.

Learn more about the art of taking great pictures in the street – join a Photography Workshop with Philip Dunn

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