Street photography is a much-maligned art form, but I think it’s cool.
It’s certainly cool when it’s done well. Who could dispute the coolness of Daido Moriyama, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier?
Yet even when it’s done badly there’s something… something… something… about it.
The New Book
I wrote “Street Photography Is Cool” (published March 1st on Amazon Kindle) with both good and bad street photography in mind..
I thought it would be great if I could inspire all those people who are currently taking “un-good” street photos (OK, bad ones!) by investigating and analysing the genre in depth. Maybe I could find out what they (and I, when I lapse) are doing wrong.
To tell you the truth I’m quite pleased with the result. Perhaps because I’ve been taking street photos for ten years the book seemed to write itself. All I had to do was draw on my experiences and set them in the wider context of what I’ve learned about art, life, and everything else.
I’ve divided the 89 short chapters into 5 sections, each of which extends the book’s title by adding the word “because” to “Street Photography Is Cool”:
1. Because It’s Contradictory, Like the Human Condition
I’ve “twinned” the 26 short chapters of this section into seemingly contradictory pairs, such as “It Has An Emotional Side” versus “But It’s Often Deadpan,” or “It’s All About Light” versus “It’s All About Shadows.”
2. “Because It Helps Us View the World As It Is”
In street photography you can’t rearrange reality to suit your photo. You have to see the world as it is, in all its imperfections. Working out how to deal with these imperfections can be surprisingly enlightening.
3. “Because It Can Tolerate Many Compositional Structures”
Symmetry, asymmetry, juxtapositions, contrasts, balance, imbalance, layers, the “flat look,” the urge to simplify, and more. Street photography’s tolerance of compositional experiments allows you to develop a personal style.
4. “Because It’s a Very Democratic Art Form”
Anyone with a smartphone can take street photos: it’s one way to get started. Some people pick it up quickly (after discovering they need a proper camera with a viewfinder!) others never do. It all depends on the observational powers of the individual.
5. “Because It’s a Tough and Potentially Perilous Activity”
Tough? Perilous? It needn’t be, but it can be. In this section I’m sharing sharing personal experiences and giving plenty of tips and pointers in chapters such as “10 Strategies for Success” and “Reaching The Zone.”
Take It Seriously
Everyone’s come across the famous meme: “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” It was coined by Chase Jarvis with very good intentions: to counteract the over-emphasis on expensive equipment. However, used in the context of street photography it becomes absurd.
The popularity of the meme strongly suggests that it’s possible to be in recreational mode — shopping, walking to the cinema, or whatever — and still have the ability to take a street photo after fumbling for “the one that’s with you” and pointing it half-heartedly towards the unusual event which has suddenly erupted in front of you.
I think it’s better to leave your camera at home if you’re not going to carry it, finger on the shutter button, all the time you’re on the street. Scenes that make great street photos can come and go in the blink of an eye. There’s no time to reach for your camera if it’s in your shoulder bag, or hanging, switched off, around your neck.
There is, after all, a big difference between street photography and merely snapping pictures in the street without any guiding intentionality or intelligence.
So my main plea to aspiring street photographers is to take their art seriously, as seriously as “the greats” took it, among whom I’d include Elliott Erwitt, Saul Leiter, Joel Meyerowitz, and Trent Parke (and a few others), alongside Moriyama, Cartier-Bresson and Maier.
Drawing on Sources
Ultimately, I wrote “Street Photography Is Cool” to discover for myself what makes it so compelling, even when it doesn’t quite present us with perfect compositions or high photographic quality.
I found myself having to draw upon ideas from many sources, including Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae,” Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows,” and E.M. Forster’s delightful literary analysis “Aspects of the Novel.”
I think there are many insights in what I’ve put together. I hope you agree — and, if you buy the book, I’d be thrilled to hear your comments, positive or critical.
The Vital Stats
“Street Photography Is Cool” has the equivalent of what would be around 250 pages in printed format. There are 203 illustrations from my own work, all in full colour except for a few black and white examples. The file size is quite large, 114 MB, because I wanted to make the photographs expandable on today’s high-res phones.
A Great Deal
You can currently order “Street Photography Is Cool” exclusively from Amazon in Kindle eBook format, at the launch price of: US $14.95 (if purchased in the US from amazon.com) or UK £11.99 (purchased in the UK from amazon.co.uk).
UK readers please note: Amazon.com converts the UK price to dollars at the prevailing rate.