Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Street Photography Revisited

(photo: Mark Cohen)

I don't know how many articles and essays we've all read about how photography basically can't be trusted, how its ability to present facts and truly inform is limited and questionable, at best. And a lot of those articles and essays were written well before digitalization. So it was amusing when two photoblogs recently implied that street photography was somehow not as interesting, or art worthy (or whatever), as other genres of the medium since it tended to "provide answers," rather than promote "questions." It's one thing to say it's all a matter of taste (agreed), quite another to make unsupported generalizations.

I have no desire whatsoever in revisiting or rehashing the artistic validity of street photography, it's a moot argument argument that can be traced back decades to its very heyday (I can still recall Duane Michals ardent distaste for it). I just don't see how, for instance, landscape photography is any less prone to "sentimentality," "visual puns," or "providing answers." And then of course, just what constitutes "street photography?" One of the bloggers stated that everyone loves Gary Winogrand. Everyone also seems to love Martin Parr- is he a street photographer? The vast majority of his photographs certainly originate there. Does he provide answers, or promote questions? I'd venture he does both- as does any good street shooter, portraitist, or landscape photographer. Is Philip-Lorca diCorcia a street photographer, or a portraitist? And if Mark Cohen's street photography doesn't raise questions, you're just not looking.

The other blogger once stated that "if you like street photography, take a walk down the street." Right, and if you like landscape photography, stroll down a country lane. I've always viewed street photography as varying mixtures of portraiture and urban landscape, and if you live in a city, horizon lines are at a premium. One makes do with the opportunities, environment and vision afforded one, so I can wholly appreciate the artistry of a Trent Parke, a Gus Powell, a Jeffrey Ladd. And one can only wonder how Gary ("all photography does is describe light on surface") Winogrand would have responded to the street photography "provides answers" statement- most likely something involving a laugh and a roll of those ever inquisitive eyes...


colin pantall said...

You can add William Klein, Daido Moriyama, Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus or virtually anyone who does non-studio based non-appointment photography. Go on, you could even make a case for Rineke Dijkstra (Beach Portraits was shot on the go - with the beach an extension of the street) and Alec Soth - large format street photography, you know it makes sense!

Stan B. said...

Blasphemy! I mean... Bravo!