When Will Street Photography Grow Up?
Although this article is not the easiest one to write, I just need to get this off my chest. In case you haven’t noticed, street photography means the world to me. I pour all my heart and soul into it and to be honest, just like you I couldn’t imagine living without it anymore. If something or someone has a special place in your heart, you are willing to go out of your way and speak out inconvenient truths that may or may not offend certain people. Whether you may fully agree with what I’m saying or can’t believe that I have the audacity to do so, I’m only saying this, because I deeply care.
I’ve been capturing life on the streets for almost two years now. Yes, this is not a very long time and there are people who have been doing it for 10, 15, 30 or more years, but there’s something I stumbled upon more often than I like. It made my journey into this unique genre harder, it makes it harder for new photographers just joining the party and it makes it harder for creative minds who have been doing it for years. As weird as it sounds, but Street Photography is a teenager that needs to finally grow up and realize that life beyond adolescence is even more amazing. Excuse me, but Street Photography is what?
Let me explain. I don’t know if you have ever encountered that mentality, but photography is sometimes like High School. You have all the different genres which resemble all sorts of cliques. Each one has their very own values, code of ethics and what is “cool” according to them. I hope the rest of the cliques forgive me, but I honestly think that street photography is one of the coolest cliques out there. Because they are daredevils. They take a leap of faith every day to capture real moments of random strangers. They spent an awful lot of time to learn how to do this within milliseconds and they are not afraid to capture what they love. Because if there’s one genre where you have to pour all your heart and soul into it in order to create something breathtaking, it’s street photography.
However, this clique has one problem. Despite the fact that street photography has the most potential of all genres to be anything it wants to be, there’s still a lot of conformism and peer pressure going on. Although this is a general problem in photography and all other creative fields, street photography unfortunately holds on to that a lot. Have you ever heard someone say: no, street photography has to be like this. No it has to be like that. No, according to the masters you have to take this approach. No, you can only do this if you do that. If you were a true street photographer, you’d not do this. I’ve heard and read this many many times during my two year journey and I got to admit, it’s poison for the creative potential of this genre and it really bothers me.
I know where street photography has its roots. I know who influenced the genre. I know the amazing photographers who were truly brave decades over decades ago so that we can do what we are doing. They were the ones who laid the groundwork of this genre, they were the ones who got the ball rolling and they were the ones who defined certain styles that they loved. But we are the ones who have to take this genre to the next level. We are the ones who have to twist and turn it, re-interpret it and give it a whole new meaning that the masters would’ve been proud of. Do you think they would’ve wanted that we cling too much to their style and techniques? This has nothing to do with not showing respect or not appreciating what they did. It’s about liberating the creative soul of the whole genre.
The genre can only break its chains if we take the same courage as the masters and simply do what we love. What we want it to be. What we think is right. Street photography simply has to leave the teenage years behind and grow up. It’s a scary step in this big and open world, but it’s the place where it needs to go. Now. The transition may be tough, but also the most rewarding experience for everyone. Even if some people won’t like it, it will and it has to happen. But what does that mean?
It doesn’t mean that street photographers can’t use the narrative and visual style of the masters or what seems to be accepted among the majority. It simply means street photography can be whatever it wants to be. No rules. No borders. Pure creative anarchy if you want. Why should this daring genre with its brave photographers have conformism anyways? You only want to take black and white photos? Awesome! Street photography has to show colors? Great! You want to see street photography in a highly processed style out of Photoshop? Perfect, go for it.
No matter what you want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s grown up! It can take it. Do whatever you want. You define the genre no matter how you see it. Only take photos of shadows, only focus on people’s eyes, take your photos with a fish-eye lens or with a 800mm zoom lens. Use the camera you like, use the lens you like. Simply promise yourself to do 100% what you think street photography has to be.
Listen to constructive criticism, learn from the masters and everyone else, but do yourself and the community a huge favor and pour all your awesomeness, values, heart and soul into your photography without ever thinking: can I do this? Is this true street photography? Yes it is. The genre is grown up! You can do what ever you want.
The genre is free. And it will be better than ever before! If there’s someone telling you that your style is just not what street photography has to be, thank him. Because then you’ve made it. You’ve created your own street photography that is one in a million in this world - and that is what the masters did back then. They would’ve been proud of you!
Go out there, take your cam and create the most incredible street photography the world has never seen before: your street photography!