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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Street Photography
Old 02-03-2017   #1
Bill Pierce
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Street Photography

What is “street photography?” For me, it’s the candid photography of people in public places, but it obviously means a lot of different things to different photographers. I see pictures with no or a few distant people, pictures I would call cityscapes, called street photography. That seems fair. After all these are pictures of streets. I see posed outdoor portraits called street photography; I would call them outdoor portraits. When I walk the streets of New York, I see a lot of people taking selfies with their cellphones. I wouldn’t, but some people call that street photography.

Nick Turpin, one of the best British street photographers, is also one of the most modern, now working in color and sometimes with the moving image. He does what I call street photography. But so many people are out on the street doing so many different things with their cameras that he says he does, “candid public photography.” (I’m married to a Brit, a writer; they are terribly specific in their choice of words.) I’ve noted Nick Turpin’s website below. I think you’ll enjoy it. But I would like to hear what you think “street photography” refers to.

http://nickturpin.com/
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Old 02-03-2017   #2
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Bill some of my thoughts are here.
http://blog.leica-camera.com/2016/12...relationships/
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Old 02-03-2017   #3
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Maybe "street photography" is--pointing your 28mm lens at tall buildings in NYC and people getting in the way--- :-)
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Old 02-03-2017   #4
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I wouldn't call cityscapes "street photography" just because there is a street in the picture, and agree with you about outdoor portraits, or environmental portraits not been street photography. However, some street photography can look posed even when it isn't. The first picture below, for example. As I was walking along a main street, I passed by this young man at noon in a small side street, sitting along a wall, on a 150cc motorbike smoking and looking pensive and troubled. I turned around, walked back to the small lane and took his picture — a "hip shot" — just as he had dropped his cigarette and was starting to move to leave on his bike. Had he noticed me, he would have looked up and there would have been no shot. So I would call this street photography.

In the second picture the woman is sitting in the street, outside her house. I've sat down on a little bench to put a new roll of film in my camera and am talking with an older woman sitting next to me, who asks me, jokingly, whether I want to marry her daughter, the subject of the picture. I respond that I'll ask her daughter's husband for permission, as I take the picture. Street photograph or outdoor portrait? Probably the latter, no?




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Old 02-03-2017   #5
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I've never been sure what "street photography" might be. The definition seems fluid. In too many instances it appears to be exactly what it says it is, pictures of anonymous people walking down the street. To me, about 99.9% of these pictures are as boring as the description sounds.

But I really like candid, documentary photographs, be they of people engaged in some activity that is interesting or of human-created artifacts such as buildings, monuments and signs. So, instead of using the term "street photography", I prefer Walker Evans description of photography "in documentary style".

Here's a blog that touches on those 99.9% of street photos I mentioned:

thephotofundamentalist.com/general-discussion/is-street-photography-killing-itself/#more-2897
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Old 02-03-2017   #6
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Seems to me that "documentary style" is too vague. For example, in one of Moriyama Daido's books there's an essay making the distinction between "documenting" and "depicting", and explaining that Moriyama is doing the latter.

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Old 02-03-2017   #7
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I think that there is a big difference between street photography which could be anything taken on the street and what is good. Plus I really hate that term street photography but I do use it.
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Old 02-03-2017   #8
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airfrogusmc - Paraphrasing the first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Teju Cole writes, "All bad photos are alike, but each good photograph is good in its own way." There's a lot of bad photograph around, not just street photography, but any genre label isn't based on quality.

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Old 02-03-2017   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
There are some superb images in there. I normally loathe street photography but your work shows a real compassion for the people you are photographing. Bravo
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Old 02-03-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emraphoto View Post
There are some superb images in there. I normally loathe street photography but your work shows a real compassion for the people you are photographing. Bravo
Thanks.....
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Old 02-03-2017   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nowhereman View Post
airfrogusmc - Paraphrasing the first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Teju Cole writes, "All bad photos are alike, but each good photograph is good in its own way." There's a lot of bad photograph around, not just street photography, but any genre label isn't based on quality.


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Did I say that there wasn't a lot of bad photography out there? I think I shoot in what many would label street including myself. I just don't like that term or label.
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Old 02-03-2017   #12
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airfrogusmc - I wasn't being critical of what you said. I generally agree with you, and use "street photography" as a practical label. But I don't think it's a major issue.

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Old 02-03-2017   #13
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It is easy. You go OUT and you take pictures where you are considering it as the street. Anything not in macro range taken where is the street. This is it, simple, isn't it?
If you want to know more in details, here is RFF sub-forum for it:
http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...play.php?f=197
It is under name of Frank Jackson as the Mentor with Coffee.
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Old 02-03-2017   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
I wish you could take over the Street Photography forum as a mentor. Your love of the art is apparent & apparently Mr Jackson is busy. He was really good but never around anymore.

To me street photography is simply photographing the everyday aspect of life in the visual of where one is at at a given time when one presses the shutter.
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Old 02-03-2017   #15
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To me Siegfried Hansen is one of the best photographer of that genre.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/streetphotography/
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Old 02-03-2017   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
It is easy. You go OUT and you take pictures where you are considering it as the street. Anything not in macro range taken where is the street. This is it, simple, isn't it?
If you want to know more in details, here is RFF sub-forum for it:
http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...play.php?f=197
It is under name of Frank Jackson as the Mentor with Coffee.
Someone needs to pass the cup like I said above. Mr Jackson is too busy I guess & I understand so not complaining just wish to see the thread thrive once again.
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Old 02-03-2017   #17
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To me Siegfried Hansen is one of the best photographer of that genre.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/streetphotography/
The two dogs & the Subway sandwich made me laugh.
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Old 02-03-2017   #18
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I wish you could take over the Street Photography forum as a mentor. Your love of the art is apparent & apparently Mr Jackson is busy. He was really good but never around anymore.

To me street photography is simply photographing the everyday aspect of life in the visual of where one is at at a given time when one presses the shutter.
Thanks but I actually like Franks kinda hands off approach. I love his work so I wish he would post a little more to.
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Old 02-03-2017   #19
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I think street photography is changing so rapidly because it's always been something that can't exist without substantial amounts of people meeting/intermixing - that's why it's always been (mostly) about where they meet and intersect the most, namely urban areas.

I've shot 'street' (or the much more precisely phrased term Nick Turpin came up with) in small towns and in big cities -- good examples of the genre can be had either way but I think it's a lot easier and more interesting in a big city.
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Old 02-03-2017   #20
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Thanks but I actually like Franks kinda hands off approach. I love his work so I wish he would post a little more to.
agreed. I really guess it's up to us members to keep it alive.
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Old 02-04-2017   #21
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Do you think HCB saw himself as a documentarian? He always seemed to be an artist first and foremost -- IIRC he originally picked up a camera to make references for drawing, and called photography a quick way of sketching.
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Old 02-04-2017   #22
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HCB took pictures in societies that do not exist any longer. The Family of Man has become a historical reference work. It's time to move on. As far as I am concerned, the 'street photography' genre is wide-open and so it should be.
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Old 02-04-2017   #23
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I like what Winogrand has to say about the label street photography and i agree.
about 48 secs in
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RM9KcYEYXs
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Old 02-05-2017   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
What is “street photography?” For me, it’s the candid photography of people in public places, but it obviously means a lot of different things to different photographers. I see pictures with no or a few distant people, pictures I would call cityscapes, called street photography. That seems fair. After all these are pictures of streets. I see posed outdoor portraits called street photography; I would call them outdoor portraits. When I walk the streets of New York, I see a lot of people taking selfies with their cellphones. I wouldn’t, but some people call that street photography.

Nick Turpin, one of the best British street photographers,... says he does, “candid public photography.” ... But I would like to hear what you think “street photography” refers to.
Turpin's definition is an easy-to-remember rule of thumb. It does cover a lot, perhaps most, of what we consider as street photography. But it is also more permissive (are all these shots of the backsides of people walking down the "street" worthy of inclusion?) and more restrictive (can there not be photos in non-public places that are, intuitively, "street"? More controversially, should "street" photos be candid?) than it should be. A definition of "street" should be accommodating our intuitions, and I think there are cases which I'd be willing to include and yet are left out by the "candid public photography" description. I know from the little I've read online from Turpin that he woulnd't agree with me on the caveats I imposed to his description. (That would be fine, perhaps we are accommodating differing intuitions.) But I think to understand what "street photography" is, one needs to look on how it came about. The historical circumstances that gave rise to it. And also, of course, the principal aesthetic influences that helped shaping it.

If I may quote an older post I made on a similar thread/discussion:

Quote:
Originally Posted by telenous View Post
Street photographs emerge somewhere/anywhere in the spectrum between surrealism and social documentary. There are a few other genre influences that give a street photograph its character, and sometimes it borrows more from this and sometimes more from that, but surrealism and social documentary are, on some level, fundamental. Broad as this is, it can't be narrowed further down, because if you do (say, by giving a hard and fast definition), you 'll end up excluding examples from the street photographic canon that you wouldn't want to exclude on second thought. But not having a precise definition is OK -- it's worth recalling, street photography, like all photography, is a practice, not an axiomatic system like Euclidean geometry.

.
(On the post above, I have now a question - as I did not then- whether the documentary component has to be social.)

http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...=143565&page=2

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Old 02-05-2017   #25
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"Social" can be a broad category. Using Walker Evans (one of my photography heroes) as an example, he is best known for his work with the FSA during the depression, documenting share croppers in Alabama. But, to me, some of his best work included documenting vernacular architecture and possessions, some of which were also in the FSA photos. While these photos may not be in the realm of what some refer to as "social", to me they fit the category since they are human (social) artifacts. The stuff people build, own or create often reflects the person more than a depiction/portrait/documentation of the person themselves.

I actually detest the term "street photography" since it conjures up in my mind exploitation photographs of derelicts, drug addicts and the homeless or the intrusive, confrontational photographer making a nuisance of him/her self.
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Old 02-05-2017   #26
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A street, people, light and shadows, action. And the most important a story within the photo.
Just my idea, but this is not my genre.
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Old 02-05-2017   #27
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For me it's socioeconomic documentary photography of people in their every-day environments.

With apologies for stating the obvious, socioeconomic does not mean exclusively documenting homeless people or others with problems, etc. The socioeconomic landscape is richly diverse.

In my view just places (where people are not the main subject(s) is not street photography. It is documents our surroundings in a socioeconomic context.
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Old 02-05-2017   #28
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Some folks, like in one of the links posted and some here, that state what it isn't are placing their own narrow views on something that should be wide open and have only the restriction on whether it is an interesting photograph. For those that think you have to be completely original (kind of like one of the authors in the link kind of suggested) in a few thousand years of 2 dimensional imagery, it has ALL been done.

In my opinion, what gets lost sometimes especially in forum land, is not whether the images are good or if they work or fit into a larger body of work or they look like a photograph that a particular photographer would make and thus give us a look at the creator but whether they fit into some kind of narrow slot someone thinks they should fit into.

I think instead of narrowing or minds and definitions of what is or isn't we should be expanding and opening our minds because isn't that what true creative people do? I always take issue when someone posts what they think something isn't. Because they are in many cases ignoring history and by their own narrow views inhibiting creativity in not only their own work but the work of those that buy into those views.

Just go out and work. Let those that need to put labels on work do so. I never say I'm going out to create ______ _______ today. I just go out and make some pictures. If they are A or B it really doesn't matter to me when I am creating. I figure out whether it fits into a project I have been working on after. Sometimes things fit and sometimes not. I might make an image that is the start of something new and that as Gibson called it is a point of departure and maybe the start of a new body of work.

Shoot what you see without the filter of whether it has been done or what slot someone might pigeon hole the work into.

That my 2 cents. Take it for what it is worth.
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Old 02-05-2017   #29
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Street photography isn't about streets any more than studio photography is about studios.

I've tried my hand at it and had all the basics down, and room (lots of it) for improvement.
And then I discovered that I find strangers dominating my shots a nuisance at best. I like empty shots, what you would call cityscapes. Some people can be in there, for scale or composition but that's it.
Also, I like shots of people I know and value, either candids or portraits.

It's very hard to shoot good street photography, and not just point your lens at anything (slightly out of the) ordinary.
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Old 02-05-2017   #30
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airfrogusmc - I agree with what you write about one's approach to photography and the meaninglessness of labels. In another thread someone wrote that he didn't "get" street photography, but wanted to try it himself to see whether he could "see" anything in it. Seems to me that photographers trying to do street photography, as opposed to cityscapes, would have something something they want say about life, or at least contemporary life. Failing that, we get a lot of shots of people from the back, or sitting on park benches or gratuitous pictures of street people.

That is not to say there aren't other ways to say something about life than with street photography. In a broader sense photographs don't have to "tell a story" or "be about something" or "have a message". With regard the the latter Ralph Gibson, speaking of his own photography quotes Sam Goldwyn saying to a young director, "If you want to send a message use Western Union". Jörg Colberg on his blog (http://cphmag.com) wrote an article that photographs don't need to "be about something" — worth reading but I don't have the link handy.
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Old 02-05-2017   #31
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Street photography as a term is convenient, and this is why we use it. But it’s usually used with a degree of reluctance, since it is a definition that is at once loosely ambiguous yet also constrictive.

I like to photograph outside, and I happen to enjoy urban environments, so my stuff would generally fall into the broader scope of street photography. However, I look at it more as just shooting life before me, whether it involves humans or not. There’s no story and certainly no esoteric message ‘to get.’

As with any other type of photography, the quality of street is going to fluctuate, and it will suffer its share of repetition, formula, and cliche. But also with any type of photography, none of these negative aspects negate its relevance as a style.

After all, a good photograph is just that, even if the subject matter has been explored extensively…I still see good photos of flowers and even park benches.
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Old 02-06-2017   #32
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To me trying to define this is as useless as worrying if Pros use a camera. I don't think my photography would be considered street photography, but I'm walking the streets making photos all of the time.
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Old 02-06-2017   #33
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Does it actually matter?

Any photography can be anything you're good enough to get away with, though it generally helps if there are underlying themes in your work rather than (as johnwolf points out) just a diverse range of snapshots of different subjects.

Is The Secret Life of Chairs "street photography"? How about Glasses without Faces?

If they're not street photography, what are they? And, as I say, who cares?

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Old 02-07-2017   #34
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Hi Roger,

Well I think we are into subsets now HaHa. Street chair and street glass. LoL.

It's doesn't matter one bit. I think both are interesting observations.

I think that sjones is on target with his statements.

In my opinion to many times images that are part of a larger whole (body of work) are taken out context and placed into a one image conversation. That would be like pulling a paragraph out of a book and judging the book on the single paragraph.

Just take photographs that you find interesting to you. There is so much work being done today that there is going to be a lot of noise. And a lot of self proclaimed so called experts (see a previous link posted) which in many cases puts others down so they can make themselves seem to have more importance. If we all listened to them no one but them would make any photographs. Using subjective words like boring shows lack or understanding. Because whats boring to him might be very exciting to someone else. I find reading about physics to be boring. But there are those that find it fascinating. A statement that images dealing with juxtaposition have no depth. There are some that do though I don't think that is in itself mandatory. If I did I would have to dismiss a lot of Bressons work as well as Erwitts and many others.

Have fun and as Roger pointed out don't worry about whether what you are creating fits here or there.
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Old 02-07-2017   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
. . . many times images that are part of a larger whole (body of work) are taken out context and placed into a one image conversation. That would be like pulling a paragraph out of a book and judging the book on the single paragraph. . . .
Elegantly phrased!

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Old 02-08-2017   #36
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What is “street photography?” For me, it’s the candid photography of people in public places, but it obviously means a lot of different things to different photographers. I see pictures with no or a few distant people, pictures I would call cityscapes, called street photography. That seems fair. After all these are pictures of streets. I see posed outdoor portraits called street photography; I would call them outdoor portraits. When I walk the streets of New York, I see a lot of people taking selfies with their cellphones. I wouldn’t, but some people call that street photography.

Nick Turpin... says he does, “candid public photography.” ...
http://nickturpin.com/

After Bill Pierce started this thread, the same question rose coincidentally elsewhere in a FB group. Nick Turpin was asked to chip in. I quote him here for a fuller version of his view:

Quote:
I think the meaning of the phrase 'Street Photography' has and is changing. The first reference I can find of it is from 1887 and it's about architecture and streets rather than moments. Quite a literal interpretation.

Then when plate cameras became more prevalent and cheaper, 'Street Photographers' were people who photographed you in the street for a fee.

Then Oskar Barnack put a role of 35mm film in a camera instead of a plate and all hell broke loose! Photographers caught moments and happenings in Paris in the 30's and later in NYC in the late 60's/70's and we saw 'Street Photographs' come to be defined in the way that we know most popularly in recent years.

This brings us to the current situation where cheap digital cameras and social media have created a low entry point for people to make pictures on the street and share them. The phrase 'Street Photography' has been applied increasingly loosely to include street portraiture and flash lit imagery, even composited and staged pictures from the street.

This begs the question, what should those that still value the candidly observed public moment call what we do? Because it very much remains a distinct and valuable approach.

There isn't this confusion about landscape or portrait photography because the name describes perfectly the practice.

So I now tend to use 'Candid Public Photography' to describe what I do because it leaves no room for misinterpretation and clearly excludes street portraiture, flash lit images, posed and composited images.

I think the *******isation of the phrase 'Street Photography' stems from a degree of ignorance and a lack of concern about the significance of how a photograph is made. The rise of Art Photography where only the final image matters, has also played a part.

I fear 'Street Photography' is lost to us as a description for what we do.

This is what we use at in-public now.

Photograph (Verb) From the Greek, phõtos, light, and graphein, to draw, together meaning ‘drawing with light’.

Candid (Adjective) From the Latin, candidus, pure, impromptu, unposed, unrehearsed.

Public (Adjective) From the Latin, publicus, from populus, the people. Able to be seen or known by everyone, open to general view.

(Nick Turpin, 6/2/17)

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Old 02-08-2017   #37
airfrogusmc
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"Let us hope that categories will be less rigid in the future; there has been to much of placing photography into little niches-commercial, pictorial, documentary, and creative(a dismal term). Definitions of this kind are inessential and stupid; good photography remains good photography no matter what we name it. I would like to think of "just photography"; of each and every photograph containing the best qualities in proper degree to achieve its purpose. We have been slaves to categories, and each has served as a kind of concentration camp for the spirit."-Ansel Adams
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Old 02-08-2017   #38
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Nice quote but Ansel Adams was not exactly a paragon of flexibility when you bring to mind his treatment of Mortensen.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-c...ist-180953525/

Turpin is rather careful in his phrasing. He describes, without prescribing anything for anyone else, the photographic activity he and his mates in the In-Public collective do. I am fine with that.

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Old 02-08-2017   #39
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It is still a statement I find true. Winogrand said about the same thing in the video piece I posted. But I guess some need categories to put things in. I prefer to just look at the work and I either find it interesting or not or I prefer to just work and let those that need categories do their thing.
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Old 02-08-2017   #40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
...I prefer to just look at the work and I either find it interesting or not or I prefer to just work and let those that need categories do their thing.
This....................
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