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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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The Street
Old 05-16-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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The Street

You can do street photography any time you feel like walking the streets. You don’t even have to have streets. You can walk shopping malls. In California I shoot on piers where people enjoy the ocean and the amusements on the larger piers. You can do it with small and relatively economical cameras. Technical perfection isn’t necessary for street photography. You are not in control of what is in front of you; so, you shoot a lot, throw away the trash and make fairly straight forward prints or screen jpgs. All in all, it’s a very democratic form of photography and an enjoyable one. So I thought I would relay Kai W’s latest post - which is on street photography. And for those of you who had wondered where Kai had gone - now you know. Would love to hear your thoughts on street photography.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk_71Hujl3Q
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Old 05-16-2018   #2
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I love photographing on the "street" or whereever I am and observing people. I see myself as a sociologist with a camera rather than a "street photographer". Being able to blend artistic photography with the random nature of the street is quite a thrill... but also quite scary at the same time. I try to stay away from confrontation as that's the kind of person I am.

My main question is about publishing... How do you know when it is right to publish an image? And how far can you take it? It's hard to ask for a "sign off" from every single person in the photo. I think the USA is a bit more lax. Canada is not bad but some rules are a bit undetermined?
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Old 05-16-2018   #3
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Edit: I enjoy street photography.
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Old 05-16-2018   #4
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What was OP about? To tell us where one guy who was handling cameras like he is going to drop it went? So, he went Kim shiny road. How exciting...
And he finded couple of studges to tell something we already seen on shiny road of Kim.
How even more exciting....
And why you have to shot a lot? Because Winogrand did? Or because you don't know what to do and just switching camera to automatic assault wapon mode? Sounds like fun!...

I went on the street after work today. Sun was right, people were plenty. My frame counter told me it was five. By the time I have to run to Go Station, I think, I reached 15.
I don' think I have any for print. But I'm satisfied. I have seen at least two were I had to work to get print, but I had big chunk of broadcast equipment in very big bag over my shoulder...
Why satisfied? First, because every time I get chance to walk on busy street it is privilege after work, which is luxury here for many. Second, is because I was not mass producing something empty.
But maybe next time I'll drop pancake on digital and work its battery out .

Best one o one on the street I have seen so far was in interview with late HCB.
He gave it best and he gave it short. "Geometry and something".

How you dress, what you told yourself is irrelevant. If you still afraid of people it helps you.
But they still see you, if they are not busy enough for good shot...
And even if they see you? Are you afraid to be seen? Why? In Canada it is totally legal as long as you are in public space and not breaking into privacy.
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Old 05-16-2018   #5
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Ninety percent of the photography I do is street photography. I am in New York one day and Philadelphia one day every week only to do street photography.

A *good* street photograph is inimitable, literally. It cannot be reproduced. The moment has come and you have either grabbed it or you haven't. That specific moment in time with those specific players interacting in that specific way in that specific light will never happen again.

A good street photograph is therefore entirely unique as an artistic form. In my opinion it is the highest achievement of photography because no other medium can do it. It is also the most difficult type of photography to do well and therefore, in my opinion, the most worthy of pursuit.
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Old 05-16-2018   #6
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Old 05-16-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LCSmith View Post
Ninety percent of the photography I do is street photography. I am in New York one day and Philadelphia one day every week only to do street photography.

A *good* street photograph is inimitable, literally. It cannot be reproduced. The moment has come and you have either grabbed it or you haven't. That specific moment in time with those specific players interacting in that specific way in that specific light will never happen again.

A good street photograph is therefore entirely unique as an artistic form. In my opinion it is the highest achievement of photography because no other medium can do it. It is also the most difficult type of photography to do well and therefore, in my opinion, the most worthy of pursuit.

I have made a living with a camera- photojournalism, architectural photography for many years, I've shot weddings, done event photography- but the hardest thing I have ever done is street photography. Now, being semi-retired, it is about the only type of photography I do. It is demanding, frustrating at times, but the rewards are rich when you finally see the results when you get it right in your mind's eye.
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Old 05-16-2018   #8
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Originally Posted by Rick Waldroup View Post
It is demanding, frustrating at times, but the rewards are rich when you finally see the results when you get it right in your mind's eye.
Agreed.

Nothing is so easy as a bad street photograph, and nothing so difficult as a good one.
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Old 05-16-2018   #9
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I was living in Bangkok when I decided to pursue photography more seriously. I didn’t know what a rangefinder was; I never heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson; and I don’t think I was familiar with the term “street photography.” All I knew is that I was naturally motivated to go outside and photograph my surroundings, which happened to be urban.

As I coursed my way through the history of photography, I also found particular interest in Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gordon Parks, William Eggleston, and others who focused on humanity (somewhat ironic given my quasi-misanthropy and introversion). Of course, I enjoyed photographs from all other genres, as a good photograph is a good photograph. But “street”, in all of its semantical ambiguity, was my fit.

That is, I love cities, and I love photographing them.

This said, street photography, right down to the term itself, is one of the most scrutinized and criticized of all photographic styles: Its proliferation over the past decade, its artsy pretense that garners online praise for uninspired simplicity, its rude intrusiveness, its fawning derivativeness, its banality…so much hostility.

Some of the criticism is legitimate, most of it can be applied to all styles of photography, while a good chunk of it is so ridiculous that it’s tantamount to chastising portrait photography for showing too many faces, landscape for showing too many mountains, and wildlife for showing too many animals.

But whether the vilification is warranted or not, urban photography, or photography of life, is what I’m going to do...ain't no generalist in this matter.
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Old 05-16-2018   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LCSmith View Post
...A *good* street photograph is inimitable, literally. It cannot be reproduced. The moment has come and you have either grabbed it or you haven't. That specific moment in time with those specific players interacting in that specific way in that specific light will never happen again....
Which is why, in regards to candids, that when someone advocates getting permission first, they're missing a crucial point; perhaps the whole point.
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Old 05-17-2018   #11
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Which is why, in regards to candids, that when someone advocates getting permission first, they're missing a crucial point; perhaps the whole point.

Agree and to expand a bit on this from my perspective; one thing photograph does that no other art form can do is freeze a moment in time for us to contemplate. Photography is an abstract from our human experience. We live on constant motion. It's very fluid.

A photograph and especially a really good photograph when someone is shooting candidly on the the streets as Bresson, Winogrand, Frank, Erwitt have done find interesting moments that happen in fractions of seconds. Really good work in this area is a lot more than people just taken on the street without their knowledge.

In my opinion there needs to be more there. Some kind of humor (Erwitt) or foreground, background relationship (Bresson) or even things that are mirrors of who we are as a society at that moment in time (Frank and Winogrand).

A photograph is also 2 dimensional and for most our human experience is 3 dimensional. Some times a photograph can be B&W which is also abstract to most human experience.

I also agree with a comment made earlier that a really good photograph taken candidly on the street is a true one of kind. It was in the moment and that moment will never be repeated exactly the same candidly again. That is also what really one thing (there are many others) excites me about this type of work.

I also have been supporting the family with photograph for a few decades. I have been shooting commercial/advertising professionally for a long time and a lot of that work is pre-planned and a collaboration. When I go out to do work just for me the type of candid work we have been talking about here is a refreshing break form all the control that is in a lot of my pro work. This type of candid work (as mentioned) can be so frustrating. Turn left and it is a target rich environment. Turn right and it is a day of nothing but frustration. And some days I can see. I see photographs everywhere and some days nothing. The vision just isn't there. And then there is the timing. I do notice if I haven't been out for a while it is off and can take some time to get it. So like has been said that when it does work, man it is addictive and keeps me getting out there every chance I can get. Without my personal work I would have been burned out a decade or two ago.
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Old 05-17-2018   #12
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I like Kai W’s YouTube blogs: he is unpretentious, he has a good sense of humor and he knows something about cameras and lenses. Whenever I walk around in Ho Chi Minh City, the memory of the ‘masters’ of the street photography genre are not on my mind. I don't live in the forties and fifties and the street is forever changing.
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Old 05-17-2018   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dugrant153 View Post
My main question is about publishing... How do you know when it is right to publish an image? And how far can you take it? It's hard to ask for a "sign off" from every single person in the photo. I think the USA is a bit more lax. Canada is not bad but some rules are a bit undetermined?
I have no idea about Canada.

In the US you can publish freely for editorial use. Editorial use covers all usage that is non-commercial.

Commercial usage is typically considered advertising. You use someone's image to imply endorsement of a product or service. Commercial usage is legal with a model or property release. Minors can not sign a model release.

Editorial usage means you can sell prints, books or other works that fall within free speech – which includes artistic expression.

In the US you can not violate someone'e expectation of privacy. In some jurisdictions the legal standard for expectation of privacy is based on the privacy you would expect behind closed doors. In general, anyone in a public space (even on private property) has no expectation of privacy. You can not photograph when trespassing. You can not publish works that defame someone.

More restrictive US laws limiting making and publishing photographs for editorial usage are passed form time to time. As far as I know, all of tykes have not held up under appeal.

Often individuals voluntarily impose subjective limitations on editorial usage. Sometimes this sort of self-regulation is incorrectly used tp judge others.
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Old 05-17-2018   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
Whenever I walk around in Ho Chi Minh City, the memory of the ‘masters’ of the street photography genre are not on my mind. I don't live in the forties and fifties and the street is forever changing.
The last thing I want to be is polemical, so please understand that I do not take issue with you individually; but something you said does interest me quite a bit.

You hear a lot of this sort of thing from photographers of a certain generation, "I don't live in the forties and fifties" and "don't dwell too much on the masters." Now, I get that. To be sure, one desires to articulate one's own vision of the genre; but the masters are the ones who showed us what is possible, what may be done in those environments with a camera. We learn from masters. Just "going out and doing your own thing" without being in dialogue with the greater genre as a whole, a genre which was defined by specific photographs and photographers, is an exercise in solipsism. Imagine if painters followed this kind of advice, to "go do your own thing." We would still be drawing horses on the walls of caves.

I do not have any sympathy for artists who create in a vacuum because such a thought is ipso facto a prevarication. Art at its greatest is transmissive. What we love about great art is transmitted to our own sensibilities and drives us to do likewise.

I should also say that your remark "the streets are always changing" is spot on, and precisely why street photography, even if done in style of the masters, can still be fresh and inimitable as the new day.
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Old 05-17-2018   #15
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Very often people who have seen my prints are asking - are those old photographs?
And those are recent prints from Toronto.
People of all ages are dressing like in fifties in Russia. I have no idea why it is so massive and from where clouthes, shoes and else are coming from.

I have seen good level photography on the streets and documentary candids from Vietnam here on RFF. I think some of photographers were highlighted by Leica blog, but by now it doesn't matter if master status was aplied.
If you look around high level of street photography is available more than before.
Not KimKai gear, blogs about oriented level of photography, photographers but true masters like Junku.
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Old 05-17-2018   #16
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I do not care much for the term/label "street photography". I am an "urban" photographer.
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Old 05-17-2018   #17
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I just love it, but I'm so self conscious that I have to resort to the dreaded stealth method.
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Old 05-17-2018   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
I like Kai W’s YouTube blogs: he is unpretentious, he has a good sense of humor and he knows something about cameras and lenses. Whenever I walk around in Ho Chi Minh City, the memory of the ‘masters’ of the street photography genre are not on my mind. I don't live in the forties and fifties and the street is forever changing.
They shouldn't be in your mind when working but influences are and always will be part of the fabric of who we all are as photographers. We don't live in vacuums.
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Old 05-17-2018   #19
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Although I do take pictures of people, I'm really more interested in social artifacts. When I photograph people, I avoid intruding or being confrontational.
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Old 05-18-2018   #20
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Most of my, what to call it, travel or cultural and social documentary photography, wouldn't qualify as "street photography". They do have a lot of what generally is associated with the term "street" though, the dust of being out there.
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Originally Posted by kbg32 View Post
I do not care much for the term/label "street photography". I am an "urban" photographer.
"Urban photographer", I like that. Keith, I am curious, would good part of your photos possibly also not qualify as "street photography"?
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Old 05-18-2018   #21
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It's documentary photography. Unless it's been content-manipulated, in which case it's illustration or photo art or something other than documentary.
How far from the public, multi-use (vehicles and pedestrians) thoroughfare is the line that determines that it isn't "street" photography any more? An alleyway, a city park, the beach, a construction site, a side street in a small town or village, an amusement park, a national park?
Also, the terms 'street photography' and the much more embarrassing 'street' have been so monetized and memed-up that it would be best not use them for a while.
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Old 05-18-2018   #22
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I wish that "they" had never come up with the name "Street", it may have started on the streets but has become a more inclusive genre. Documentary or candid or just about anything would be a better title.
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Old 05-18-2018   #23
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The saving grace is that most of the labeling and classification seems to happen on internet discussion forums and not out there in the real world.
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Old 05-18-2018   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pluton View Post
It's documentary photography. Unless it's been content-manipulated, in which case it's illustration or photo art or something other than documentary..
Right, in theory. However, for many of my "documentary" photos I take "on the street" I ask subjects if I can take the photo first. This will be seen as content manipulated and therefore not documentary any more, right? Which label is left for it then?
Personally I find the reactions, the stance or even pose subjects take, after being asked by this foreign photographer, as being very revealing and showing and certainly documentary, in it's own right, if you will.

E.g. look at these young school girls in Surakarta, Indonesia. As document it profits from some explanation. In Indonesia, as compared to years ago, many more women are covering hair, specially young women, school girls all seem to use hijabs nowadays. When I asked to take the photo one could see, or is it rather my interpretation (?), that they had been pleased and stayed relaxed but at the same time had been challenged. Look at the relaxed body language, legs and feet, but when I lifted my camera something else kicked in, an education, not to say "indoctrination", that reminded them that as good girls they should cover their faces.

It could be labelled "travel photography" and it's a bit of that. Since I have been frequenting most places I take photos in, since many years, mostly speak some of the local language asf. there often must be and will be differences to what generally is considered "travel" photography. It was prior experience of the place, if I may call so, my "historic" interest had made me take this photo. This commonly is little expected from "travel photography". For me it's mostly "documentary", even a bit "street", but for "photography" it's neither.


Untitled
by andreas, on Flickr, CV Heliar f4.5/15mm, Sony NEX5n, Java, Indonesia 2018

I respect what has historically grown into "street photography", what is defined as "documentary photography". However, the exclusiveness of labelling may be helpful for marketing but I rather find it limiting and harmful to photography.
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Old 05-19-2018   #25
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Rightly or wrongly, when I hear/see the term "street photography" I conjure up pictures in my mind of anonymous people walking down a city street, usually shot from the back, with stupid advertising posters behind them. These anonymous people are doing nothing interesting and the framing of the scenes are almost always the same with high contrast lighting, deep black shadows and cartoon colors.

That's why I grit my teeth when I hear or read the words "street photography".
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Old 05-19-2018   #26
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I hate the term though I use it so I guess I'm a bit of a hypocrite ha ha.

A great piece where Winogrand addresses the term.
at 44 secs in but I find the entire piece interesting
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RM9KcYEYXs
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Old 05-19-2018   #27
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Quote:
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...anonymous people walking down a city street, usually shot from the back, with stupid advertising posters behind them. These anonymous people are doing nothing interesting and the framing of the scenes are almost always the same with high contrast lighting, deep black shadows and cartoon colors..
Proudly and unapologetically ‘guilty’ of this…well, without the color…
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Old 05-19-2018   #28
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Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
Rightly or wrongly, when I hear/see the term "street photography" I conjure up pictures in my mind of anonymous people walking down a city street, usually shot from the back, with stupid advertising posters behind them. These anonymous people are doing nothing interesting and the framing of the scenes are almost always the same with high contrast lighting, deep black shadows and cartoon colors.

That's why I grit my teeth when I hear or read the words "street photography".
There's a lot of bad street photography.

But good street photography is assuredly not social documentary. A good street photograph (and we use the term because there isn't a better one) is a photograph that creates an abstraction by combining public ephemera and social interaction. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. Street photography is not portraiture, and it is not reportage in the strict sense. It must be candid. Typically movement is involved. Above all some human moment must be glimpsed and captured.

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Old 05-19-2018   #29
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I like the term "street photography." But I don't take it literally, any more that I would insist that landscape photography be exclusively about land.

I consider SP different than documentary photography, in that the latter has an objective, an intention to cover something, like a theme or place or happening. To me, SP follows the flaneur model--idle wandering with no particular goal in mind.

Actually, that was an issue I had with the film "Everybody Street." Most of the photographers covered seemed more like documentary photographers than street photographers.

John
Lots of folks hate the term “street photography” but still use it anyway for lack of a better alternative, which itself causes more consternation.

But it’s not the ambiguity of the term that’s most problematic as much as it is the certainty with which some define it: it must be urban, it must include humans—-candids only, it must be black & white, it must use a wide angle, normal at longest, and so on. To note, I actually prefer some of the "rules" I just stated, but I ain't out to semantically impose them.

I agree that most folks who do street photography usually lack any objective other than to find that rare moment when a variety of visual elements combine to create something hopefully compelling…again, a rarity.

As Winogrand said, he took photos to see what something looks like photographed, and that pretty much sums it up.
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Old 05-19-2018   #30
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Ansel Adams referring to putting photography into categories:
"Definitions of this kind are inessential and stupid; good photography remains good photography no matter what we name it."-Ansel Adams

"We have been slaves to categories, and each has served as a kind of concentration camp for the spirit"-Ansel Adams

I agree with both statements....

Though the hypocrite in me does label so I am not without that ha ha. I think the left brained world is the one that needs categories. It is how left brained folks seem to understand the world. Thats not a criticism. Only an observation. Without left brained folks that give me a lot of help my business wouldn't make a dime. SERIOUSLY....

Most really creative people don't create to fill a category. Most do it because they have to. They have something to say and usually the medium that stye choose is the only way they can effectively speak their truth. I know when I create I don't for one second even think about what pre existing category the work is going to be labeled as. I just create and let those that do those kinds of thing do their thing.
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Old 05-19-2018   #31
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Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
Ansel Adams referring to putting photography into categories:
"Definitions of this kind are inessential and stupid; good photography remains good photography no matter what we name it."-Ansel Adams

"We have been slaves to categories, and each has served as a kind of concentration camp for the spirit"-Ansel Adams

I agree with both statements....

Though the hypocrite in me does label so I am not without that ha ha. I think the left brained world is the one that needs categories. It is how left brained folks seem to understand the world. Thats not a criticism. Only an observation. Without left brained folks that give me a lot of help my business wouldn't make a dime. SERIOUSLY....

Most really creative people don't create to fill a category. Most do it because they have to. They have something to say and usually the medium that stye choose is the only way they can effectively speak their truth. I know when I create I don't for one second even think about what pre existing category the work is going to be labeled as. I just create and let those that do those kinds of thing do their thing.
Categories are only useful inasmuch as they describe. Once a category prescribes then it is no longer useful as a category for the artist. The distinction between descriptive and prescriptive is very helpful in this conversation.
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Old 05-19-2018   #32
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I choose not to worry about it either way.
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Old 05-19-2018   #33
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I don't worry too much about labels. As for street photography, it may not be a very elegant term, but everyone knows what you are talking about so it gets the job done. I read the descriptions of different types of photographers in an early issue of Aperture, and the one that fits my photography best is documentary photographer: "I was there and this is what I saw." It basically covers everything, including landscape, abstract, editorial, etc. You could also say you are a fine art photographer. Everything shows up in galleries these days. Better to be too broad that too narrow. You don't want to artificially limit yourself, unless you do.
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Old 05-19-2018   #34
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Those who can, do. Those who can't create labels and criticize. Any picture should be mostly interesting. There seems to be a lot of "street" shots that just aren't to me.
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Old 05-19-2018   #35
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i think the problem is the judgemental attitude from those that insist on imposing their set of labels on others.

if a photographer creates art i think he/she should get to label it
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Old 05-19-2018   #36
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Certainly there's a need for subject matter labels, they help in organizing a collection. But somehow "street" just isn't working. The number of definitions would indicate that.
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Old 05-19-2018   #37
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Could be worse.

Per Wikipedia:
Heavy metal categories:

Alternative metal
Funk metal
Nu metal
Rap metal
Avant-garde metal
Black metal
National Socialist black metal
Red and Anarchist black metal
Symphonic black metal
Viking metal
War metal
Blackgaze
Christian metal
Unblack metal
Crust punk
Death metal
Blackened death metal
Death 'n' roll
Melodic death metal
Technical death metal
Doom metal
Death/doom
Drone metal
Funeral doom
Sludge metal
Extreme metal
Folk metal
Celtic metal
Pirate metal
Medieval metal
Pagan metal
Glam metal
Gothic metal
Grindcore
Deathgrind
Goregrind
Pornogrind
Industrial metal
Kawaii metal
Latin metal
Metalcore
Melodic metalcore
Deathcore
Mathcore
Neoclassical metal
Neue Deutsche Härte
Post-metal
Power metal
Progressive metal
Djent
Space Metal
Speed metal
Stoner metal
Symphonic metal
Thrash metal
Crossover thrash
Groove metal
Teutonic thrash metal
Traditional heavy metal


And after all of this, we know that the one and only true metal band is Black Sabbath…
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Old 05-25-2018   #38
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Kuuan, your foto proves great things can result from avoiding "stealth" shots!
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Old 05-25-2018   #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sjones View Post
And after all of this, we know that the one and only true metal band is Black Sabbath…
They were the local pub band although I never paid much attention.
All I remember was that it was hard to get a drink at the bar `cause the place was packed
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