'Street': The origins - Defining Street

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Street Photography: The Origins


As we all know from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding everything was invented by the Greeks.
Well, ok we left some trivial things to be invented by the Chinese as well.
What you may not know is that Street photography was also invented by the Greeks before Photography itself was even invented. :lol:

Seriously now:
Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment or "the supreme moment". The Greeks believed the concept of Kairos is achieved when such a moment is grasped for otherwise the moment is gone and cannot be re-captured. According to ancient Greeks, Kairos was the god of the “fleeting moment.”
Interestingly the ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.

Does the above remind you of the "Decisive moment", the essence of Street Photography?

dA's attempt to define Street Photography

According to dA's Street gallery description Street Photography is: Un-posed, un-staged photography which captures, explores or questions contemporary society and the relationships between individuals and their surroundings. In simpler words: People in candid situations in public places.

A lot of ink and a lot of bites have been used to define Street Photography over time.
Nick Turpin, a famous street photographer gives us his own definition, which is a rather interesting one:

Undefining Street Photography

by Nick Turpin
"In the interviews and seminars that I do two questions continually arise…

1- Can you define Street Photography for us?

2- Does Street Photography have a future?

In the past I have tried to explain the place of Street Photography within the documentary tradition, I have talked about Street Photography as an approach, an attitude rather than a place where the pictures are made, I’ve talked about the minimal equipment required to shoot on the streets and the lack of interaction between the photographer and subject.

To the second question I have talked about society and culture continually changing and therefore the subject matter of Street Photography continually being renewed and refreshed and relevant.

Finally I have arrived at the realisation that I have been coming at these questions from completely the wrong angle, I have been playing the interviewers game, I have been going along with the notion that ‘Street Photography’ is a ring fenced region of some greater province known as ‘Photography’ the boundaries of which need to be demarcated with rules about its practice.

Now it is absolutely clear to me that these questions themselves were flawed and the things I had talked about were indeed characteristics of Street Photography but they did not define it.

Now I understand that ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form, it is the medium itself, it is actually all the other forms of photography that need defining, landscape, fashion, portrait, reportage, art, advertising….these are all complicating additions to the medium of Photography, they are the areas that need to be defined, ring fenced and partitioned out of the medium of ‘Street Photography’.

When a child picks up a camera and pushes the button that simple spontaneous image is a Street Photograph, it is, first of all, a raw reaction to the scene in front of it, a person, a car, a color. That primitive urge to react, to make a picture is at the heart of Street Photography beyond any other area of picture making, it comes before any other agenda.

 So we are all Street Photographers before we narrow our sights and impose conditions and rules on ourselves to become Portrait photographers, Fashion Photographers, Landscape Photographers, Art Photographers (whatever that really means) etc.

Street Photography is Photography and so the second question is easily answered, the future of Street Photography is intrinsically tied to the future of the medium itself, while there is Photography there will be Street Photography because it is the Prime Mover, the evolutionary inheritance of all Photography.

As Street Photographers we need no longer explain ourselves, we need no longer wrangle over a form of words. It is for the rest of Photography to define itself, to explain what new and meritorious characteristics it has brought to Street Photography that make it different and worthy of note."


When Street Photography Started?

The genre of street photography started between the end of the 1800s. One of the assisting inventions of street photography was the 35-millimetre film. The 35-millimetre films were first introduced towards the late 1800s. Photographers of both Europe and North America spread the popularity of the genre and developed the art behind it. Some well-known street photographers of that time were Henri Cartier Bresson of France and Robert Frank of Switzerland.

Photography first emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century, but it wasn't until roughly the 1880s and 1890s that film speeds became advanced enough for a normal street scene to be captured (without having to use a long shutter speed that would normally result in blurs). Also around this time, the flash was developed, allowing the photographer to venture into areas that were once too dark for exposure.

Street photography stems out from another type of photography called documentary photography. Documentary photography was once known to be the most honest and truest to life picture taking. Street photography reflects society in its untainted natural state. This accounts for many photographs we see on the Internet and magazines that reflect what was happening at the time.

Art Becoming History

As time passes on, street photography goes from being a piece of art to a historical document. What might seem like ordinary street photography today will eventually become a window into the past, and that's what makes it great.


Bystander: A History of Street Photography

From the introduction of the book:
” … For the most part, however, the photographers discussed in these pages have tried to work without being noticed by their subjects. They have taken pictures of people who are going about their business unaware of the photographer’s presence. They have made candid pictures of everyday life in the street. That, at its core, is what street photography is.

” … The street as it is defined here might be a crowded boulevard or a country lane, a park in the city or a boardwalk at the beach, a lively cafe or a deserted hallway in a tenement, or even a subway car or the lobby of a theater. It is any public place where a photographer could take pictures of subjects who were unknown to him and, whenever possible, unconscious of his presence.”

Lewis Hine(1874–1940)

Jacob Riis (1849-1914)

Ralph Steiner (1899–1986)

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994)

Helen Levitt (1913–2009)

Garry Winogrand (1928–1984)

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004)

Coming tomorrow

Street Photography for dummies - A brief guide to Street Photography beginners.

© 2012 - 2023 StamatisGR
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krcatahimican26's avatar
Awesome learned a lot from this. Thanks!