Street Photography: The Capture vs. The Pose

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techgnotic's avatar

When a subject poses to have his or her photograph taken, the subject tries to project a message about himself or
herself by how he or she “poses”, by the attitude of his or her body language or facial expression.

If the subject is posed by the photographer, the body pulled and prodded into the desired angles,
the facial expression “directed”, it is the photographer who is intending to communicate a message.
In either case, posing or posed, there is undeniably something “false” in the representation. Perhaps
the only “true” thing being represented in this art is a record of how people being photographed or
people photographing other people misrepresent reality for whatever their reasons. Perhaps it’s human
to always want to show a life that’s a little prettier, happier, better.

Grisha 3 by jivotnoe two good friends by VaggelisFragiadakis:thumb264036359: Free Play by Hengki24

Street Photography takes direct aim at this “falseness” by taking the camera into the streets to record “true”
documentary moments in life.  The subjects are usually unaware as they go about their lives, having no time to strike
a pose to enhance or send a particular message about those lives. There are surely flaws in this simple theory of what
is “truthful” and therefore worthy of possibly being designated “art” as opposed to what is obvious artifice (posings)
which make the “art” designation more problematic.  Certainly there is brilliant artistic photographic portraiture, but
is the art more in the skill in lights and shadows and operating the camera and other equipment itself – vs “capturing”
the soul of the subject?

Of course even in “the street” there’s the kids smiling for Dad’s lens in the backyard pool, and what could be more
posed than a celebrity red carpet event?  But “real” street photography is all about the capture of unscripted, un-posed
moments from human being’s lives where and when a little bit of their true selves is exposed “naked” for just a moment,
and a true documentary of a true event in human history, comic or ironic, heartwarming or horrifying, is recorded for all eternity.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

But sometimes, when looking at a masterful street photographer’s work, we can at least pretend that all in our lives
is not mere artifice, and that there are “real people” out there amongst all those “actors”, real people just living their lives.

Questions for the Reader:

  1. Does the act of posing subjects for photographic composition, to your mind, in any way compromise or lessen the value of the photo as “art”?
  2. Do you prefer posed or “candid” photographs of your pop heroes?  Are paparazzi ever “artists” or is their “art” too assaultive to merit such consideration?
  3. Do you think photography best captures the representational “essence” of a person photographed, or is a person’s essence best represented by a sketch artist or great painter?  (Or even a poet?)
  4. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that by observing a subject, we change it in that moment, therefore “negating” or “falsifying” any representation we seek to “capture” or “know”.  Is art, to your mind, about achieving the closest possible representation of the “truth” about a subject – or is it more about the artist’s desire to capture just for a moment the eternally unknowable?

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Geoperno's avatar
Agree with MorphoAdonis comments. Though at this point in time I find Street photography probably the most interesting, if that was all that was available, I would get very tired of it and photography. What I have enjoyed in the short time in DA is that anyone can submit anything. That to me is an ideal world where freedom is permitted and encouraged and we are able to choose as we wish. I don't understand why people shoot dolls or their pet cats but I certainly would not look down on them because of it. That is their world. It does not impose itself on and let live. Encourage people, don't divide the people. I have a lot of respect for street photographers, it is, in my opinion a very difficult form of photography which requires great reflex of mind, creativity and technical proficiency in a split second. But I do get a feeling of arrogance or perhaps a patronizing attitude from the typical street photographer towards other forms of photography. Anyway, try to avoid a class elitism from developing just because you are good at what you do. Enjoy all around you and make it better if you can.
SLpImpressions's avatar
I actually had someone try to tell me that 'Staged Street Shots' are acceptable street.
Sort of goes against everything one would hope to be a 'candid' moment captured.
Does the act of posing subjects for photographic composition, to your mind, in any way compromise or lessen the value of the photo as “art”?
NO---if it is not falsely calming itself to be a candid shot

Do you think photography best captures the representational “essence” of a person photographed, or is a person’s essence best represented by a sketch artist or great painter? (Or even a poet?)

All depends on who is behind the camera....How good their intuitive sight is.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that by observing a subject, we change it in that moment, therefore “negating” or “falsifying” any representation we seek to “capture” or “know”. Is art, to your mind, about achieving the closest possible representation of the “truth” about a subject – or is it more about the artist’s desire to capture just for a moment the eternally unknowable?

Too complicated to even think about.
art---is art.
truth is truth...there cannot be two truths.
Petach123's avatar
Hi. I have not been around for a I am pleased to discover you used my "kiss, look, hurry by" photo as part of your article. What can I say? but thanks!
Ambhal's avatar
I love candid shots. I suppose candids open up a fourth wall/the lens and engage the viewer. The shots encourage the creation of a story to go with a singular moment in time.
AlpacaAstronauta's avatar
My english is not that good, but i can't keep silence.

Como en la mayoría de las cosas no se trata ni de blanco ni de negro. Me atrevo a hablar del alma de una fotografía; es tan necesaria una buena composiciòn de luces, una selecciòn del fotografo y una direcciòn (aunque no sea concreta al modelo, la direcciòn tambièn està en la selecciòn de un encuadre), pero es tambièn necesario capturar ese instante, ese no se què que trasmiten ciertas fotos, LA ETERNIDAD DEL INSTANTE reducido y simplificado en un encuadre, un juego de luces y un gesto. He dicho.
SensoriumStudios's avatar
Do people just walk up to others and ask "hey can i take a picture of you?"
CharltonRaims's avatar
I think a person or event that is not posed shows you more of the beauty that city streets have to offer, but if you get caught taking pictures of people seemingly at random it is quite hard to explain what you doing, and I am not saying that a posed picture cannot be beautiful, but I just find the natural ones to have a certain truth and rawness to their beauty that makes them more alluring and powerful.
FabNash's avatar
In photographing people all styles have artistic merit, but emotionally I have a leaning towards those captured without knowing. To me they inhabit themselves and that is particularly interesting to see.
Nikkij19's avatar
Its capturing a moment that is eternally unknowable. because whether a photo is posed or taken with them unaware and being a "real" moment you never really know how a person is just by looking at one picture of them. They could be caught in a moment of anger. or a moment of sadness. or a moment of complete happiness but does not mean that they are always like that. Looks can be decieving. Posed or otherwise I appreciate and enjoy and respect everyones art and photography. and try to see what they were trying to capture/expose/reveal. but sometimes only the artist knows, or doesnt even know himself. Sometimes inspiration just hits and you have to go with it. Sometimes moments are caught by accident, or missed. and sometimes you just want to pose. :)
osarme's avatar
Insightful definition/description of street photography along with the selected supporting images. An aspect of the style you did not touch on, not essential though it is seen in some of the images, is juxtaposition of elements to lend a humorous and/or absurd quality. With or without this, the pictures often appear sort of jumbled, which can subtly contribute to the image, or make it appear a poor/random snapshot, or even both, perhaps depending on the viewer (Heisenberg all over again!)

Posing subjects or altering the scene in others ways does not increase or decrease artistic merit. Intervention must be considered very carefully if the result is to be presented as scientific or journalism, otherwise all is fair, it risks making the image seem artificial, which might then impact the result. I do not prefer one extreme or the other- I have seen great images of both types, works of Karsh or Doisenau come to mind as fully effective examples of posing. Paparazzi are another matter - excepting a scrum at an event which is already staged (your red carpets and so on) this seems more like illegal hunting than art or journalism.

I would not say any form best captures the 'essence' of the subject, or even that this can be captured - the art presents some aspect of what the subject projects and how the artist perceives it. Perhaps a collection of these could begin to represent waht is essential, and then one or two emerge as best summations.
17seconds's avatar
Fantastic and inspiring. I have always loved street photography and would really love to start doing more of it. This has given me some things to think about and consider the next time I am out and about and happen to have some time to take some photos... thank you!
joezhan's avatar
BigA-nt's avatar
Well done - you've captured the essence of street art. Its not the quality of the photography its the way the mopment is captured and what it means. That's what we are into too ( - we have enexhibition in Liverpool next month about the streets of Shanghai, and we have taken photos in Nepal, China, Japan, Liverpool and Gaza. My partner in crime (well in photography) captures street photos so well. My - I'm too shy. Hence my obsession with photoshop instead! This is a great feature - I've featured it on facebook and linked it on my own DA page! Well done with it. :D
carjackarrest's avatar
1. Definitely not, it could even add to the value of the photo as “art” because in this way, the photographer gains more control by directing the model on how he/she should pose, or by correcting the lighting, etc etc. I think that an important thing we’re forgetting here is that art is actually man-made, anything natural or unaltered by any artist is technically not art.

2. I prefer good shots, candid or not. Some paparazzi may be artists, but you can't say that for all, 'cause not everyone could take good pictures. Their being assaultive doesn't affect their being an artist or not.

3. No, or at least not always. It would always depend on the artist's skill.

4. It could be both, but more of the latter.
ShoOshiGraphy's avatar
Beutiful work .. !
DRexySeamfire's avatar
I have worked taking pictures in nightclubs and most of the time I ask if people want their photo take in which they pose, sometimes very badly sometimes almost perfectly. After the flash goes off the subjects go back to their normal state with the more real expressions on their faces, which I sometimes also capture if I take two photos, one after another. Its really interesting to see the changes in people when they pose for a photo.

Sometimes I like to experiment with different shots incorporating the crowd and a close up subject who is unaware of the camera. Or I might find some interesting people on the other side of the club, I just zoom in and capture the moment which is real and representative of the actual atmosphere of the club (of course it is a little different if you have a bit to drink, but in essence the club is the place to drink alcohol so you get a variety of photos representing the real moments that aren't poses with subjects being unaware). Sometimes in taking crowd shots I would get some odd and weird facial expressions if people happen to be looking in my direction, usually they are looking round for someone, checking out other people, looking blank at the crowd, all sorts.

Of course I do not need to ask permission to publish the photos, I was getting paid to do that. I always give out cards to the website where they will find their photo and most of the time I let the people see their photo/s. If they don't like it or don't want it posted I just delete it, or if they find a photo on the website that they don't like they can always ask to take it down.

I guess its a bit of a side subject to street photography, but the capture vs the pose still applies to what I used to do as a club photographer. Its very interesting to see the spectrum of representations in the capture, but the club and people do prefer the posed pictures. But then its not rare to capture a moment that beats any pose. xDD
Shilolilo's avatar
Agreed Morpho-Adonis! It makes little sense to pit one style against the other....

how real is street photography? I will agree it is real when there is no photoshop retouching done perhaps

Real is people in motion, once you freeze them for that moment, spend thousands on lenses and camera's, lighting, photoshop production...I mean as far as "real" or's rather academic....the "real" street stuff is still worked baby.....comparing the realness is all hazy gray stuff, how much $$, how many times do you take the long do you agonise over shadow and highlight, vibrancy and exposure...SEPIA OR GREYSCALE OMG!!!!

That being said, real is also to me anything we see or touch, so that completely "set up" shots of people is as real as street photography...we can all see it and feel it, it is real baby.....there is power in both, the set up shots (I find) convey a more co-created vision of both the model and the photographer and I have to say I don't mind seeing the visions of more than one in a shot, you can see the underlying energies sometimes...there can be an attitude in the body language and face yet eyes that say "I'm freezing my tits off in this goddam shitsucking bikini in the middle of winter while the dumb ass photographer is sipping a piping hot double choc mocha latte and smoking a cigarette..."

The street shots, in a way you are capturing a persons mental chatter, whatever is going on in their head at that moment, their ego BS really.....and we all believe in the ego, it gets us every time, like this subject matter for instance......and my response ;)
AnmlBri's avatar
A question: When doing street photography, am I required to get permission to photograph/publish photographs all of my subjects? If I ask permission beforehand it'll ruin the candid nature of the moment, so I presume I'd ask afterward. I'm a journalism student and one of the first things I learned is not to publish things without a subject's permission (at least the kind of work I was doing then. Investigative journalism is a whole 'nother can of worms). Does that rule apply here too? I would hate to post a photo of someone here on DeviantART or on my blog and have the subject find it and be outraged that I used their likeness without permission. It's not like I'd be profiting from it or anything, but I know some people are still touchy about having their image published places without their knowledge.
makepictures's avatar
It depends on what country you are in. In the United States, you are free to photograph people in a public place while you are located in a public place. You are free to use those photographs journalistically and as fine art prints but, under various state laws, if you use the image to promote a business or product you would violate the individual's rights of publicity or rights of privacy unless you obtain permission in advance. Keep in mind that if your photograph manipulates the person in some fashion that results in holding them in a false light - - that is makes them look like they are doing something or acting as someone that is not accurate and that would hold them up to ridicule - - you can be liable to them for damages.
AnmlBri's avatar
I just finished up a class on Communication Law in school so I definitely see how all the rights of the person photographed come into play. Thanks for clearing this up. :-)
makepictures's avatar
AnmlBri's avatar
I'd really love to take up street photography because I love the idea of "capturing moments" as one of my professors put it; the "essence" of a person. I just want to make sure I won't get bit in the bud by someone for doing it.
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