Google Alerts brought an interesting article to my attention. Printed in the British newspaper The Observer “Why street photographs is facing a moment of truth” looks at the current state of street photography and the attitudes of the public, police and galleries and critics towards it.

I can’t disagree with the general thrust of the article but it raises the point that photography galleries and critics largely ignore street photography seeing it as being non-art.  And let’s face it a lot of it is pure dross. The fact that a photograph is a candid reflecting life in the street doesn’t automatically mean that is is good. That’s one point. Another an important one is do you really want to live with an image of a drunk, or a junkie, spewing his or her guts into the gutter hanging on the lounge room wall?

Which I guess brings another point to the fore. What do people who buy photographs do with them?  Store them in boxes and look at them – wearing Mickey Mouse white gloves – every third Pancake Tuesday? Hang them on a wall? Put them in a bank vault and pray that they appreciate in value?

I can’t speak for any one other than myself but I some of the photographs I have (by people other than myself) are hanging on the wall and some are in boxes. None are in storage because I don’t give a damn whether they appreciate in value or not.

If they are in boxes or in a bank vault the subject matter doesn’t matter, but if you want to live with an image day in day out, you probably wouldn’t choose an edgy street picture. And that’s probably why street photography doesn’t get the critical attention that it deserves.



  1. Of course street photography (and urban photography; for those who draw distinctions between the two) is art. It requires considerably more creative thought process in capturing a decisive moment than relatively similar types of photography that aren’t artforms; like documentary photography. If you buy into the satandards of Western Art, or even aesthetics from around the world, that high level of creativity of is what makes any art an art.

    Commercialism has nothing to do with it. In this world today, a professional artist must seriously be willing take the marketability of an image (photo, painting, etc.) in mind or he/she will not be a pro for long. An artist cannot, however, depend exclusively on whether an image will sell or not as the determining factor as to whether the image should be made. Some art have to be made purely for expression, and that too is an important standard of what makes art, art. It doesn’t matter if a collector will rent, lease or purchase a piece for the purpose of hanging it in their home, office, restaurant, displaying it on a coffee table in some book, keeping it strictly as a financial investment or even taking it out of some vault to be handled with Mickey Mouse white gloves; it could be all or none of that. A street photograph will continue to be a work of art.

    Controversially, a street photograph, like any orther artwork, doesn’t even have to be “good” to be art. Such a notion is strictly a matter of personal taste. There really are people in this world who thing that “Dogs Playing Cards” is an artistic masterpiece while there are others who feel that Michelangelo’s “David” is no more than a pornographic obscenity, regardless of the accepted standards of Western Art.

    Street photography is art, and I love it!

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more Theofman…check out the newly found photographs of a street photographer…
    Vivian Maier
    In my humble opinion her photographs are incredible pieces of art.
    Street photography captures the true essence of a time period. The people, the fashions, the buildings, the automobiles, etc…stripped down to the simple honesty without all the bells and whistles of posed photography.

  3. Yes! I fell head-over-heels with Vivian’s work last December. A great find, a great story and a great previously unknown street photographer. Cudos to John Maloof for recognizing, appreciating and promoting great artwork by a virtuously anonymous artist when he happens to come upon it by sheer chance.

    I like the question posed to him about what he might imagine would be Vivian’s thoughts on him becoming her inadvertent curator/collector and publishing her work for his own gain. Speaking as an illustrator and street photographer, I like to think that most street photographers understand that as we take so much from society to create this work, it’s only fair that we share this creative wealth with others; no strings attached, and at least when we are finally done with it all ourselves.

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