IS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY ART?


A couple of people have commented on my original piece and both believe that street photography is art. Both also quoted the discovery of the Vivian Maier (http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/) archive as proof of their position.

I don’t know that her work, which is interesting and refreshing, changes anything. There are many photographers who qualify as street photographers whose work is highly regarded. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joel Meyerowitz, Lee Frielander, David Seymour, David Moore and Diane Arbus spring to mind. Although I think most of these photographers would have perceived themselves to be documentarians rather than “street” photographers.

Some of their work transcends the mere recording of events and can be classed as works of art. Whether that’s true of all of their work is a moot point. Equally my original point that would you want some of their images staring you in the face day in day out above the mantlepiece is valid.

To me the true place for documentary photography, whatever label is put on it, is on the printed page.   Some books by photographers like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Franks and William Klein contain images that are truly great and I wouldn’t hesitate to describe them as great artworks. But I’m not going to label all of their work, or the work of most street photographs in the same way. Art is about the quality of the work not where and how it was made.

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4 responses to “IS STREET PHOTOGRAPHY ART?

  1. Street Photographer

    (Street) photography is art if you want it to be.

    Whether or not you “want some of their images staring you in the face day in day out above the mantlepiece” is not valid; unless, of course, being challenging or confrontational stops an image being ‘art’.

    Surely art is most definitely not about quality – that’s a subjective, personal view – but intent?

  2. If one subscribes to the notion that all photography is art, there is no argument about street photography being art. Just as wedding photography is art, advertising photography is art, pornography is art. I don’t think intent has anything to do with it … I can “intend” anything but I have to achieve the intent to make the image worthwhile. The original post looked at reasons why street photography may not be considered art, it didn’t actually put my position, Street photographs can be art but street photography is not necessarily art. Any more than all landscape photography is worthy of acclaim.

  3. ” Equally my original point that would you want some of their images staring you in the face day in day out above the mantlepiece is valid.”

    This is surely not a valid. I’m not sure I would want Picasso’s ‘Les demoiselles d’avignon’, some of Blake’s visions of hell or a Damien Hirst installation in my lounge, but that doesn’t stop them being art.

  4. Mike Coombes

    “Street photographs can be art but street photography is not necessarily art.”

    This is true, and therefore it takes more than intent. One cannot accept that “all photgraphy is art” unless we are to accept that my Auntie Mabel’s pictures of her cat are indeed works of art and not just a recording of an image.

    Street photography as a genre has exploded in the last few years, and there is a lot of work with artistic merit out there, but the genre is demeaned by the flood of ‘hot chick walking down the street’ pictures on the one hand, and a mass of pictures of the homeless. Both are voyeuristic, exploitational and rob the subject of some of their dignity.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are photographers out there who are taking pictures of homeless people (usually by working with them, rather than sneaking a shot when they aren’t looking), but they’re in a minority.

    And yes, I am guilty of having taken both kinds of picture, but now consciously do not.

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