THERE MUST BE SOMETHING I AM MISSING ABOUT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY


There is one blog that I read regularly and that’s The Online Photographer by Mike Johnson and there are a couple I catch up on occasionally, and one of these is  Steve Huff Photo.Com, and it’s on this site that I read an article by a photographer with the slightly improbable name of Gary Perlmutter, called “The Nikon V1. The Perfect Street Camera?”

It is a brief straightforward of why he bought a Nikon V1, and why he thinks it works for him as a street camera in comparison to a couple of other cameras he has owned. To support his arguments he has posted six black and white photographs which are fairly typical of street photography as a genre.

Technically they are reasonably sharp, well exposed, and moderately well composed with a good range of tonal values. They are also humorous, perceptive and each tells a story. In short, what I understand street photography (I do dislike that label) to be about. The images wouldn’t make Cartier-Bresson spin in his grave, but they were good.

But it’s here that I feel that I must be missing something. From some of the comments posted it’s obvious that others have a completely different understanding of the genre. For example: “The difference between these photos and snapshots of my cousin’s 1st birthday, is that at least someone will care about the pictures of my cousin’s 1st birthday. These pictures….who are they? Does anyone care? I don’t think street photography is meant to be holding your camera and clicking away randomly.”

And: “Sorry but to me these are not ‘street photography’ just photos that were taken on the street.”

To be a fair, a lot of other posters came to Gary Permutter’s defence, but the point I am trying to make is encapsulated in the last comment. Just what is street photography? Does the photographer’s choice of camera have an influence on whether or not a picture is a street shot or not?

If you think that’s a little on the wild side, compare Gary’s treatment to that of someone calling himself Leicashot on the Rangefinder.com forum who posted a similar set of images shot with a Leica Monochrom that were rather too contrasty and harsh for my taste … but that’s a personal thing. There was not one adverse criticism posted, but a rather gushing amount of praise for a fundamentally undistinguished set of photographs. In my view certainly less interesting that Gary Perlmutter’s set.

It can’t just be a matter of the Nikon VI being the camera everyone loves to hate, and the Leica M9 the camera everyone loves to love? I know endless numbers of people have probably written theses on “What Street Photography Is,” but they have, thankfully, passed me by. So won’t someone check out both of these sets of photographs and tell me what I am missing?

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4 responses to “THERE MUST BE SOMETHING I AM MISSING ABOUT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

  1. Picture 1: What are you missing? Originality. Yes, it is within the SP genre but variations of this has been done many times before by many others.

    Picture 2: The same. I’m primarily an illustrator who also engages in SP in order to give visual expression to my flaneurism. I don’t think that too many street shooters do this today. So, personally, I’d like to see clicheic shot like this at least give some context about where this woman is, what she’s experiencing at that moment and possibly why. I can’t think of a better way to make a statement about the society she’s in which, by tradition not rule, is important in SP.

    Picture 3: The same. I’ve done a shot like this before. So have many others.

    Picture 4: The best of the lot in my judgement but it’s lacking a little pop. A trick of light, shade or a behaviour a little more profound than the quirky way the man sits with his neck extended.

    Picture 5: I personally don’t consider this SP. I see it as a snap-shot that the parents of these boys could have taken.

    Picture 6: Again, I’ve seen shots a lot like this before so it’s both a simple snap-shot and cliche.

    As far as the camera, I really don’t see it having anything to do with the quality of these images. There’s nothing to be missed there.

    For what it’s worth, there’s my two cents.

  2. Actually, what you’re missing is something totally unrelated to photography.
    It’s each site’s demographics. The readers’ “types”.

    Steve Huff attracts more casual readers as it’s not overly technical, it’s mainly for consumption (the main content articles and users comment on them) and it’s easy to make a comment (no registration required).

    On the other hand, rangefinderforum is a forum, where registration is required, and the main content is created by its users. That means that the site’s users are more “entailed”, i.e. more probable to be more versed into the various kinds of photography and maybe more tolerant. For instance, the “The difference between these photos and snapshots of my cousin’s 1st birthday…” commenter, I doubt he would go through the registration hassle, just to post this comment. The registration process “filters” out the casual (or troll) commenters.
    Additionally, as the name indicates, rangefinderforum is more inclined (or even biased) to rangefinders.
    Also, Leica is known to have a cult-like following.
    So, you have a street photography set, shot with a Leica rangefinder on a site (rangefinderforum) that 1.) *probably* has more “knowledgeable” members, 2.) is inclined to rangefinders, 3.) has some Leica fans.
    It’s logical for the set to be much better received.

    Concluding, I should state that I’m not a member of the rangefinderforum and I too like the set shot with the V1 better than the set posted on rangefinder forum.
    But I think that if someone was to post the V1 set on rangefinderforum and the Leica set on stevehuffphoto.com, the comments would be mostly the same (appraise in rangefinderforum, mockery in stevehuffphoto.com), as a result of each site’s different readership.

  3. Hi I’m the guy with the rather improbable name! Actually it’s real and I’m very proud of it:-)

    Thanks for publishing an article discussing street photography and the camera. I couldn’t agree more with most of what you wrote. For whatever reason that article on Steve’s blog created a lot of comments a lot of them unpleasant. I have had many articles published before but never experienced that sort of reaction before. I wrote it not to say his wonderful my street photography is ( a genre I enjoy mainly because I live in busy London), but that in my humble opinion the V1 does make a superb camera for street photography mainly due to its super fast focusing and unobtrusive size and looks. Yours truly Gary

  4. Hello Gary
    Your comments on the V1 were instrumental in my decision to buy one – that and the fact that I could get the body and twin lens kit for under $400. So far I have had no reason to be sorry. I am amazed at the results and i have been playing with the video capability.
    OK, if I am nit-picking the controls are a little small and I have knocked the dial from stills to movies without noticing, but it is a small price to pay for all of the other advantages.
    As an aside, I have only used my D200 a couple of times since buying the V1 – both times when I needed bounce flash.
    Christopher

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